By Angelina Tang
In modern media, the holiday of Easter has many iconic symbols. Things such as flowers, eggs, chicks, ducks, rabbits, and spring in general are all embedded in the essence of the celebration, so it’s really no surprise that this holiday has a strong correlation with the sale of domesticated rabbits in pet stores all over America. However, what many people don’t know is the other side of this phenomenon–the rise in abandonment rates in the months following Easter.
The idea of getting a rabbit, very often for children, to celebrate Easter is fairly easy to understand. On the surface, rabbits are seen as cute, cuddly creatures, but it is unfortunately not so simple once you do just a bit of research. Rabbits are most certainly high maintenance. They cannot live in a cage their whole lives. Even the smallest breed, the Netherland Dwarf, requires lots of exercise, so house-training is a must, no matter what.
In addition, rabbits are definitely not cuddly. They don’t like heights and being restrained; they may also be skittish, which makes them a bad choice of pet for little kids. Unfortunately, a pet for little kids is often what they are seen as, as many people believe in the myth that all rodents are low maintenance cage animals. This leads to thousands of rabbits in the U.S. being purchased around Easter as gifts.
Firstly, this phenomenon is perpetuated by commercial rabbit breeders. Breeders often arrange for spring litters for the increased sales. This problem stems from the commercialization and commodification of the pet industry. However, many efforts have been made in the last decade or so to educate would-be buyers, and more conscientious specialty breeders who care about where their animals end up avoid letting their bunnies go on sale in April. Some stores even prohibit the sale of rabbits near the holiday, such as Pets at Home in the U.K.. This is a good start to solving the problem.
However, it is obviously not enough. Animal shelters across the U.S. see a surge in rabbit abandonment in late spring to early summer, at which point the little bunnies at Easter grow up into their troublesome adolescent stage. They may have more accidents and pursue bad behaviors such as chewing. Neutering and spaying operations can stop this, but they cost up into the hundreds of dollars, which are often an unknown and unwanted expense for impulsive and unresearched buyers (mostly because the rabbit itself often costs under fifty dollars).
According to National Geographic statistics from pre-pandemic years, 80% of rabbits purchased at Easter are abandoned or die within a year. Considering the lifespan for domestic rabbits should be about ten, that’s a pretty dramatic statistic. It’s very important for prospective buyers to consider these long-term commitments to caring for a rabbit and paying necessary veterinary fees. If someone you know is considering purchasing a rabbit (or a chick or duckling, although they are less often impulsively bought) without the proper research for Easter, please urge them to think about how they will care for it as a family member, not as an object or toy, for the rest of its life.