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Mr. Peterfluff and Marilyn Bunroe, adopted from the MSPCA by Stacey Lee of Framingham. (Stacey Lee of Framingham) Mr. Peterfluff and Marilyn Bunroe, adopted from the MSPCA by Stacey Lee of Framingham.

Rescue groups cope with abandoned rabbits

By Margo Ann Sullivan
Gadzoo.Com / June 12, 2012
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Olga and Dawn, the Mini Rex rabbits, once belonged to a good owner in Springfield, Mass. Last month, unexpectedly, they lost their home and became two of the many real, live Easter bunnies who landed up in animal shelters.

Olga and Dawn were part of a "massive surrender" of 70 rabbits, all from the same Springfield, Mass. owner.

"The rabbits had been given excellent care but the caretaker could not control the breeding," Candy Lash, director of the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society community and media relations, said. The situation had been spiraling out of control for more than a year, she said.

The owner did realize he had too many bunnies. He contacted the humane society for help; and over the past year, the Dakin accepted 20 Dutch, Mini Rex and Dutch-Mini Rex mixtures from his home and successfully matched them with new owners.

This time, because so many rabbits were involved, MSPCA law enforcement handled the surrender, and the Dakin assisted, Lash said. (Law enforcement expedited the surrender, but the owner is not being considered a hoarder and will not face any cruelty charges, Lash said.)

Thirteen of the 70 rabbits, including a pregnant rabbit that later delivered five bunnies, stayed in the Dakin's shelters; the other 55 went to the MSPCA shelters in Boston and Methuen, Mass.

"Despite living in a very overcrowded house, the rabbits are all in good shape," Rob Halpin, the MSPCA-Angell's public relations director, said.

The surrender's timing around the Easter holiday was coincidental, Lash said but placed a strain on the shelters, which are already coping with droves of unwanted rabbits sold around Easter, Halpin said.

The MSPCA already was caring for about 60 other rabbits, also waiting for new homes, Halpin said. The Dakin also had other rabbits in the shelters.

"It's very, very hard to find new homes for rabbits. And there are just so many of them," he said.

So far, six rabbits have found new homes, thanks to television publicity and social media outreach.

A week or so before Easter, Chip Billingsworth, the Dakin's "official" spokescat, put out the S.O.S. on his Facebook page.

"Bunnies, we got 'em," Chip wrote. "Come and get 'em."

Olga and Dawn became two of the lucky ones when they went home with Suzanne Hermans. She heard their story on the local television station, she said.

Hermans, who lives outside Springfield, was mulling acquiring a new rabbit. She has two grandchildren and thought bunnies would make a nice "addition to the family," she said.

Her grandchildren enjoy coming to visit and seeing the animals, she said. Her 4 ½ year old grandson has given the bunnies new names, she said.

Olga is a solid Chocolate color Mini Rex, and Dawn is solid charcoal, Lash said.

Both rabbits live in the house, as the Dakin suggested, Hermans said.

The rabbits took a little while to settle in, she said, but now they're playing with their toys. She hears the little bells jingling as she goes about her day. The rabbits also are stretching out, another sign they're comfortable, she said.

The family does take Olga and Dawn outside in a cardboard box to let the rabbits hop around in the grass, but they don't stay outdoors without supervision.

"My son is 25, and he really enjoys them," she said.

Four other rabbits have been adopted from the MSPCA and are living on a North Andover, Mass. farm, Halpin said. They're going to serve as ambassadors for "other domesticated rabbits who need permanent homes."

He called the farm "a wonderful bucolic setting" that has served as a refuge for other animals. The four adopted bunnies are living in a "clutch," which provides them with indoor and outdoor space.

"Unfortunately none of the other bunnies have been adopted," Halpin said. "Sadly, the universe of rabbit adopters is much, much smaller than that of dogs and cats."

But the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society and the MSPCA are not giving up. They are seeking people who want to adopt and can provide good homes.

According to Lash, the available rabbits belong to the popular Dutch and Mini Rex breeds. Some are mixed. They're friendly and make good pets.

All the rabbits are spayed or neutered before they leave the shelter, she said, so their new families will not find themselves in a similar predicament with rabbits multiplying.

Lash said the Springfield man had started with two rabbits three years ago. She did not know the specifics on why or how he started to breed them but suggested he may have brought home a rabbit that was already pregnant, something that all too frequently happens when people buy animals from pet stores. Or he may have been misinformed about their sexes, she said.

The MSPCA is also spaying and neutering the rabbits, Halpin said, "and has gone to great lengths to inform the public about the unique health and social needs of rabbits."

For example, pet rabbits do need human contact and attention, Lash said. They also need regular veterinary checkups, she said, and not all practices treat rabbits, which can be considered exotic animals.

Also, rabbits should not be left outdoors alone, Lash said. And children need supervision when handling rabbits, because the animals do not like being picked up and can break their backs struggling.

Rabbits are prey animals and sense danger, and they sense danger if their feet aren't touching the ground, she said.

How to help:

The Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society accepts contributions by mail addressed to P.O. Box 6307, Springfield, Massachusetts 01101 or online. To contribute to the MSPCA-Angell, visit their website.

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