LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Rabbit rescue groups across Southern California are again urging people not to purchase bunnies as Easter gifts for children, saying that what begins as a well-intentioned gesture often leads to abandoned animals when the novelty wears off and families realize they're not equipped to properly care for the pets.
Instead, rescue groups and animal control officials recommend buying a stuffed toy bunny or chocolate candy rabbit for kids' Easter baskets.
"Easter bunnies who magically appear and lay multi-colored eggs shown on greetings cards and cartoons are nothing but a fantasy," said Lejla Hadzimuratovic, founder and president of Bunny World Foundation, a Los Angeles- based nonprofit that has rescued thousands of unwanted rabbits from shelters and owner surrenders since its founding in 2008.
"Every year, we scream from the top of our lungs that bunnies don't make good Easter gifts, and still, those reminders go unheeded," Hadzimuratovic told City News Service in 2022.
Retail sales of rabbits, dogs and cats are prohibited in California, but direct sales are still permitted, including online, and illegal street sales occur in urban areas where baby bunnies are sometimes deceptively marketed as adult "dwarfs."
Despite an ordinance prohibiting the sale and purchase of live animals on the streets of Los Angeles, Hadzimuratovic says "the year-round live animal market in LA's Fashion District, specifically Santee Alley, is thriving. Typically bought on a whim as a toy for a child, they often live a desolate life in the corner of a filthy cage without enrichment until they are abandoned to a shelter or die of neglect."
As she did last year, Hadzimuratovic will be attending the L.A. Arboretum's "Spring Fling" event on Good Friday to counter the popular misconceptions and educate the public about the realities of caring for rabbits. She'll bring along some of the group's rescued bunnies who are available for adoption -- but only for those who are serious about wanting bunnies in their lives.
"In 2022, 1,200 Los Angeles bunny lovers had their chance to meet some of BWF's precious rescued bunnies at the gorgeous Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden ... It was an inspiring community event and an excellent educational opportunity," she said. "We're expecting our efforts to double this time around. We're bringing twice as many bunnies and volunteers to the event to promote the glory of rescued rabbits and educate the general public about their care."
BWF saves and re-homes hundreds of unwanted bunnies from Los Angeles- area shelters every year -- some of whom have special medical needs that place them at greater risk. But the group's struggles are magnified each spring by the effects of the holiday, and other groups see the same problem.
"Every year, we receive numerous reports of bunnies who were bought for Easter and then discarded once their cuteness or novelty wore off, which is why we adamantly advocate against buying live animals as Easter gifts," PETA's Catie Cryar told CNS. More information from PETA can be found at www.peta.org/features/reasons-never-buy-bunny/.
"Real rabbits and Easter don't mix," the Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation proclaimed in its annual Easter message this year.
"Rabbits make poor pets for small children. Most rabbits do not like to be picked up and held, and may scratch or bite in an effort to get free, or be injured when dropped. The typical `Easter bunnies' illegally sold on the streets or in pet stores are usually babies, taken from their mothers before they are properly weaned. They will die soon after purchase -- hardly a fun experience for kids!"
The group is a chapter of House Rabbit Society, an international nonprofit headquartered in Richmond, California, that offers education about rabbits.
Jackie Tran, public information officer for Orange County's animal care department, said OC Animal Care "recommends that the community resist the urge to get a pet on impulse. Bunnies, chicks, ducks, and other small animals are adorable, but they quickly grow into adults and require specialized daily care."
Advocates for the animals do want them to be adopted into loving homes, saying they can be wonderful companions for those who are serious about the commitment. Advocates say the animals are gentle creatures that offer many benefits over other pets, including their quiet nature and a diet of hay and vegetables that avoids adding to the suffering and environmental harm inherent in factory farming that produces dog and cat food.
Rabbits are not low-maintenance pets. They require feeding, cleaning, and humane indoor housing in a bunny-proofed room, and veterinary care can be expensive, advocates note.
They're also not ideal pets for small children, as they respond best to quiet energy and can be easily spooked by the hyperactivity of a child.
Animal advocates offered a series of basic tips:
-- Domestic rabbits should be kept indoors at all times.
-- Rabbits need to be spayed or neutered as soon as they're old enough (between four and six months) to avoid unnecessary breeding and to aid their health.
-- Once they've been spayed or neutered, bunnies should be paired with a mate for lifelong companionship. Single bunnies can be lonely and depressed.
-- They should be fed a diet of unlimited timothy hay and a daily portion of leafy greens, plus pellets and alfalfa hay for rabbits under 6 months.
-- They should never be kept in cages, as they need room to hop around and exercise their legs.
-- They need to be thoroughly groomed every two to three months to remove excess fur and have their nails trimmed.
-- They're aggressive chewers, and need to be kept away from electrical cords and anything that can be dangerous if ingested, such as taped or glued boxes.
-- Bunnies who stop eating or appear to be in pain can die within 36 hours, and need immediate care from a veterinarian trained in rabbit care.
All six shelters in the Los Angeles Animal Services system have rabbits available for adoption, as do other Southland shelters, and private rescue groups offer support and mentoring for new bunny owners.
BWF offers a free foster program in which people care for the animals, help promote them on social media and bring them to weekly adoption events until they find a permanent home. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bunnyworldfoundation.org or www.facebook.com/search/top?q=bunny world foundation.
The House Rabbit Society also has resources for learning about proper rabbit care, which can be found at rabbit.org.