In the weeks leading up to Easter, it’s impossible to escape imagery of the Easter bunny – it’s everywhere: on TV, on packages of candy at the supermarket, and stores are filled to the brim with stuffed rabbits of all shapes and sizes.
As these things tend go, the barrage of Easter bunny imagery has sadly turned into a yearly trend of well-intentioned parents giving their children live pet rabbits as Easter gifts.
Most often these gifted Easter rabbits are tiny babies, typically purchased from a pet store or breeder – both of which are primarily concerned with making money rather than the welfare of the animal they are selling. As such, there are often no steps taken by the pet store or the breeder to educate consumers on the responsibilities and complexities of owning a pet rabbit.
Rabbits are often thought of as inexpensive and low maintenance pets, so many people think that they make good starter pets for children. Not to mention the undeniable fact that baby bunnies are unbearably cute. They are practically irresistible, and it is unthinkable for most uneducated rabbit owners that this tiny little ball of fur will become a moody, demanding, and destructive animal, whose natural tendencies to bite, chew, dig, spray, hide, and seek out quiet, don’t become apparent until once they’ve hit puberty.
See, puberty is the big game-changer for rabbits. All too often, a few short months after baby bunny hits puberty, and his hormones make him a little crazy, many rabbits find themselves dumped at shelters, or worse – abandoned outside, left to fend for themselves in a harsh environment, vulnerable to cars, predators, and many other dangers.
Your once cute and cuddly baby bunny has suddenly turned into an unmanageable terror over night, and if you aren’t aware that this change is coming and unavoidable, and if you’re not prepared with a plan of what you can do to get your rabbit under control, it’s somewhat easy to understand the frustration that leads to dropping off ‘Terror Bunny’ at an animal shelter.
This is the sad reality for many bunnies given to children as Easter pets. It’s a common fact among animal shelters across North America that the number of surrendered rabbits swells in the months after Easter. However, with a bit of research, it’s easy to avoid this common mistake.
If you are considering giving your child a pet rabbit for Easter, make sure you know the basic facts about rabbit care:
- Rabbits can live 10+ years
- They require the same amount of work as a dog or a cat. This includes regular socialization, regular exercise, a proper diet, and annual check ups.
- Rabbits are happiest when they live inside as members of your family, preferably in a cage-free home in a bunny-proofed environment. An outdoor hutch is just simply not enough.
- An adult, not a child, should be the primary caregiver for your bunny, ensuring the rabbit has been fed appropriately, has enough exercise, and has proper veterinary care.
- Rabbits are very fragile animals and they break easily. As such, an adult should supervise any child’s interaction with a rabbit very closely.
- Rabbits must be spayed or neutered for health related reasons, as a well as behavior related reasons.
If these basic rabbit care facts sound like something you can’t commit to, and your potential new best rabbit friend deserves nothing less than 100% commitment from you, here are some practical and fun suggestions on what you can do instead of giving your child a live pet rabbit for Easter:
Education is key
First off, educate your child about the responsibilities of pet ownership, and particularly the complexities of rabbit ownership. This is probably the best place you can start because there is endless information available online about the joys and challenges of owning a bunny. Kids are smart and resilient, and engaging your child in a discussion on responsible pet ownership will help them to understand what your family is considering getting into by welcoming a rabbit into your home. Being able to back up your reasons for not wanting to give your child a rabbit by showing them the countless websites that strongly discourage the practice of giving animals, and most notably rabbits, as gifts will help them understand that it’s not just you saying no.
Make theirs chocolate
Taken from the concept of the ‘Make Mine Chocolate’ campaign (www.makeminechocolate.org) of gifting chocolate rather than a live animal for Easter, offer your children the gift of a chocolate bunny, or even a stuffed bunny, instead of giving your child a live pet as a gift.
Bake fun rabbit themed treats such as rabbit-shaped cookies, rabbit-shaped cupcakes, or a rabbit-shaped loaf of bread. Recipes for each of these delicious treats can be found online.
Go a little deeper and visit an animal shelter
Take your child to an animal shelter that cares for rabbits, such as The Winnipeg Humane Society, and show them firsthand what life is like for surrendered and abandoned animals. As amazing as animals shelters are in terms of how hard they work to save animals and adopt them out, it’s no place for a pet rabbit to live a happy life. Shelters are often crowded and noisy, and this atmosphere can be very stressful for rabbits. In 2012 alone, 118 rabbits found themselves up for adoption at The Winnipeg Humane Society.
Birthday fun at The Winnipeg Humane Society
You can also book your child a birthday party at The Winnipeg Humane Society. This gives your child and their friends the opportunity to take a guided tour of the shelter so they can learn all about what the shelter does for the animals in its care, and what the adoption process is like. The children will also have the opportunity to interact with shelter animals in a safe and supervised environment.
Make a donation
Following a visit to an animal shelter, encourage a philanthropic nature in your child by suggesting they donate their allowance or birthday money to an animal shelter that cares for surrendered rabbits. You may be pleasantly surprised what your child is willing to do for an animal in need.
Lead by Example
Let’s face it: you’re the parent and you have the final say in terms of what you give your child as a gift. Not only that, but as the parent, you have a responsibility to set a good example for your child in terms of how you treat animals. If you teach your children that rabbits are not toys from the get-go, they are likely to carry this mindset throughout their lives and treat rabbits, as well as other animals with due respect and consideration.