You don’t need to look at a calendar to know Easter is just around the corner. The stores are already stocking pastel-colored baskets and Easter greeting cards, Easter specials are being advertised on TV and some of our pious brethren are wondering aloud what to give up for Lent. And you’ll probably be seeing another annual tradition that heralds this holiday: pet stores and breeders promoting “Easter bunnies” for kids.
Thanks in no small part to children’s stories, songs and legends, rabbits have become indelibly linked to Easter. Unfortunately, rabbits are not ideal companion animals for small children. As prey animals, rabbits do not like to be picked up, for example, and children are generally too active for these gentle animals, who prefer quiet environments. Rabbits also do not thrive in backyard hutches; in fact, relegating a rabbit to an outdoor hutch constrains their natural behaviors and subjects them to the danger of predators and inclement weather. Rabbits flourish indoors, where they can run, dance and play in safety. You can even train them to use a litter box. But your home needs to be bunny-proofed, since rabbits, who are natural burrowing animals, have a strong biting instinct and will chew on your baseboard or nip through telephone cords. They also need frequent grooming.
So when well-meaning parents, unaware of what it takes to keep a rabbit healthy and happy, buy a bunny from the pet store, the frequent result is a bored or frustrated child. Soon Thumper is left at an animal shelter, or worse, abandoned in a park, where he or she will not survive.
Make Mine Chocolate!
Fortunately, rabbit-rescue organizations have begun promoting alternatives to the “Easter Bunny” problem. In 2002, the Columbus, Ohio, chapter of the House Rabbit Society (CHRS) started an awareness campaign called “Make Mine Chocolate!,” the aim of which is to educate the public about the realities of living with a rabbit and to discourage giving live rabbits as Easter gifts. The Make Mine Chocolate! campaign uses ceramic pins shaped like chocolate bunnies as conversation starters; comments about the pin provide the wearer with an opportunity to talk about rabbits as companions. These informal conversations are supported by a card that is distributed with each pin and by business cards that can be handed out to interested parties. Both the pin card and the business card list important facts that should be considered before bringing a rabbit into the home. Although rescue groups do want every rabbit to find a loving home, they’d rather someone buy a chocolate bunny for Easter if a live rabbit is only going to end up discarded after the novelty has worn off.
“For this year’s Make Mine Chocolate! campaign, our goal is to increase our community outreach by doing multiple radio and television appearances leading up to the Easter holiday,” says CHRS’ Heather Dean, who has already done one major television interview. “Also, we continue to develop new partnerships both in the US and beyond. In fact, the Hay Experts in the UK have started the ‘Make Mine Chocolate!’ campaign across the pond.”
House Rabbit Society & Other Groups
Other chapters of the House Rabbit Society (HRS) have joined the bandwagon, explains Margo DeMello of HRS. “We really try to promote the hell out of Make Mine Chocolate!,” she says. “On top of that, our chapters all do different stuff. At headquarters in Richmond, California, we’re doing a spring photo day on April 11, Wisconsin HRS is doing three educational events plus an annual Easter letter to all newspapers across the state of Wisconsin, Miami HRS had an outreach event at a local chocolate festival and promoted Make Mine Chocolate!, South Carolina HRS is doing a series of children’s educational events at local elementary and middle schools, and I know other chapters are planning events as well.” And that’s just off the top of her head.
In Canada, the Ontario-based nonprofit Rabbit Rescue is busy working with local merchants to get the word out. “Our main Easter event is our paper bunny campaign,” says Haviva Lush, executive director. “We partner with stores and vet clinics, provide the paper bunnies, posters and such. They encourage people to ‘sponsor’ a rabbit for $2.00, sign their name on the paper bunny, and the stores tape them up. It’s a great fundraiser for us, and it brings about awareness and hopefully discourages people from buying that Easter bunny.”
What You Can Do
This is a great time of year to talk about rabbits. They do make wonderful companions, but they are not for everyone. Alternatives to live rabbits as Easter gifts include chocolate bunnies (preferably vegan, of course), stuffed animals and books. If you know of anyone who plans to bring home a rabbit this Easter ― or any time of the year ― please encourage them to learn about rabbits and rabbit care. (I highly recommend Stories Rabbits Tell by Susan Davis and Margo DeMello.) If they still want a rabbit, urge them to adopt from a shelter or rabbit-rescue organization.
With a little knowledge about rabbits, you can speak up for them every Easter. Please consider the following:
Letters to editors – the Letters page is one of the most highly read sections of newspapers and magazines, so a letter to the editor encouraging readers not to buy an “Easter bunny” is a great way to spread the word. For advice on how to write letters to editors, click here.
Social-networking sites – post links and information about rabbits on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other sites.
Auto-signatures in your email – include a link to a rabbit-rescue organization (see below).
Blog comments – when commenting on animal-related blogs, take the opportunity to remind people that rabbits do not make appropriate Easter gifts and that many of these animals end up in shelters or dumped in parks. Better yet, if you have a blog, why not post something about rabbits in the next few weeks?
Consider sponsoring a needy bunny – every little bit helps!
PETA (page on rabbits)