'No animal should ever be a gift': Rescue group warns against bunny dumping after Easter holiday

A bunny is seen in this stock photo. (ROMAN ODINTSOV/Pexels)

A rescue organization in Ontario is urging parents to research what it takes to care for a pet rabbit before buying an Easter bunny as a gift for their children, as many of the animals are dumped outside or surrendered to shelters after the holiday.

Haviva Porter, executive director of Rabbit Rescue Inc., told CTVNews.ca on Friday that the abandoning of Easter bunnies occurs every year a couple of months after the holiday when families realize they aren’t prepared to meet the needs of a rabbit.

"Usually summer is pretty bad. This is when the kids have lost interest, the baby rabbits that were bought are starting to mature… parents don't want to spend hundreds of dollars to get them spayed and neutered, they're ending up being stuck in a tiny cage, and that’s when they contact us," Porter said in a telephone interview.

"During July is when sort of the dumpings and returns of Easter bunny usually start," she added.

Porter, who has been rescuing rabbits for 20 years, said her organization regularly has to deal with domesticated bunnies being dumped and left outside.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has also made the situation worse.

"It's been especially bad during the pandemic… with shelters being closed for so many months and people having nowhere to surrender their animals to -- I mean we’re helping up to like 500 dumped bunnies a year outside now," Porter said.

While one might assume all rabbits can survive outside, Porter says domestic rabbits are "completely different" than wild Eastern cottontails.

"They don't have those survival instincts to manage, to live outside. It's like taking any house pet and just dumping them outside," she explained.

Porter said the dumping has gotten so bad over the past couple of years that Rabbit Rescue has created a network of volunteers across the province to quickly catch abandoned bunnies.

Porter said she usually receives daily messages about domesticated rabbits being spotted outside, and said volunteers have to act quickly as the animals do not last long on their own.

An Easter bunny may seem like a cute idea for the holidays, but Porter warned that they are not the inexpensive pet one might expect them to be.

While breeders may sell them for cheap, Porter said they don't always tell buyers that it is necessary to spay or neuter the bunny in a couple of months, which can be costly.

"They can become aggressive, hormonal, territorial… very destructive, chewing, digging until they're spayed or neutered, and I mean you're looking at $300-$400 at least to get that done," she said.

Porter said the cost of a rabbit’s medical care can also really add up.

"They're so delicate that they're constantly at the vet it seems with either stasis or a dental problem or upper respiratory [infection], so be prepared to spend that money because they are expensive animals to have and they are a lot of work," Porter said.

In addition to the cost of care, Porter noted that rabbits aren’t great pets for kids to begin with.

"They're high stress, they don't like to be picked up, they can scratch, bite, kick, don't like loud noises," Porter said.

However, she says a bunny can be a "great companion" if families put in the work to take care of them.

"They can be part of the family," she said. “But it's the parent's responsibility to watch the interaction as well and be the one looking after the [bunny] too."

While Porter said the abandoning of Easter bunnies happens every year, on a positive note, she did not receive a single request this year from families looking to purchase a rabbit for the holiday.

"I think awareness is coming, and people are realizing -- at least some people -- to not get a rabbit just because it's Easter," Porter said.

"No animal should ever be a gift," she added.

Poster said Rabbit Rescue Inc., as well as other shelters and rescue campaigns, do yearly campaigns in an effort to raise awareness about how often bunnies purchased for Easter are abandoned, and she thinks the message may be finally "sinking in."

However, she said enough parents will still purchase Easter bunnies as gifts so abandoning remains a "huge concern."

"They're wonderful animals and such good companions… but you have to do your research and realize they're more high maintenance than a cat," Porter said.