Every spring around Easter time, demand for cute, baby “Easter animals” skyrockets. Baby bunnies and chicks are the animals most strongly associated with this Christian holiday, though their presence there holds origins in pagan traditions. For some parents, a tiny fluffy rabbit or bird may seem to be the perfect “starter pet” for their young child, and they adopt one of these animals on a whim, without much forethought or research into animal care. I will talk here specifically about rabbits, as I am a proud new bunny parent, though it is important to remember that chickens are also impacted by this phenomenon.
Rabbits are NOT a good “starter pet” for a child. Depending on the rabbit’s personality, she may not be interested in being picked up or cuddled, which can be confusing or frustrating for a child. She may scratch or bite when handled incorrectly. As a rule, children should not be responsible for animals. They often lose interest in their pet quite quickly. Additionally, that cute tiny bunny, depending on the breed, can grow to be larger than a cat. Finally, rabbits require a ton of maintenance, stimulation, and love, something many Easter-time adopters aren’t aware of and cannot or will not give.
For this reason, many “Easter bunnies” are dumped into shelters or worse, released into the wild. Domesticated rabbits that are released do not survive, as they lack the camouflage that their untamed cousins have, and their rabbit-y survival instincts have been dulled through years of selective breeding that have led to the more gentle domesticated bunny. Shelters receive a huge flood of unwanted rabbits in the weeks after the holiday, in numbers far larger than those of willing rabbit adopters. As a result, many of these rabbits are destroyed in shelters; brought into the world, played with for a few days, then discarded like a toy, only to be euthanized at a shelter just a short while after life began.
Thus, while both the pet store and the (temporary) adoptive family gain a consumer surplus from making a $15 baby bunny transaction, there is a negative externality associated with that transaction that hurts the rabbit in question, as well as every rabbit in a shelter, and the shelters themselves. The negative externality on the rabbit I’ve just explained above. But could it really be true that getting a baby bunny hurts every rabbit in a shelter? In fact, this rule applies to getting any baby animal from a breeder or pet store at any time of the year. Because for every cute baby animal in a pet store window, there are many dozens of equally deserving animals of all ages, personalities, and appearances living in shelters. If you truly have room in your heart and life for a rabbit, it is better to visit a shelter to seek your new friend, because the babies will get snatched up either way (as there is a much higher demand for baby bunnies than shelter bunnies) while the shelter bunnies stand the chance of being destroyed if not adopted. In addition, adopting from a shelter removes a small strain on the resources of the shelter, hypothetically increasing the welfare of all the animals living there and the people that work there.
I’ve already mentioned one way to avoid the negative externality of buying a baby bunny (that is, don’t get a baby bunny – get a bunny from a shelter). What else can we do to prevent the mass destruction of abandoned rabbits? Some pet stores refuse to sell rabbits in the weeks leading up to Easter time, as they are aware of the repercussions of selling baby bunnies at that time. This resembles command-and-control regulations, except for that the government is not imposing this regulation, but the pet store itself. Another way to reduce the amount of baby rabbits sold into homes that will abandon them would be to require each potential adoptive family to attend an information session on what it is like to live with a rabbit, or for the families to fill out a questionnaire concerning their lifestyle. Hopefully, these procedures would help some potential adoptive families realize that a rabbit is not the right pet for them at this time, thus reducing the number of rabbits abandoned.
I adopted my bunny a few weeks ago from a breeder in Waitsburg. I love her fiercely and cannot imagine ever turning her over to a shelter. When I adopted her, though, I was not fully cognizant of the fact that adopting from a shelter is the better choice. I know that she will have a fantastic quality of life with me, but so many rabbits are not so lucky. After I spay her, I plan on going to a shelter to find her a companion (pairs of rabbit friends – known as a “bonded couple” – keep one another out of trouble, and keep each other happy). If you think you may get a pet in the future, be it rabbit or chicken or dog or cat or shark or whatever, please, go to a shelter, or craiglist, or anywhere you can find a deserving pet who has a chance of being destroyed.
Here are some links to various resources for adopting and shelters:
http://rabbit.org – tons of information on rabbits & rabbit care (also a reference)
http://bluemountainhumane.org – the local humane society, located in Walla Walla!
http://kpr.craigslist.org/search/pet – lots of pets looking for loving homes!
Never adopt unless you are POSITIVE that you can make the financial, mental, and time commitment!