When most people consider adopting a pet, dogs and cats have been traditionally the most popular. And because these types of rescues typically receive the most exposure, rabbit adoption unfortunately goes overlooked.
“There are an overwhelming amount of rabbits needing help,” says Mona Reopel, co-founder of 3 Bunnies Rabbit Rescue in Wethersfield, Connecticut. “The true number is hard to determine, since so many are abandoned or let loose and not even known about.”
Why Are Rabbits Surrendered?
Lack of education about rabbits and rabbit ownership is one of the most pervasive problems when it comes to pet rabbits being surrendered or abandoned. While dogs and cats are popular pets, rabbits are less so, and the public tends to know less about their challenges, says Reopel. For example, an adolescent rabbit can have territorial behaviors including growling and nipping, both of which lead to high surrender rates—but these are easily improved once they’re spayed or neutered.
“Rabbits who are not spayed or neutered will inevitably develop behaviors which are problematic for their humans and unhealthy for the rabbits,” says Reopel. “Having your rabbit spayed or neutered can make a world of difference.”
Rabbits and Easter
Easter presents a unique challenge for Reopel and other rabbit adoption agencies. Many families purchase a bunny as an Easter novelty, not considering the long-term responsibilities of pet ownership. And unfortunately, many public shelters don’t accept rabbits, which aren’t traditionally viewed as companion animals.
“Many Animal Control Organizations don’t think rabbits are part of their job,” says Reopel. “Dealing with the ‘farmed animal’ attitude and Easter definitely doesn’t help.”
However, if you’re looking for a long-term pet and not simply a novelty, rabbits make great family pets. Not only are they litter-box trainable, but they can provide excellent companionship when given the proper care and adjustment time.
“Rabbits are prey animals, so it may take a little while,” says Lejla Hadzimuratovic, president and founder of Bunny World Foundation, a Los Angeles-based rescue. “The true personality of a rabbit might be hidden for a while due to lack of trust in his or her human. But for those who invest a bit of patience and time in their rabbits, the rewards are infinite.”
Adopting a Rabbit
So what else should a family take into consideration before adopting a rabbit? For one, rabbits and dogs aren’t usually a match.
“There are exceptions to the rule, but the rule is more important to know; bunnies and dogs are not good together,” says Hadzimuratovic. “For most bunnies, dogs cause them too much stress. Even if the dog is friendly, the bunny could be living with too much stress, which leads to health problems.”
Cats, on the other hand, usually get along with bunnies. Initial encounters should be closely monitored, but it’s likely that a friendship—or at least peaceful tolerance—can develop.
“As a rule, bunnies and cats get along very nicely, with cats seemingly causing no stress or fear to bunnies,” says Hadzimuratovic. “In fact, an overwhelming number households praise a tranquil relationship between their bunnies and cats.”
If you don’t have any other animals in the home, most rescue organizations advise adopting bonded pairs of rabbits. As social animals, they require furry friends to lead happy and healthy lives.
“The true personality of a rabbit might be hidden for a while due to lack of trust in his or her human. But for those who invest a bit of patience and time in their rabbits, the rewards are infinite.”
“Many want a single rabbit, not realizing the lonely life for any rabbit denied a bond-mate,” says Hadzimuratovic. “A caring dialogue about that often leads to a happy adoption of a pair.”
Once you’ve educated yourself about the unique needs and challenges of owning a rabbit, the next step is finding your match. Hadzimuratovic has a few recommendations regardless of your location.
“Looking on the social media pages and websites of bunny rescues in your area is an excellent way to start,” she says. “They have biographies and backstories that inform and influence adopters in unexpended ways.”
Although adoption agencies like 3 Bunnies Rabbit Rescue and Bunny World Foundation understand they’re fighting an uphill battle, they’re beyond dedicated to their work.
“Saving rabbit lives is more than important to me, it’s my calling,” says Hadzimuratovic. “Rabbits are worth everything my volunteers, fosters and I do for them. And that says a lot.”
John Plichter is a writer and advertising professional from Philadelphia. He and his girlfriend share their home with rescue dogs Murph and Elmer, who are three-legged and blind respectively.