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Peter Cottontail Comes to NYC

(Photo by Sisi Zhu)
Rabbits are terrible Easter presents when purchased on an impulse, but they can make great pets for people who are prepared to give them what they need. (Photo by Sisi Zhu)
by Jane Warshaw

Easter is around the corner, but if Peter Cottontail has a brain in his head, he’ll be careful about hopping down the bunny trail into New York City. If he’s not lucky, he could find himself in one of the live poultry markets here, where they sell goats and chickens and ducks and live rabbits. Live, but butchered on the spot to be eaten.

According to Natalie Reeves of Big Apple Bunnies, rabbits are the third most popular pets in the U.S., with over 5.3 million companion rabbits living in U.S. households. Still, they’re the only pets acceptable to eat. Unlike cats and dogs, who are protected by laws outlawing cruelty to pets, rabbits fall in a no-man’s land. It’s not clear if they’re companion animals, farm animals, or meat animals. So if a bunny owner decides he or she doesn’t want bunnikins anymore, they can kill him or her for fur, or to eat, or they can cut off the bunny’s feet and use them for “good luck” key chains. They aren’t even protected by humane slaughter laws.

What is clear is that healthy, adoptable rabbits who have been surrendered by their owners will no longer be euthanized by Animal Care & Control of NYC (AC&C). And thanks to a collaboration between AC&C and Petco, Petco stores will only offer rabbits from shelters and rescue groups. Petco stores at East 86th Street and Union Square in Manhattan have at least two adoptable rabbits available at all times. There is no longer any reason for people to buy a bunny in a pet store or from a breeder.

Cindy Stutts, licensed educator and founding board member of Rabbit Rescue & Rehab, the New York City chapter of the House Rabbit Society and an Alliance Participating Organization, says, “Bunnies do make wonderful pets. They have very distinctive personalities, they’re as smart as cats and dogs, and, aside from their spectacular cuteness factor, they’re meticulously clean. But they live, on average, about ten years, so people have to be willing to make a long-term commitment to care for them.”

Mary Cotter, Ed.D, licensed educator and Marketing, PR & Outreach Director of the House Rabbit Society, echoes that concern, cautioning people against buying a bunny on impulse. “He’s not a child’s toy. He’s a real, live, ten-year commitment.”

Her advice for potential adopters: “Adopting from a shelter or foster home rather than purchasing from a pet store or breeder is a win-win situation. Prospective adopters can visit the shelter or foster home and interact with rabbits of different breeds, ages, sizes, and dispositions. Shelters and rescue organizations know their foster rabbits as individuals, so they can match an owner with a rabbit whose personality will be a good fit. What’s more, many rabbits offered through shelters or rescue groups are already neutered.”

Long Island Rabbit Rescue Group warns potential rabbit owners against buying rabbits from breeders for yet another reason: Rabbits from breeders often have serious infectious diseases.

The House Rabbit Society offers lots of helpful information, including a 10-Point Primer for New Bunny Families. Rabbit Rescue & Rehab’s newsletter, Thump: NYC Metro Rabbit News, has lots of information for pet rabbit owners about how to make your home bunny-safe, find a good vet, updates on rabbit rescues, and adoptable bunnies.

Sisi Zhu adopted sibling rabbits Bonnie and Clyde from Animal Care & Control of NYC (AC&C). (Photo by Sisi Zhu)
Sisi Zhu adopted sibling rabbits Bonnie and Clyde from Animal Care & Control of NYC (AC&C). (Photo by Sisi Zhu)
When first-time pet owner, Sisi Zhu, was considering adopting a rabbit, she says, “I did a lot of research. I didn’t adopt a dog because I didn’t think I could make time to walk a dog three times a day, and would feel bad leaving it at home alone for long hours during the day.” Additionally, bunnies go to great lengths to keep their living quarters clean, and they can use a litter box if cleaned regularly.

So, not surprisingly, she adopted two bunnies: bonded litter-mates, Bonnie and Clyde, from the AC&C Manhattan shelter. She says, “Bunnies are sweet as a dog and more house trainable. And the two of them keep each other company.” She had the wires in her apartment wrapped in plastic tubing, filled their litter box with straw, and fed them timothy hay, pellets, and fresh veggies. “They really like cilantro, basil, carrot tops, and dandelion greens,” she says. “It’s great stress relief just to watch them after I come home from work. Their impossible cuteness always makes me smile. I’ve even dedicated a blog to them.”

For more information about how to adopt a great rabbit that’s right for you, contact Cindy Stutts at bygolyoly@yahoo.com. Or, visit the Rabbit Rescue & Rehab website or e-mail nyc.metro.rabbits@gmail.com.

Jane WarshawAbout the Author
Jane Warshaw is a former advertising copywriter who is now a freelance writer specializing in animal rights, animal welfare, and human health and rights issues. Her work has appeared in Time Out New York, The Villager, HuffingtonPost.com, TheMorningLine.com, Tango.com, and the TimesLedger and Manhattan Media newspapers. A graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she now lives in New York City with three cats, a rescued racing Greyhound, and a rotating cast of foster cats and kittens who she cares for until they’re healthy and happy enough to be adopted into permanent homes.