Most of the time, I use this space to blog about dogs and dog training. But with Easter coming, I’ve got rabbits on the brain.
At the Red Door Animal Shelter, where I work as a shelter technician, we specialize in rabbits. And we’re bracing ourselves for an influx.
You see, Easter is a popular time for bunnies. People love to give baby bunnies as Easter gifts. But too often, people don’t realize the work and time that go into caring for a rabbit and what winds up happening is people either surrender the rabbits to us or simply release them into the wild, where their chance of surviving more than a month (if the Red Door staff doesn’t step in to rescue them) is very slim.
That’s why I was asked to write this post. There’s a lot you need to know before adopting a rabbit and they’re not a good fit as a pet for everyone. Also, not every rabbit will be a great pet for every family.
So how do you find the right rabbit for you? To answer that question, I talked to Toni Greetis, Red Door’s vice president and head of the rabbit adoption program. Toni is an absolute encyclopedia of rabbit knowledge. I’m convinced that the sheer amount of rabbit knowledge she has accumulated has caused her to forget large chunks of her childhood. If anyone can help you find the right rabbit, it’s her.
Before adopting a rabbit, Greetis says, you need to determine whether a rabbit is right for you. Can you commit to an animal that will likely live between eight and 12 years? Rabbits aren’t like rats and mice. They live a long time. Are you getting a rabbit for your kids? Then you need to consider whether your kids are likely to lose interest once they get into high school and dating and all that fun stuff. Are your kids close to college age? That’s fine, but are you willing to take care of the rabbit once they’re gone?
These are all important factors, as is the fact that rabbits need several hours per day of exercise and socialization.
You also need to consider your own expectations for a pet. Do you want a pet that loves to cuddle? Most rabbits, because they’re prey animals, don’t like being cuddled or held. It’s scary to them. Can you live with the mess? Rabbits are generally clean creatures, but timothy hay, which is a large part of their diet, is messy and while they can often be counted on to use a litter box, they’re unlikely to be perfect about it and you will sometimes have to clean rabbit poop off your floor.
Other factors to consider before deciding to adopt a rabbit:
Little kids. Rabbits aren’t great pets for little kids and while Red Door won’t disqualify a family from adopting for having little kids, it’s a factor that gets considered. “We generally do not recommend pet rabbits for small children because rabbits are delicate prey animals,” Greetis says. “Kids usually want a pet they can cuddle, and rabbits do not like this. Small children do not understand the consequences of mishandling a rabbit or feeding it candy/chips/scraps. Small kids can also be very loud and active; rabbits prefer a quiet home with a regular routine. Also, many kids get bored with the rabbit once they realize they cannot pick it up, or the bun doesn’t conform to their expectations.”
Do you plan to give the rabbit as a gift? Absolutely not. Rabbits – like pretty much any animal – are not gifts. They are living beings and if you want to bring one into your family, everyone needs to be on board with it before adopting.
Are you fastidious about the level of cleanliness in your home? You probably shouldn’t have a rabbit. As I said before, they’re not terribly messy, but they certainly have the potential to be and they’ll never be perfect.
Ok, so you’ve decided to adopt a rabbit.
Fantastic. Now, how do you go about picking the right rabbit for you? That’s where a little knowledge can come in very handy. Potential adopters at Red Door are interviewed by one of several rabbit adoption counselors, each of whom knows all the quirks of each of our rabbits. The goal is to find the rabbit whose personality is the best fit for the adopting family.
Greetis warns that cuteness is NOT a good indicator of whether a rabbit will be a good fit for your family.
“As much as we tell people not to judge a bunny by its looks, we find they will still pick the fancy rabbit over the plain-colored rabbits,” she said. “Red-eyed rabbits are very sweet as a breed, yet the majority of adopters refuse to even consider them because they are creeped out by the eyes.”
Side note: Red-eyed rabbits are among the sweetest rabbits out there because many were bred to be used for either meat or chemical testing. That means they had to be docile, easy to handle and social. Also, this blogger thinks they’re freaking adorable.
So what do the adoption counselors actually consider when trying to match a family to a rabbit? (By the way, note that I said “match a family to a rabbit,” rather than “match a rabbit to a family.”)
“Once we have done an interview and educated (or re-educated) a potential adopter, we meet them at Red Door and introduce them to the rabbit personalities we think are appropriate,” Greetis says. “The rabbit adoption counselors try to match personality and age to an adopter. Some buns are high energy (babies), some are couch potatoes, some are independent, some are very needy and will follow you like a dog. It’s a matter of asking the applicant about their daily routine, expectations for a pet and setup at home.”
The bottom line is that the more knowledge you have, the better off you’ll be. If you are aware of your own expectations for a pet, you’ll be better equipped to find one that will become a happy member of your family.
After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill Mayeroff‘s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter. He recently graduated from FetchFind Academy and is a Junior Trainer at AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups.