Rabbit Mills

At this writing, our local Petland has over 25 baby bunnies for sale. Ever wonder where that constant supply of babies comes from and what happens to them when they get a little older? See the articles below for details of the cruel rabbit mill industry. Many people who buy rabbits from pet stores don't know that rabbits are sensitive animals that require special care if they are to thrive and be happy. Many homeless rabbits are available for adoption, and nonprofit groups offer excellent advice on how to care for bunnies. (See links below.) Petland, in contrast, sells a small cage called a Rabbitat to go along with the bunnies. Clever title, but confining rabbits to a space that small subjects them to lifelong misery. Rabbits have strong jumping legs! How can they do their happy bunny dance if they have no room to move? They need, at a minimum, the space provided by a metal exercise pen, simple to set up and readily available at pet stores. Preferably they should be allowed to run, play, and chew lots of hay in entire rabbit-proofed rooms.

RAISING RABBITS -The Plight of Pet Rabbits, courtesy of Margo DeMello, director of the House Rabbit Society, from http://www.petroglyphsnm.org/.

It's hard to know exactly how many pet rabbit breeders exist in the United States today, or how many rabbits are bred by this barely-regulated industry. According to an industry survey, at least 20,000 men and women breed rabbits for the pet market, but that is certainly an underestimate, and does not include all those meat rabbit breeders who sell to the pet market as well. Pet rabbit breeders range from the small backyard or hobby breeders to sophisticated show breeders, to very large commercial rabbitries, or "rabbit mills" with conditions very similar to the more widely known puppy mills. These large commercial pet rabbit breeders sell large numbers of rabbits at wholesale prices directly to pet stores, or through wholesalers who act as middlemen. Many smaller breeders do not have the facilities for such a large-scale operation, so they sell directly to the customer or to small, local pet stores. But customers who purchase a rabbit at a chain pet store like Petland or Petco are most likely buying a rabbit who was bred at a rabbit mill, and sent to the store via dealers who transport rabbits, puppies, kittens, and other animals from breeder to pet store.

Like the puppy breeding industry, the pet rabbit breeding industry is rife with cruelty. From the breeding process itself (with large numbers of babies being culled if they do not conform to breed standards) to the joyless and solitary life led by the breeder rabbits, to the dangerous transport of often un-weaned babies across the country (leading to 20-30% of deaths during transport alone), and finally to the conditions at the pet store itself (where, due to notoriously poor conditions and little to no staff training in rabbit care, another 20% of baby rabbits can be expected to die), rabbits bred for the pet industry are lucky to even make it to a home.

Once a customer, usually upon impulse, decides to purchase a rabbit, they can expect to bring home an animal who the staff has either not sexed or has incorrectly sexed, and they will, most likely, receive no educational information on how to care for their new rabbit. Most will not know that rabbits can be litter box trained, and will purchase a wooden hutch for the rabbit to live a short and lonely life outdoors. Others may know that rabbits can live indoors, but will not be informed of the need to bunny proof their house, and once the rabbit demonstrates their natural need to chew, will be placed outside, given away, or surrendered at a shelter. No pet store that I know of provides any sort of pre-sale counseling and education to potential purchasers, setting up the stage for the rabbit to live an unhappy life with a family who was not prepared for his needs.

How many rabbits are produced by this industry? Again, no reliable numbers can be found, but House Rabbit Society representatives around the country, along with other rabbit rescue groups and the city and county shelters which take in rabbits all will verify the same thing: rabbits are surrendered at shelters and then euthanized in alarming rates. And there are thousands more rabbits who are not brought to shelters, but instead are abandoned in parks, woods, golf courses and college campuses, where these domestic animals will often reproduce before their deaths by car, dog, or wild animal. The rabbit breeding industry contributes to the problem by breeding rabbits indiscriminately for sale in pet stores and other venues, providing little to no education with their sales, and, ironically, disputing the fact that a problem with overpopulation or homeless rabbits even exists.

THE RABBIT BREEDING AND RAISING PROCESS
By Cheryl Kucsera, The Monaco House Rabbit Sanctuary From http://petstoreabuse.tripod.com.

Rabbits, among the most exploited of animals, are viewed by breeders as livestock. The majority of them are raised for meat and/or fur. Many are raised for exhibition, while many others are raised to be used in animal research. The number of rabbits who end up as companion animals is small in comparison to the number raised for these other "uses." Many people don't realize that companion rabbits are of the same breeds that are exploited for meat, fur, exhibition and research.

The operation in which rabbits are raised is called a rabbitry. Most people outside of the rabbit breeding community have never seen a rabbitry. The rabbitry closely resembles a battery hen operation, with row after row of wire cages, often stacked. The rabbits spend their entire lives on wire bottom cages, which often cause sores on their feet and possibly broken toes from getting caught in the wire. Except for mother rabbits with babies, each rabbit lives singly, in its own small, wire cage. Female rabbits are bred repeatedly. When they are no longer productive enough to suit the breeder's standards, they will be culled from the rabbitry. The fate of many of the rabbits culled from the rabbitry will be slaughter (for human consumption); others may be sold as food for reptiles or other animals.

Before and during the Easter season, consumer interest in baby bunnies is at its peak. In order to exploit this demand, many rabbit breeders will schedule the breeding of their rabbits so that extra litters of baby bunnies will be available at this time. In pet store terms, baby bunnies don't have a long "shelf life." This is because they grow so very quickly. Therefore, in order to meet pet stores' desires for the "cutest" baby bunnies, some breeders may supply bunnies who are too young (under 8 weeks of age). I was told of one breeder/petmiller who supplied baby bunnies to local pet stores. Every few weeks, when he would drop off a new "shipment" of baby bunnies, he would pick up any that hadn't sold from his previous shipment. According to him, if the bunnies hadn't been purchased at that point, they never would be. So, he took them back to his home where they ended up in his freezer. He said it was more "humane" for them to end up on his plate than to languish in a cage in the pet store!

Rabbit mills exist, but the conditions and quality of life that exist in "reputable" rabbitries aren't very rabbit friendly, either, since life in the rabbitry cruelly deprives rabbits of the opportunity to live according to their natures. Domestic rabbits are descendants of wild European rabbits, highly sociable animals who live in colonies with a sophisticated social hierarchy. Domestic rabbits still retain the social nature of their wild cousins, but life in the rabbitry denies them any opportunity to form bonds with other rabbits, or to engage in behaviors such as mutual grooming or playing. With European rabbits, the father rabbit takes a very active role in raising and nurturing the babies, but this, too, is denied domestic rabbits since the only contact the parent rabbits have is when they are put together to mate.

Regardless of the total number of rabbits in the rabbitry, it is a very sad, lonely, boring and stressful existence for its inhabitants. There is no shortage of homeless rabbits! An uncountable number of rabbits are euthanized in animal shelters each year. With so many deserving rabbits being destroyed, how can anyone justify purchasing a rabbit from a breeder or a pet shop? And as long as perfectly healthy and wonderful animals are being destroyed in shelters, how can anyone justify bringing another litter into this world? Adopt a homeless animal and save a life!

Rabbit rescue and education groups:

House Rabbit Society National Headquarters
148 Broadway
Richmond, CA 94804
http://www.rabbit.org/
D.C. area chapter: http://www.rabbitsinthehouse.org/

Friends of Rabbits Alexandria, VA
http://www.friendsofrabbits.org/

RabbitWise
http://www.rabbitwise.org/.


EASTER BUNNY NOT THE PET YOU THINK IT IS


By Lorraine Nicotera. This article appeared in the Weymouth News (Massachusetts paper) Wednesday, March 9, 2005.

When I was a kid, for Easter my parents bought all us kids a little black bunny who we named Fluffy. We all loved her and we passed her around and petted her and fed her carrots and we were thrilled. Eventually, like kids do, we lost the initial interest and cleaning and caring for her became a chore. She was designated first to the basement, then, because of the smell (we were not diligent in cleaning up after her) the garage, a cold, dank, light-less building filled with old junk and engine parts. We reluctantly cleaned her cage maybe once a week and she lived on a wire-bottomed cage on pellets, and sometimes, when we were lax (as children can be) in her own feces. She died a couple of years later--on a cold, winter morning I found her in her cage when I, just by chance, wandered into the garage.

I dedicate this column to her.

In the days leading up to Easter, rabbits appear on television commercials and packages of candy, and stores are filled with stuffed rabbits. It is no surprise that children beg their parents for a bunny of their own. Ill-prepared to care for these unique creatures, their owners often quickly tire of them. In the months following Easter, local humane societies and rabbit rescue groups are flooded with rabbits, former Easter gifts whose owners no longer want them.

What most people don't know is that rabbits are the third most numerous animal in shelters today. Rabbits, along with chicks, are victims of a disposable society where often they are perceived as commodities, toys and objects for our frivolous use or amusement. The really unlucky rabbits are dumped outside where, not bred to survive in the wild as wild rabbits are, predators, cars, illness, and injury virtually guarantee an early death.

Children like a companion they can hold, carry and cuddle. That's why stuffed animals are so popular. Rabbits are not passive and cuddly. They are ground-loving animals, who get frightened and insecure when they are held or restrained. So the result is: the child loses interest, and the rabbit, like Fluffy, ends up neglected or abandoned.

And rabbits are not low-maintenance pets. They have a life-span of 10 years and require as much work as a dog or cat, or maybe more. I myself have two house rabbits, Briscoe and Logan. I adopted them from one of the many local rabbit rescue groups. They are litter-box trained and have free reign of most of the house. Every morning, I empty their two litter boxes, re-line them with newspaper, put in fresh timothy hay. Then I give them a handful of morning greens, made up of parsley, dandelion greens and sometimes other assorted greens. They have access to unlimited timothy hay, and at night they get a small amount of rabbit pellets. I also give them a few daily treats of pieces of carrots, bananas and apple.

Most people don't realize that rabbits can and should be spayed and neutered, so that they don't mark their territory (your house) with feces and urine. And that way, they can have a companion, which all of us desire. They should be indoors, as members of the family. To consign these sensitive, intelligent, social animals to life in a hutch outside, or a cage indoors or in the garage, offers them a grim life.

Clearly, rabbits aren't for everyone. Contrary to Eastertime hype, rabbits and small children aren't a good match. The exuberance of even the gentlest toddler is stressful for the sensitive rabbit. Rabbits are physically delicate and fragile and require specialized veterinary care. Children are naturally energetic, exuberant and loving. But "loving" to a small child usually means holding, cuddling, carrying an animal around in whatever grip their small hands can manage--precisely the kinds of things that rabbits are frightened of. Rabbits handed this way will often start to scratch or bite simply out of fear. Many are then dropped accidentally, resulting in broken backs and legs. Those Easter rabbits who survive the first few months quickly reach maturity. That's when the interest in them starts to wane, because they are no longer cute and tiny, and then often they are gradually neglected.

Parents, please listen: If you're thinking about adding a rabbit to your family, think about this: pet rabbits have a life span of 7-10 years. Please don't buy on impulse. Wait until after the holiday. Make an informed decision by learning about rabbit care first. Two places you can find information on care and behavior are from the House Rabbit Society at http://www.rabbit.org/ and or the Massachusetts House Rabbit Society at http://www.mahouserabbit.org/. And always consider adoption from your local shelter or the above mentioned organizations. For the rabbit's health and well-being (as well as for your child's), make sure an adult will be the primary caretaker and will always supervise any children in the household who are interacting with the rabbit.

Domestic rabbits are inquisitive, intelligent and very social by nature. A rabbit can be a delightful companion animal as long as you remember he is not a child's toy. He's a real, live, 10-year commitment. My rabbits, Briscoe and Logan, are another job to do every day, but I enjoy having them as part of my household. My hope is that Fluffy, wherever she is, has noticed how much I've learned and how I am making amends to her. Happy Easter, Fluffy.