NEW YORK — Rabbits bought as pets are being dumped and left to die in parks and gardens across the city — and animal advocates fear the problem will worsen as Easter approaches.
Animal Care & Control of New York City took in 380 rabbits last year — up from 341 in 2012 and 283 in 2011. That doesn’t count the dozens of homeless bunnies saved by volunteers who say they’re having a hard time keeping up with rabbit rescues.
“I’ve never lived somewhere where this happens as often as it does here,” said P.J. McKosky, a volunteer for the Brooklyn-based rescue group Empty Cages Collective. “We’re getting calls every week.”
Many of the unwanted bunnies end up in the so-called rabbit room at Animal Care & Control’s East Harlem facility. Erin Alanna, a member of the rescue group NYC Metro Rabbits, said she’s seen a three-fold increase in abandoned bunnies during the seven years she’s volunteered at the shelter.
“We’ve had up to 30 rabbits in this room," Alanna said. "When I first started here, that was unheard of."
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Alanna cradled a large brown bunny named Larry who was found hopping the streets of Brooklyn. Larry, malnourished with matted fur, remained trusting and approached people for petting.
Rabbits are third on the list of the city’s most-sheltered animals, after dogs and cats, according to Animal Care & Control. They are often purchased as starter pets for children — around Easter, in many cases.
But they’re not always ideal pets for youngsters as many rabbits initially don’t like to be picked up and need more care and socializing than some owners expect, experts said.
And while fed-up rabbit owners might think they’re doing their pets a favor by leaving them in a park, domestic rabbits are a genetically different animal than the more hardy cottontails and hares that live in the woods, officials say.
Domestic bunnies are vulnerable to whims of weather, predators and people — doomed to die if they aren’t quickly saved.
The rabbits “usually look clueless, confused,” said Sean Casey, head of the nonprofit rescue group Sean Casey Animal Rescue, Inc. in Kensington, where Prospect Park, Sunset Park and the bucolic Poly Prep Country Day School are popular bunny-dumping grounds.
NYC Metro Rabbits’ bimonthly newsletter, THUMP, features dozens of stories of abandoned bunnies — including the tale of a 3-month-old rabbit rescued last summer after being abandoned in a Queens garden.
Left paralyzed and incontinent by a crushed spine, the rabbit — dubbed Ariel by her rescuers — crawls using her front limbs.
Ariel is considered one of the lucky ones. McKosky recalled a rabbit covered with maggots picked up in Prospect Park that died on the way to the vet.
“It happens all the time and it’s very discouraging. It’s heartbreaking,” said Mary Cotter, head of NYC Metro Rabbits.
A.J. Woolf, a former rabbit room volunteer, said that rabbits can be great pets for city dwellers willing to put in the necessary time and effort. She sections off a space in her Brooklyn apartment for her bunny, Kylo — a rabbit room rescue.
“People don’t realize that they can be litter-box trained,” she said. “There’s no smell, no barking. They’re wonderful little pets.”