Easter Has Bunny Volunteers Hopping

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Easter has bunny volunteers hopping
Warwick Beacon – Lifebeats – Thursday March 31, 2005
By Joe Kernan

In spite of years of being told it is not a good idea, people still give bunnies to children at Easter. Most of those rabbits will die from neglect and others are abandoned in parks or left at animal shelters. Fortunately, Rhode Island bunnies have lots of friends and a special shelter just for rabbits in Foster.

“Domestic rabbits are the third most frequently euthanized animals in shelters,” said Jennifer Sears of Sweet Binks, a shelter in Foster devoted to saving as many of those impulsively purchased rabbits as they can. “A rabbit is not a good pet for a child. You can’t just throw food to them and leave them alone. They are social animals and they need attention as much as a cat or dog.”

Sears was at Petco last Saturday urging people to adopt rabbits instead of buying them. Although Petco does not sell rabbits, stores like Petco are frequently used to abandoned, unwanted pets, and the Sweet Binks volunteers were given table space and a place on the floor to display Randy and Ronnie, two “Rex” rabbits of indeterminate sex.

“They have both been neutered but no one has bothered to look,” Sears explained, saying that the difference between male and female rabbits that are neutered is negligible. “So we gave them names that are appropriate for either sex.”

Sears and other rabbit fanciers consider their animals house pets and do not advocate or practice keeping them in hutches outside. Neutering and spaying are also highly recommended.

“After a few months, people begin to wonder what happened to the cuddly little bunny they bought,” said Sears. “Once those hormones start, they become aggressive and not very cuddly anymore. That’s when people want to get rid of them.”

Sears and others of her persuasion are devoted to rabbits as pets the way other people are devoted to cats and dogs and encourage people to realize that rabbits require a similar degree of commitment.

“A neutered rabbit can live 10 to 12 years,” said Sears. “And after they are neutered, it’s easy to train them to a litter box. A lot of rabbits are left outside places like Petco or they are brought to local animal shelters that in turn give them to us.”

Sweet Binks took in 227 rabbits last year and found homes for 180 of them. They currently have about 50 rabbits at their shelter now and do not euthanize any of them unless they have a medical condition or have been so traumatized or ignored that they are no longer social.

“We have taken in about 460 rabbits since 2002,” said Pamela Hood, the founder of the Sweet Binks shelter. “We have a net work of volunteers and friends that are willing to take in those rabbits. So far, we have only had to euthanize about 17 of the animals we took in.”

Domestic rabbits cannot take care of themselves if abandoned in the wild and will not survive. Sweet Binks is devoted to finding homes where the owner knows that keeping a rabbit is a long-term commitment. But for Hood and her volunteers, it is more than worth it.

“I got my first rabbit from my husband when I was going trough a rough time in my life,” said Hood. “He bought me the rabbit, which is exactly what I know now is the wrong thing to do, but I fell in love with that rabbit, and the more I learned about abandoned bunnies, the more I knew something had to be done.”

Sweet Binks is a 1,800-square- foot accredited shelter devoted solely to rabbits that have been relinquished to a shelter or abandoned. In spite of the work and attention a companion rabbit requires, they can still be delightful companions. In fact, the name of the shelter in Foster derives some of its story to rabbit behavior. The 1790 farm that hosts the shelter was once owned by the Sweet family and later by the Binks family. The name Binks echoes one of the most endearing traits of companion rabbits.

“When a rabbit is really happy, it will jump up and do a 360 spin that rabbit owners call a ‘binky,’ so it is an appropriate name for the shelter,” said Hood.

Hood said she has had a difficult time getting people to take adopting rabbits seriously because it remains, for many people, a livestock animal. There are still butcher shops on Federal Hill where live rabbits are sold for the table, and Hood said her presentations have sometimes been sneered at by people remarking about how delicious her furry friends can be.

“We don’t eat cats or dogs in this country and people wouldn’t dream of leaving a cat or dog outdoors 24 hours a day,” she said. “They feel differently about rabbits. But I’m not out to change the world. That’s not my mission. What I want to do is discourage people from buying bunnies on impulse and in ignorance of what kind of commitment it takes.”

If you have thought about getting a rabbit, Hood thinks it’s a mistake to buy them for young children, no matter how tempting it may seem at the time. Even if the child is not charged with taking care of the rabbit, the rabbit can suffer from children who don’t know better doing things that upset it. Rabbits like to be around people but they do not always want to be held.

If you are curious about rabbits as pets, here are some facts you should consider:

• Rabbits are quiet and do not demand a lot of attention, although daily exercise and playtime out of the cage is a necessity.

• Readily tamed, rabbits are social and interactive and house rabbits are playful and entertaining to watch.

• They do need to chew, so lots of chewable toys should be provided, and any spaces where the rabbit is allowed to run must be carefully rabbit- proofed.

“They have a knack for chewing,” said Rick Reynolds of Warwick, who has five house rabbits. “He cut through all the cords on the TV, the X-Box, even a quad-shield cord. You have to do the same things you would do to baby-proof house, like keep things out of their reach.”

• Rabbits require veterinary care, which can be expensive. They should be spayed neutered (by a vet experienced with surgery on rabbits) and they may require vaccinations depending on where you live.

“Rabbits come to maturity very early, and once those hormones start raging you can have serious behavior problems,” said Sears. “Once a rabbit has been spayed or neutered the difference is amazing. You can train them to the litter box easier and they become much easier to socialize.”

• A neutered rabbit can live to be 10 to 12 years old. According to Hood, an estimated 80 90 percent of unfixed rabbits develop some sort of reproductive cancer after the age of four.

• Rabbit urine can have strong odor so expect to change their litter box frequently (spaying and neutering can help reduce the odor. In addition their urine is high in calcium so can leave a chalky residue when dries that can be hard to clean up (vinegar is pretty effective for this).

Hood said that she has no exact figures on how many people keep house rabbits nationally, but with 366 adopted out of Sweet Binks since 2002, the numbers must be substantial. Googling “rabbits as pets” on the Internet produced close to a million hits, so the number seems to be growing and Pamela Hood would like to see the number of adopted rabbits rise.

“I just want people to stop buying rabbits on impulse,” she said. “What I want to do is curb the sales of rabbits and see more people adopt them and make the commitment that is necessary.

Anyone interested in adopting rabbit or volunteering at Sweet Binks should call 397-6377.

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