On the benefits, boundaries and burdens of bunnies

In January 2012, I lay sick on the living room couch, trying to get comfortable with my blankets and pillows to no avail. However, to try to distract me from my misery, my mother let my two-year-old Netherland dwarf rabbit named Mischief out into the living room.
He immediately could sense something was off and hopped onto my lap and tried rearranging the blankets with his paws. I chuckled as he tried to spread out the blanket over my knees while being anchored with his hind feet to not slide off. I immediately forgot the severity of my condition and stroked his tiny ears and we both napped for a few hours once the blanket was in good shape for both of us. It was the best sick day of my life.
My poor Mischief passed away a year later for reasons unknown. It could have been a multitude of reasons, but my limited knowledge of bunnies at the time left me without answers. My lack of understanding of his passing left a piercing wound on my heart, and it could only be healed if I was allowed to try again with another bunny. And this time, I would be equipped with the knowledge.
The symbol of the rabbit is especially important in springtime, as the animal represents fertility. It has also become associated with non-religious Easter traditions, thanks to the Easter Bunny, who supposedly hides baskets of chocolate eggs and treats on Easter Sunday for children to find. This holiday, unfortunately, also comes with the infamous impulse of buying actual rabbits as gifts or pets.
There are many misconceptions about rabbit care, as people mistakenly believe they are the perfect “starter” pets for children. Rabbits are initially seen as short-lived, low-maintenance pets. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! Rabbits are labeled by vets as “exotic pets” due to their unique health and wellness requirements, so locating a qualified vet to treat them is more difficult and costly than finding care for cats and dogs.
Rabbits are also social creatures and need room to hop and play. They can become depressed or aggressive if trapped in a cage all day. They need access to pellets, water and hay, the latter comprising 80% of their diet. Often, you will see rabbits placed in small cages with wire-bottom floors to filter their droppings.
It breaks my heart that people cannot see how uncomfortable it is for rabbits to try to sit and be comfortable for hours when their paws are in great pain. Rabbits do not have paw pads like most mammals; therefore, wires expose their paws to sores, blisters and infections. More than once I have confronted the people in charge of having bunnies on display and ask why they don’t have more hay or some surface to rest their paws off the wires. I am usually met with dismissive, disgruntled responses of their current display being the easiest to clean up.
It is also important to keep in mind rabbits are fragile, prey animals. The TikTok and Instagram shorts of rabbits laying on their backs on their humans’ knees, humans holding them by the scruff or humans holding them up without supporting their feet is a big no-no. They like to stay on the ground where they are in control. Even worse, if people have predator pets, like cats and dogs, they can unintentionally leave the rabbit in a stressful and potentially fatal situation. However, with careful monitoring, other pets can sometimes coexist in peace.
Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and twilight hours. They can spend a majority of the day sleeping, just like cats. Unfortunately, younger children can become frustrated if a bunny is not as attentive as they expect. Children also lack the understanding of their own strength, as their enthusiasm for picking up and holding bunnies can cause their pet great distress and physical damage. As prey animals, they are exceptionally good at refraining from appearing injured or sick, so it is imperative to keep an eye on a bunny’s habits to ensure they are healthy.
Various pet stores, including Petco and Petsmart, have stopped selling rabbits due to their concerns of abandonment. Shelters can receive up to 500 requests per year from owners looking to return their rabbits. Naturally, calls usually spike around Easter time. National Geographic claims a shelter in Georgia receives one to two calls a week about abandoned rabbits, increasing to three to four calls a day by six weeks after the Easter holiday.
While all bunny lovers want rabbits to be adopted, it is worse for them to be given to people who will try to return them or are unable to do so. Some shelters or stores can harbor animals for only so long before they are sent to a grim fate, though some specialized shelters such as the Erie Area Rabbit Society have more generous policies.
When a shelter will not take a rabbit, owners often turn to the wild. Public parks in Washington and California are infamous dumping grounds for unwanted rabbits. Domestic rabbits, unfortunately, lack the instincts to find safe shelter or food and water, meaning that they will not survive in the wild.
Their lack of survival instincts are not a sign of unintelligence. Domestic rabbits are clever, curious and ardently adorable and worthy of all our affection and care! It will take time to know them, for they are shy prey animals. However, once you gain their trust, it feels so much more special.
If you are thinking about purchasing rabbits for yourself or others at any season, do the research first. Make sure you understand the 10- to 12-year commitment. Do not exploit them for content! Exposing your bunny to unnecessary stress just for a photo is no way to treat your fluffy companion.
The new bunny I own is a white-and-gray Holland lop named Martha. She is seven years old, and has been with me since my transition to high school and even throughout college. She is a great listener and loves to eat bananas and blueberries. She technically can go anywhere in the house, but she likes to be escorted like the queen she is via blanket. She sits on the couch and watches and supports our hockey and football teams, and I like to hold her paw briefly for good luck if any of our Pittsburgh teams make the playoffs, which has actually worked.
Martha’s crepuscular habits suit my family well. While we are all out at work or school, she takes long naps, and in the late afternoon, she hops in circles until she gets her dinner to eat with us. My heart is at peace knowing I did something right to allow my next bunny to live several years longer than Mischief.
This lunar year is the Year of the Rabbit. In Chinese culture, the rabbit has the characteristics of luck and leaping into action. Let us hop into this spring with this information to equip you to help make good decisions on the treatment of bunnies. Let us have our future Easters be a happy opportunity for bunnies to find responsible, forever homes.