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Ansel. Photo by Tara Baxter

Ansel. Photo by Tara Baxter

My calendar says it’s International Rabbit Day, so what better time to remind you of the many ways you can help these remarkable animals? Despite being one of the most popular companion animals in the country, rabbits are among the most exploited.

Domestic rabbits—cherished for their playful, gentle natures—are skinned for their fur, blinded to test cosmetics, bred for show, drugged for science, clipped for wool products, pulled out of magicians’ hats, killed in vivisection labs, sold as food for pet snakes, and raised and shipped by breeders. To add insult to all this injury, we chop off their paws and tout the rabbit’s foot as a “good luck” charm.

So here are 10 things you can do—and not do—to make their lives a little better.

1. Adopt, Don’t Shop. If you decide a rabbit is right for you, adopt one from a local animal shelter or the House Rabbit Society rather than buying one. You’ll save a life and discourage rabbit breeding.

2. Make Companion Rabbits Part of Your Family. Don’t relegate a rabbit to a backyard hutch or cage. These are affectionate, playful animals who deserve to live with you indoors, where they are safe from predators and inclement weather.

3. Don’t Buy Clothing or Accessories Made from Rabbits. Or any other animal. That means no rabbit-fur hats, no angora sweaters, no fur-trimmed coats, no leather—you get the idea.

4. Treat Wild Rabbits with Kindness. Free-living bunnies mowing through your vegetable garden or digging holes in your backyard? Please use humane methods to deal with them, such as these compassionate suggestions from the Humane Society of the United States.

5. Ask Your Market Not to Sell Them. You may be aware that Whole Foods Market recently announced it was going to stop selling bunnies in their meat cases. While this is great news, other stores still offer bunny meat. If the market where you shop does, fill out a customer comment card or speak directly with the manager and ask that they stop selling rabbits.

6. Don’t Patronize Restaurants That Serve Bunny Meat. Better yet, ask them to stop.

7. Don’t Buy Products Tested on Rabbits. No law requires it, but many U.S. companies routinely “safety test” their cosmetics and other household products on rabbits and other animals. Corrosive chemicals are dripped into their eyes, toxic compounds already known to be fatal to humans are pumped into their stomachs, caustic irritants are rubbed into their skin, or they may be subjected to an assortment of other unspeakable tortures that result in a painful death. Look for the Leaping Bunny label. In fact …

8. Support the Humane Cosmetics Act. Ask your U.S. Representative to support H.R. 2858, the Humane Cosmetics Act, which will prohibit animal testing for all cosmetic products manufactured or sold in the United States.

Photo by Tara Baxter

Photo by Tara Baxter

9. Volunteer at Your Local Shelter. There is plenty to do: Socialize the rabbits, clean their cages, bring them hay and veggies, and do whatever they need to keep them healthy and happy and to make them more adoptable. (You may need to attend a training session with the shelter staff in order to be a shelter volunteer.) Check out these tips from the House Rabbit Society for more information about volunteering.

10. Support Rescue Nonprofits. There are so many wonderful rabbit groups out there, and they all need your support, either as a donor, volunteer, or bunny foster parent. Some of my favorites include the House Rabbit Society, Rabbit Haven, Rabbit Rescue, Rabbitron, SaveABunny (from whom I adopted all my rabbits), Special Bunny, and Zooh Corner. Check Google for a group near you, or ask the House Rabbit Society for the closest chapter in your area.


Note: If you like the photos that accompany this post, you’ll love the Tallulah & Rabbit Friends Facebook page, maintained by Tara Baxter.

As an example of what an impact animal advocates can have, it’s hard to top this week’s news that Whole Foods Market (WFM) will cease selling rabbit meat in their stores effective January 2016. The grocery giant made the announcement at a shareholders meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday.


Protesters demonstrate at the Whole Foods Market in Sebastopol, Calif., soon after activist lauren Ornelas was arrested for leafleting to customers.

This victory came quickly when compared to other animal rights campaigns that can go on for years. It began in 2014, shortly after WFM launched a pilot program aimed at creating a market for rabbit meat. My wife lauren Ornelas (founder of Food Empowerment Project) and I sat down with Rabbit Advocacy Network founder Tara Baxter, SaveABunny founder Marcy Schaaf, Anne Martin of the House Rabbit Society, and (by phone) House Rabbit Society president Margo DeMello to brainstorm strategies for getting WFM to end its program. As a longtime activist, lauren has tangled with Whole Foods before over the treatment of ducks to be sold in their stores. She was also arrested while campaigning against a location’s bunny meat sales: in November 2014, the manager of our local WFM had her arrested for leafleting in front of the store, though the paperwork to prosecute her was never filed.

We had a contingent of advocates strategizing in the Bay Area, but as word spread among animal lovers, petitions were launched, activists were demonstrating outside Whole Foods stores, memes went viral, and customers were boycotting the chain from coast to coast. Tara was interviewed for an episode of Our Hen House, and she and Marcy appeared in an NBC Bay Area investigative news report (a follow-up report aired September 17).

Through the Freedom of Information Act, lauren obtained inspection records for the farm in Iowa that’s been supplying WFM wholefoods-petitionwith bunny meat. The records revealed several observations that may not be in keeping with Whole Foods’ stated animal welfare standards, and activists used the information to illustrate the cruelty inherent in factory farming rabbits (for example, here and here). In addition, while WFM said they were selling rabbits in response to “consumer demand,” a financial analysis showed that sales were slow at its stores around the country. In the Northern California region, for example, WFM’s 41 stores are selling only one to three rabbits each per day. Indeed, low sales is the explanation WFM has given for their decision to stop selling bunny meat.

Whatever the official reason, activists are celebrating this announcement as a victory for animals. “We are so thrilled to hear this news,” says Tara. “Of course, we would have wanted the decision to come sooner so that many more lives could have been spared. But we hope that this finally proves that rabbits are perceived more as pets in this country than they are a viable food option. If Whole Foods Market, a grocery store others want to emulate, can’t get rabbit meat off the ground enough to continue selling it, then there is hope for farmed bunnies all over.”

Marcy, though agreeing this is wonderful news for rabbits, has lost her taste for WFM, noting that the statement on the company’s website demonstrates a lack of regard for the rabbits they exploit. “Not once does it show any compassion for animals, respect for their customers or acknowledgement of the thousands and thousands of rabbits who were raised, slaughtered and then butchered specifically at Whole Foods request,” she posted to the SaveABunny Facebook page. “For over a year they ignored the pleas of their customers, were caught with false labeling, violations of food safety and did not pass humane standards according to the FOIA. SHAME ON YOU WHOLE FOODS—you have lost my trust and my business.”

What made the WFM-bunny meat campaign different? Margo considers this question, then responds, “This is the first campaign of any kind I’ve been involved with which attracted people from every walk of life: longtime animal activists, rabbit lovers, pet lovers, and folks who never held a picket sign in their lives. Without their combined efforts—protesting, creating petitions, writing letters, calling the company, visiting stores and speaking to managers, creating artwork, and simply educating their friends and family—we would not be celebrating right now. While Whole Foods Market says that their decision to stop the sale of rabbit meat was driven by the lack of consumer demand, I know that everyone who participated in the campaign played a major role in ensuring that demand would never rise. I couldn’t be prouder of our efforts!”

GoodNews“I believe the Whole Foods Market campaign was successful because activists had a strategic campaign goal—stop Whole Foods from selling bunny ‘meat’—did research and kept their message clear,” adds lauren. “They knew what they wanted and were willing to campaign until they got it. Personally, I find this a short-term campaign success, but our work to encourage people to stop consuming all animals is still ongoing.”

Another reason for this success, I think, is that activists were quick to agitate as soon as WFM began selling rabbits. We also tried to make it clear that we weren’t saying rabbits were more deserving of moral consideration than cows, pigs, chickens, fish, or any other animal raised and killed for food. What we were saying is that WFM does not need another species to exploit and kill for its meat cases. Moreover, WFM is seen as a trendsetter in the food industry, and we understood that if they were successful, other grocery companies would implement similar sales of bunny meat.

If you shop at Whole Foods, please let them know you appreciate their decision to stop exploiting at least one species. And, of course, if you’d like to do even more, please consider adopting a rabbit!



tippyandnadiaYou 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!


easterFortunately, 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 bunnyevery little bit helps!


Finally, please forward this post to family and friends. You can visit these sites for more information:


House Rabbit Society

PETA (page on rabbits)

Rabbit Rescue





Welcome to the official blog for Striking at the Roots by Mark Hawthorne, your source for interviews, profiles, and advice for more effective animal activism.

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