When 'Easter Bunnies' Undergo a Religious Conversion

Easter is no holiday for rabbits. They are too often purchased at pet stores as an impulse gift for kids wanting a real-live Easter Bunny, says the House Rabbit Society, a national rescue and education organization based in California that urges people not to buy rabbits on a whim.

"We dread Easter every year," says Mary Cotter of Rabbit Rescue & Rehab, the New York area chapter of the House Rabbit Society, which urges Easter celebrants to "Make Mine Chocolate" -- i.e., buy a chocolate bunny for the Easter basket instead of a live rabbit. "People don't realize that this is not an impulse purchase -- these creatures can live seven to 10 years," Cotter says. Sadly, many "Easter Bunnies" don't last even half that long.

"After Easter, the rabbit becomes full-grown, which happens in about six months," Cotter says. "By then, the kids have stopped taking care of the rabbit, so it dies. Or the parents just let the animal loose outside, thinking it's 'going back to nature.' But domesticated rabbits are not capable of taking care of themselves outdoors -- that's equivalent to taking a Bulldog out to the Serengeti and saying, 'Run with the wolves, my little one.'"

What's more, caring for a rabbit is beyond the ability of most children. Rabbits are quite fragile medically, and can swiftly go from appearing fine one moment to being dead the next (especially if, for instance, they eat something that disagrees with their extremely sensitive and complicated digestive systems). Not all veterinarians are trained to care for rabbits; they require the medical attention of an exotic-animal doctor, and such vets are not always easy to locate in the event of an emergency.

They're not good pets for kids, but rabbits can make ideal pets for grown-ups with day jobs and small apartments. "Rabbits are crepuscular animals: active in the early morning and early evening, and asleep during the day," Cotter says. "So their natural schedule tends to coincide with that of a normal working person." Plus, rabbits can easily be trained to use a litter box.

In an interesting trend, the House Rabbit Society reports that several of its happy adopters enjoy including pet rabbits in the Passover celebration. With Passover this week, it's encouraging to note that several unwanted, erstwhile "Easter Bunnies" have undergone a religious conversion; call them the Passover Bunnies.

The Jewish holy day and festival commemorating the Hebrews' escape from enslavement in Egypt is an especially appropriate time to share with pet rabbits, says Debbie Wolfe of New York City, who shares her home with two beloved bunnies, Angel and Nickels, both adopted from Rabbit Rescue and Rehab (and both neutered). Wolfe plans to celebrate, as she does each year, by acknowledging her pets as family members -- right alongside her husband, children, dog, and cat.