Give toy Easter bunnies, not real rabbits

Animals are a commitment, not just a gift

by Donna Albergotti

I recently adopted a rabbit. Olaf had been passed from shelter to shelter for more than a year. He has holes in his ears and eyelids from a severe mite infestation he endured while struggling to survive alone on the streets of Northern Virginia. Fortunately, a good Samaritan scooped him up and took him to the local animal shelter. 

I imagine Olaf ended up homeless the same way so many other rabbits do: Someone gave him to a child for Easter without having thought about the commitment involved. And then the reality of caring for a rabbit set in. Olaf despises being picked up — which is more common than not in rabbits — so I’m sure the child got frustrated with him. Eventually, someone abandoned him outdoors, perhaps wrongly believing that he could survive, but being left alone outside is actually a cruel death sentence for a domestic rabbit. 

It happens all the time. About a month after the holiday, shelters start bracing for an influx of unwanted rabbits. Many of them are found in parks or backyards or under buildings. They’re often starving, sick, injured from attacks by predators, ravaged by parasites and scared stiff. 

I’ve been volunteering to help homeless rabbits for more than a decade, and I’ve seen it all. Some rabbits are confused or frightened when they’re first rescued. Some are angry and put up a fight. Some have simply given up and sit quietly. All of them have pain in their eyes. 

I share my passion for rabbits with others and love teaching people about how smart they are and what wonderful companions they can be. But I wish I had a nickel for every time someone recounted their tale of having a rabbit as a child. It inevitably ends badly, with the animal’s horrible death.  

It’s a misconception that rabbits are “easy pets.” They have special needs that often come as a big surprise to people who acquire them on a whim. Rabbits require specific foods as well as stimulating, indoor, “rabbit-proof” environments and specialized veterinarians. They need lots of hay, they poop a lot and they love to chew on anything, from electric cords to baseboards. They need just as much attention as a dog or a cat. 

Kids want to hug and cuddle them, but rabbits generally shun that kind of hands-on interaction. From their point of view, we’re giant predators, and earning their trust is both a challenge and a joy. But it takes a lot of patience and selflessness, two things young children shouldn’t be expected to have. 

So if you’re a parent vacillating over your child’s plea for an Easter rabbit, please say no. The great thing about this season is that there’s no shortage of adorable stuffed toys available. They’re easy to care for, and no one gets hurt. 

Donna Albergotti is a writer with the PETA Foundation. Visit www.PETA.org.