Penny Stone

Easter can be sad season for ‘starter pet’ rabbits, SPCA says

Penny Stone wants to clear up some rabbit misconceptions.

They require more responsibility than a cat, their cages should be cleaned daily and a pet rabbit can live a very long time.

“Nothing irks me more than someone saying it’s a ‘starter pet’ for a child to see if they are responsible, before they trade up for a cat or a dog,” said Stone, branch manager of the Victoria SPCA. “It’s a life. You can’t just use them and dispose of them.”

Unfortunately, that’s a reality in Greater Victoria where rabbits have become a community problem, as irresponsible pet owners abandon their animals in public places like parks and the University of Victoria. Stone often sees families come in looking to “trade up” from a rabbit to a cat or dog. She says pet owners – parents especially – need to realize that ownership lasts the animal’s lifetime, not just until your child gets bored with it.

“I hate Easter,” Stone said, acknowledging the flood of parents who come in frantically looking to adopt a rabbit because they’ll make an adorable present. “Buy a chocolate rabbit, buy a stuffed rabbit – don’t get a real one just for the sake of it being a cute Easter gift.”

The SPCA doesn’t allow for rabbit adoptions in the weeks leading up to Easter to prevent this type of ownership.

“In two or three months we’ll be flooded with even more (rabbits) because of the people who will go to a pet store to buy one, then dispose of it when they realize how much responsibility they require.”

UVic knows what results from irresponsible ownership. Over the last two decades, rabbits were routinely dropped off on campus and their population skyrocketed to an estimated 1,600.

Last month, the school officially became rabbit free. All the animals they could find were sent to sanctuaries (save for 100 that were killed in May 2010) and now the school has taken the stance that any rabbit found will be killed.

Though she doesn’t agree with the school killing rabbits, Stone says she understands UVic’s position.

Saanich is also working at preventing such a situation from happening again. Council last month adopted a number of rabbit bylaws, including a requirement for all rabbits sold to be sterilized. The animal’s owners are also banned from abandoning their pets in the wild.

Stone hopes the changes at UVic and in Saanich will permeate through to the SPCA, minimizing the number of rabbits dropped off on the agency’s doorstep.

Danielle Molyneaux, manager at Pet’s West in Broadmead Village, says they haven’t adopted out rabbits at Easter for more than a dozen years because those animals are typically bought for their short-term novelty.

“A lot of people think, ‘Easter, rabbit, cute gift.’ But they don’t think about the cleaning of the cage, the feeding and watering every single day, the possible vet visits, getting it out of a cage for an hour or two a day or the fact that they can live upwards of 12 years,” she said.

Stone says no animal should be abandoned. If an owner realizes he or she can’t look after a pet anymore, call the SPCA rather than simply dropping it off on their doorstep.

“People don’t want to say they’re giving up their animals, but it’s the most humane thing to do for the animal’s sake,” Stone said. “The life of a rabbit is just as valuable as the life of a dog or a cat or a horse. Society considers small animals the most disposable, but that’s got to change.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

Rabbit facts

• Rabbits are self-ovulators, meaning each time a rabbit mates, so long as the female’s fertile, she will get pregnant.

• Young rabbits need to be separated into sexes, because they can start breeding with their siblings or parents when they’re two months old.

• Rabbits can be sterilized only after they’re four months old.

• Some pet stores can’t properly identify the rabbit’s sex, and if you buy two “females” you may wind up with a male and female – which will be problematic if they’re not sterile.

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