As we start edging into Spring, it's the time for sunshine, butterflies, chicks, flowers, Easter baskets and bunnies, right? It's also the time to reach out to families with small kids in your circle.
Ask the question if they are thinking about getting a bunny this year...and if so, kindly ask them to push the pause on paws button. Just stop, plan and wait. Just know that the bunnies will continue to be their sweet and adorable selves but don't let them chew the buttons off or you'll lose control and bring a pet bunny home in the next few weeks. Maybe this post is for you or for someone you know --- but the huge list of abandoned rabbits in the spring is proof that we all need to do better. And that starts with people planning better, starting with some real conversations about real rabbits, not cute stuffies that don't require our attention and care. I KNOW! It's SO hard to wait. They are SO cute. But all of us in the bunny world can attest: good intentions by themselves simply aren't enough. This isn't about pointing fingers at anyone, it's about raising a hand and committing to doing something different, because the current way isn't good for families nor for their unwanted pets. Once the reality sinks in and the novelty wares off, or life just happens, the numbers go up and rabbit organizations can't keep up, especially after COVID when many more people got a "pandemic pet" but are now finding they are ready to move on as the world opens up. I can pretty much guarantee that no one thinks they will be the one who will be rehoming their bundle of cuddles so quickly. But we see it all the time, especially this time of year, and again this post is not about blaming, but to remind us all that pets require a long term commitment and they aren't a photo prop or a toy that does what we want necessarily. We all need friends to save us from ourselves and this is that post. It's about the importance of pausing and thinking things through as we head into the great sweetness of Easter that can turn bitter-sweet in a few weeks to months when so many wonderful families ultimately give up and decide they have had "enough." No blame here: but let's work together to prevent the preventable.
All of us who work in organizations that care for rabbits know what happens after the spring-fever has waned. We know what often follows on the tails of a family's first pet bunny experiment. The truth: I have never met anyone who brought home a rabbit who imagined that they'd be "done" so quickly. The hard truth: I've seen year-after-year and family-after-family who have had the VERY BEST of INTENTIONS but the MOST UNFAIR OF EXPECTATIONS (of the rabbit or themselves). Again, good intentions weren't enough. Now they are calling out to rescue organizations to rescue them while rescuing their unwanted pet.
Let's have a real adult conversation about when the novelty wanes or their sweet pet has nibbled something important...or the reality is that children cleaning a critter cage is permanently passed onto parents. Or life happens. Or they need to move. Or money is tight. Or they want to get a dog. Or the bunny is sick. Or, or, or. The reasons are different but the outcome is the same: unwanted bunnies and no system to absorb them.
This post is about what I've been learning about humans and bunnies since I was 8 years old. We want pets until we don't want pets. So how do we stop the bunny abandonment cycle in our community? Or for that matter any pet abandonment?
1) If you have a pet, share your pet: People are starving for connection. COVID has only amplified the feelings of loneliness. Let others enjoy your sweet furballs! Start a conversation. Help them get their bunny fix another way and in the process they will get to ask questions and see how awesome pet parenting is. Just don't shirk from sharing about the responsibility. And you might just find you are able to really bless other people while making new friends.
2) Without judging, ask about their plans and budget: Bunnies and cute baby animals have this invisible tractor beam. Ha. Simply asking people about their budget for vet bills and pet food is an eye opener. Ask about when the kids are older, their housing plan, their plans for when they go on vacations. Have them hold up the mirror and often they will see and prevent the mis-step before they make it. Just have a real conversation, ask questions and they will see what they need to see without a long lecture from others.
3) Help them see the abandoned unwanted bunnies: Share links to rescues. Direct them to check out bunnies on craigslist or marketplace ads -- they will soon see that they won't necessarily have an easy exit strategy. I hear all the time "oh it's so cute someone will want it after me and buy all my supplies" -- Yeah it doesn't work that way. That's why you see so many posted for rehoming, especially in the spring. AND RESCUES ARE ALREADY FULL to OVERFLOWING.
4) Give the calendar challenge: Encourage them to pause and wait out the barrage of bunny ads on tv and everywhere you look. Ask them to make a commitment to wait until May or June to help ensure it's not spring fever. Make a date to share the joy if/when they do decide to start pet "shopping" and make that date far out as possible after they have saved up for at least 6 months food and all the supplies they need. Just like shopping while you're hungry: don't start shopping for bunnies without an intentional long term plan. Impulse buying often end in regret for you, and hardship on the rabbit and the next people who will try to pick up the responsibility.
5) Share the Chores: Invite neighbor kids or kids from church/school etc. to come over and share in your bunny chores for a week or two... Rabbits are delightful! I love them! But the number one reason we found people were surrendering them was tied to impulse buying in the spring with great intentions but unfair expectation of the rabbits and themselves. Did you know that rabbits poop? A lot. Things get stinky if you don't keep up. Rabbits chew. And molt/shed. It's not all about the cuteness.
6) Point them to pet care classes & volunteer opportunities: The best thing that will help set them up for success is to help them make informed decisions, moving forward with eyes wide open. Encourage them to foster-first or to volunteer with a rescue. They can get their bunny fix while providing some much needed help to rescues that have been especially stretched during COVID.
7) Talk about RHDV2. Seriously. This is a hard one. Just like with COVID, the United States is still in the middle of a nearly always-fatal foreign rabbit disease www.RHDV2.com. Pet rabbits need vaccinating and the shot hard to find in some areas and the two-dose vaccine and vet exam can be expensive. New owners should be told taught about the hard stuff like practicing biosecurity. require documentation of the rabbit's RHDV2 vaccine and ensure the rabbit and cage and supplies aren't coming from a hot zone ---because the virus can live without a live host for 90 days.
8) Don't rely on your childhood experience: Our perspective of our pets as kids is different from perspective from being an adult caring for pets.
9) Stick to chocolate and stuffed bunnies as gifts -- Never ever ever gift an animal to someone.
10) Ask where they will be in 10 years: Guess what? This rabbit might still be alive and they need to know that possibility going in. It's not a short term gig. You need to make a long term plan and then own it, follow it. And guess what -- if you don't KNOW the sex of your pet rabbit or have documentation of spay / neuter surgery, your plan might be completely off once you add in a litter of 6-8 babies because George was actually Gigi. Please, please think in ten year increments.
Since I was in elementary school I've been trying to find ways to stop the abandonment cycle through education: There are too many to rehome and too few spots to surrender to try to fix the cycle after the rabbits go home with people.
Here's the good news -- I truly believe that together we can all prevent the preventable and that starts with helping others manage expectations and stop the spring impulse pet buying. I love sharing the Peacebunnies and look forward to events coming up soon, so I hope you'll stop by and say hi.
Make it a hoppy day! - Caleb