The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

That Adorable Baby Bunny? Don't Buy It As An Easter Gift, Shelter Says

By Linze Rice | March 22, 2016 6:15am | Updated on April 14, 2017 8:24am
 Red Door Animal Shelter in West Ridge said since last Easter it's rescued at least 82 rabbits who have been given up by families who bought them as a cute
Red Door Animal Shelter in West Ridge said since last Easter it's rescued at least 82 rabbits who have been given up by families who bought them as a cute "impulse" item.
View Full Caption
Facebook/Red Door Animal Shelter

WEST RIDGE — Red Door Animal Shelter in West Ridge gets it: Fluffy, baby bunnies are excruciatingly cute.

"Easter is a big day in the animal rescue world for rabbits," said Marcia Coburn, president at the Red Door Animal Shelter, 2410 W. Lunt Ave. in West Ridge. "They're pretty irresistible: little bunny, all furry, all cute, looks like a little toy come alive. And some places sell them for like $10, so yeah, super implusive."

But that doesn't mean they make for great pets for all families, and since Easter last year Red Door has rescued at least 82 rabbits who were adopted as "impulse" gifts before being let loose.

Pet expert Steve Dale shares some advice on bunnies as pets.

It's a problem Coburn said she faces every year when around Easter parents who see the cute baby rabbits buy them for their kids, not realizing the type of care and maintenance they require — let alone they aren't ideal pets for young children.

"We always say that rabbits are sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of the pet world," Coburn said. "They don't get a lot of respect."

For starters, rabbits are a big commitment: they typically live between 8-12 years, go through an "emotional and hormonal" teenage phase, need to be spayed or neutered (or expect the possibility of many more rabbits), and aren't equipped to be dumped into the wild if a family changes its mind, Coburn said.

Because rabbits have only running and hiding as defense mechanisms, Coburn said they don't enjoy being picked up or held too far away from the ground (think being scooped up by an owl) — something kids are often eager to do.

Their bones are also brittle, and their spines don't share the same flexibility as that of a cat, meaning it's easy for kids to accidentally cause a broken leg — or even worse, a broken back.

Pet rabbits end up much larger than how they appear as babies, Coburn said, and by the time they need to have the costly spay/neuter surgery done (there's no low-cost option like for cats and dogs), people oftentimes decide they no longer want responsibility for the rabbit and let it out into the yard.

"Bringing the rabbit outside, it's a horrible, horrible death — I wouldn't wish it on anybody," Coburn said. "From owls, foxes, raccoons, you know, dogs, cats, all kinds of predators, all kinds of horrible bugs and things."

Red Door Animal Shelter rescues about 300 rabbits each year, and said they're "famous" for being one of the few resources available when people let domestic bunnies loose. [Facebook/Red Door Animal Shelter]

As domestic rabbits grow, they begin to show their differences from the small cotton-tailed rabbits frequently seen throughout Chicago neighborhoods.

Though a new ordinance bans the sale of rabbits in pet stores within Cook County, Coburn said they're still sold in the suburbs and end up making their way back to the city.

Coburn said it's obvious when a domestic rabbit has been let loose because they vary in color — as wild rabbits generally share the light brown/gray tweed pattern known as agouti, and domesticated ones range from black and white to spotted to orange.

Domestic rabbits are also usually bigger, have bigger and possibly floppier ears, might seem friendlier or less afraid of humans, and might even stand on their hind legs, as if to "ask for help," Coburn said.

Used to being raised by people, domestic rabbits lack the vital survival skills it takes for wild rabbits to live outdoors and many times succumb to the elements or become infested with bugs and insects.

Baby rabbits aren't always a bad choice — it just needs to be the right fit, Coburn said as two uncaged rabbits roamed around her home office.

When in the right environment, rabbits can dance, jump, throw "temper tantrums," play and even use the litter box, she said. They don't need to be caged all the time, or ever, she said, and they each have their own unique personalities.

But without the proper knowledge and care, they're often left on their own — which is illegal, according to the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act. 

If people do want to rid of their pet bunny, Coburn said to contact friends, local vets and trusted organizations first. Places like Red Door have a wait list, but can refer people to other resources.

Whatever you do, don't post an ad for rabbits on Craiglist, Coburn warned, because they are used more as dog fighting bait and snake meals than members of a new home.

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: