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Star-Bulletin Features


Thursday, March 28, 2002


art

Consider commitment
before buying an
Easter bunny

The fluffy, cute rabbit you buy
today may be a hassle later


By Cinde Fisher
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Each Easter we are inundated with shopping mall and pet store displays extolling the joys of buying a cuddly bunny for the children. But organizations concerned with animal protection and education urge parents and other consumers to avoid temptation and look upon the purchase of any pet as an adoption and commitment for the life of the animal.

Animal protection groups like the House Rabbit Society and The Fund for Animals warn against impulse buying of bunnies at Easter, noting that many animals end up dumped at local shelters or set free after their novelty wears off.

Eric Ako, executive vice president of the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association notes that the acquisition of any pet should be a thoughtful process, and reflect a degree of responsibility. "A rabbit is not a toy," he says.

Further complicating the issue is the irresponsible sale of rabbits weaned too early, some as young as four to five weeks old, to offer the tiniest bunny possible. Rabbits taken from the doe (mother rabbit) and siblings at an inappropriate age can appear healthy but suffer medical problems.

Consumers also must realize that the tiny bundle of fur they see at the pet store could grow to an average five to eight pounds or more, unless it is a purebred Netherland Dwarf, the smallest rabbit breed, with an adult weight of about 2-1/2 pounds.

Though many children may be responsible in providing daily pet care, children and bunnies are usually a bad combination. Children, in their natural exuberance, may accidentally and permanently injure baby bunnies by dropping them, resulting in the animal's broken back and subsequent paralysis. Rabbits also are not fond of being held for extended periods, and because they're animals of prey, are subject to sudden jumping when frightened.

Rabbits are not low-maintenance pets. Their average lifespan may be 7 to 10 years, assuming proper care. I have even had one client bring me a healthy 13-year-old rabbit.

Rabbits are best kept in the home as part of the family, as you would care for your dog or cat, and they should be litter-trained as well. The home must be "bunny-proofed," similar to being child-proofed. Rabbits need to chew because their teeth grow continuously. Common objects of desire include electrical cords, wood furniture and carpeting. Rabbits often don't discriminate between poisonous and non-poisonous plants, so house and outdoor foliage must be chosen carefully or blocked off.

Most important of all, you must be willing to spay or neuter your rabbit. Just as for dogs and cats, this is done not just for reproductive reasons, but for health and behavioral concerns. Male rabbits mature at 4 months and females at approximately 6 months, at which time they are essentially rebellious "teenagers," with possible aggression and other behavioral problems.

The cost of spaying or neutering ranges from $100 to more than $250, and should always be done by an experienced exotics vet. The advantages are a calm, happy and mellow bunny, with fewer health problems and a longer lifespan.

For those who still wish to pursue the joys of a house rabbit, consider an altered adult. The personality is set, and you often know immediately when handling the bunny whether he's tolerant and well-socialized. Read all you can about the proper care and feeding of a house rabbit beforehand. I often refer to Marinell Harriman's "House Rabbit Handbook" (Drollery Press) as the bunny owners' "bible."

Some of the best advice can be found online at sites devoted to companion (as opposed to breeding) rabbit care, like that of the House Rabbit Society.

When you bring a rabbit into the home as part of the family, you experience the funny, rascally and affectionate behavior rarely seen when they're locked in a cage, or consigned to a lonely life in an outdoor hutch.

I have a client who flies rescue missions for the Coast Guard, whose house bunny, Imelda, watches cartoons daily with her master. Another client, a retired naval commodore, owns a lovely bayfront condo within which he built an entire "apartment" for his bunny by refurbishing and closing off the attached garage.

Such accouterments aren't necessary for the average bunny, and enclosures can be unconventional, like a puppy playpen, which affords space to run, jump and play, yet still offers confinement. You can also offer semi-confinement via a "baby gate" that cordons off a porch, kitchen or playroom area.

Sharing your life with any animal means a lifelong commitment to its health and welfare. No animal should be purchased or adopted without proper research and forethought, and should be acquired with the knowledge that they will be cared for as a permanent member of the family.

Following are sites for further research:

>> House Rabbit Society -- http://www.rabbit.org
>> The Fund for Animals -- http://fund.org
>> Children and Rabbits -- http://www.rabbit.org/faq/sections/children.html
>> Bunnies and Easter Don't Mix -- http://www.rabbit.org/easter/index.html


Cinde Fisher conducts the BunnyCares community workshops, available to any group or school, focusing on the care of house rabbits. Fisher, who is owned by five rabbits, also provides home services for rabbits, including consulting, grooming and bunny-sitting. Call 381-5545.


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