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Animal rescue groups: Too many bunnies abandoned after Easter

In the market for a last-minute Easter gift, perhaps a bunny? Make it chocolate or stuffed, not a living, breathing one. That’s the message from local animal rescue groups, which usually see an uptick in abandoned rabbits in the weeks following the spring holiday.

“A big problem is that people get cute, fuzzy baby bunnies . . . at Easter and don’t always know what is involved. It’s a long-term commitment,” said Sarah Robertson, a Plymouth resident who fosters rabbits and oversees the hotline of the House Rabbit Network, a group that promotes education and adoption in the Northeast.

Rabbits can live about 10 years. Once they hit puberty, if they are not spayed or neutered, they turn into “raging hormonal bunnies,” Robertson said, and can become territorial.

“They can make really great house pets. They can be litter-box trained,” said Heather Faria, executive director of the Pope Memorial SPCA in Concord. “But they certainly are not something you want to do on an impulse.”

Shelters start to see abandoned Easter rabbits a few weeks after the holiday, Robertson said, when children are no longer interested, parents don’t feel like doing the day-to-day chores or when puberty hits and changes a rabbit’s behavior. “We tend to get a lot of calls to get rid of bunnies,” she said. “They get left outside or dropped at shelters, or boxes get dumped overnight.”

The SPCA in Concord, which serves Merrimack County, may see three to six rabbits after the holiday. “We feel like our community is a little more compassionate than most,” Faria said. “We do much better than the national average.”

Those national numbers are tough to come by, said Anne Martin, executive director of the House Rabbit Society, an international rabbit rescue and education organization. But, she said, she imagines that it is in the thousands.

Rabbits are the third-most surrendered animal, after cats and dogs, she said.

“We would love to appeal to pet stores to stop selling baby rabbits,” she said. “There are so many rabbits that end up unwanted and in shelters.”

Robertson said every year the number of bunnies the House Rabbit Network takes in exceeds the number of adoptions, usually about 180.

Petco on Fort Eddy Road doesn’t sell rabbits. It refers customers to adopt from the SPCA, a store manager said. On Craigslist, type in “Easter bunnies,” and several options come up.

One is a post from Bedford that leads to Sue McGowen, a breeder from Living Water Rabbitry. She said she weeds through people who respond to the ad and refuses a lot of them who she thinks are impulse buying for Easter. “I only had nine for sale this year. I could sell 50,” she said. “Bunnies make great pets . . . but you need to know how to handle them well.”

CJ Harrington, another seller on Craigslist from Pelham, raises rabbits for food, but each time he has a new litter he first puts up a post on the site advertising the bunnies as pets. Come Easter time, he usually sees an uptick in customers, but this year he said there haven’t been too many calls.

Animal rescue organizations have been getting out the message not to impulse buy bunnies at Easter for the last several years, Faria said, and the campaign seems to be making headway.

“A bunny is not a pet that many people are familiar with,” she said. “I think people do a much better job of doing research.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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