So you want a rabbit. You have done your homework, counted the costs and not only in money but in time too and accordingly you have decided that a rabbit is the pet for you. Now all you have to do is go out and get one from your local pet store. What could be simpler? Well quite a lot actually. So before you go rushing out you may wish to consider a little of the following information first:
Visit any rescue centre in the U.K. and you will find an abundance of rabbits waiting to be re-homed. Scarily a lot of these will be the product of impulse buy Easter presents... yes in recent years it has become the fashion to give someone a rabbit for Easter instead of the more traditional chocolate egg. Too often the recipient just isn't set up for such a present and after a short time decides the rabbit has to go - the lucky ones end up in rescue centres - the not so lucky are set loose in the mistaken idea that they will adjust to a life of freedom alongside their wild cousins. Not so!
Rabbits have been described by an increasingly concerned rescue sector as the new throw-away and shocking as this seems it is a steadily growing fact as rescue centres report ever increasing strains upon all their resources as well as the available space to take in further rabbits.
So - a few facts about pet shop rabbits:
- By and large a rabbit from a pet shop will not be litter trained.
- Nor will they be spayed or neutered.
- They may have been sourced from unethical rabbit farms where profit is put before welfare this can have a negative bearing on rabbit behaviour as can not being altered.
- They live in cramped conditions - in humane terms a rabbit should have the space to stretch full height, lay down at full stretch and be able to hop at least four hops in any direction.
- They should also have an absolute minimum of one hour each day spent outside the cage in an exercise area and this facility is extremely rare in pet shops.
- Pet shop staff are often just not knowledgeable enough about the pets in their care - rabbits can be overfed, underfed, not have enough water, hay...
- Often they live in wire cages that have no 'safe area' for the rabbit to escape to when it feels insecure. (as prey animals the need to hide is strong and to not be able to do this causes a lot of stress) - As well as this the mesh bottoms unless extremely well bedded are painful and damaging to a rabbit's feet.
- Pet shop rabbits are not cheap.
On the other hand a rabbit from a rescue centre has much going for it:
- A rescue rabbit will be automatically spayed or neutered before re-homing, saving you the quite considerable expense of having the procedure done yourself - amongst others the Rabbit Welfare Association and the R.S.P.C.A. recommend that any rabbit breeding be undertaken responsibly and with careful thought as to the future homing and care of offspring.
- Adoption costs are cheap when considering that you get an altered rabbit that is litter trained and used to being handled by caring staff.
- By adopting a rabbit rather than buying you are making space for the next inevitable homeless rabbit.
- Rescue centres offer advice and support to all would be owners - this advice can be ongoing.
- Adopting a rabbit saves lives and suffering - the less demand for shop bought rabbits we have the less rabbits will suffer from commercial breeding programmes and ultimately from abandonment.
Is there anything we can do about any of this?
Apart from the obvious, which is to adopt rather than buy actually yes there is.
Currently there is a growing movement to persuade pet shop owners to link with rescue centres and to actively promote rescue bunnies as pets - this is as opposed to selling them. If your pet shop hasn't cottoned onto this rather astute business move then here are a few pointers you could pass on to them:
- In this age of growing consumer awareness customers will be ten times more likely to frequent a shop that they perceive as having more than profit as its main objective.
- More simply put a pet shop that links to an animal rescue centre will be a talking point and positive talk (which it will be) is what brings shoppers through the door.
- Rabbits that come through rescue centres will be neutered and spayed already, making them attractive to customers.
- Also they will be easier to handle and as they will often be litter trained will use less bedding etc...
- The rescue centre will promote the pet shop as a partner bringing it to a wider audience - so a kind of free for life advertising.
- Rescue centres will provide literature for free about rabbit care.
- The pet shop will not have the cost of buying in baby rabbits nor will it incur any veterinary bills for rabbits that fall ill.
It's a new idea and not one that will be an easy sell; let's face it, it does appear to fly in the face of the good business model. But from small acorns do large oak trees grow and there are some good partnerships springing up about the country.
If you use a regular pet shop for supplies then think about chatting to the owner and sounding them out and you may well be pleasantly surprised. It may take a little while for the seed to take root... but if we consider that, particularly in the case of the smaller pet shops, they most probably began their business from an initial interest in animals as pets, then it is also reasonably safe to assume that at some level they may well be interested in this ground breaking initiative.
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