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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 regular readers know, this blog is about animal activism, but I want to use this space to celebrate the life an extraordinary rabbit who died this week. Although he was not among the rabbits I’ve personally adopted over the years, I visited him frequently, and he made a big impression on me. He lives on as a reminder of why why we advocate for all animals.

He was known around SaveABunny as “the miracle bunny.” He had arrived at the sanctuary in the fall of 2005 with severe burns, having been doused with lighter fluid and set alight by a teenager in nearby Vallejo, California. He suffered second- and third-degree burns over much of his body, including his head. His skin also had cigarette burns. I can only imagine the torture he’d endured. But he had a strong will to live, and having survived the flames, Marcy Schaaf, SaveABunny’s founder, named him “Phoenix.” They quickly bonded, and eventually it became clear that SaveABunny would be his forever home.

It is all but impossible for a bunny hugger not to love all rabbits, but Phoenix was extra special. When I learned on April 28 that he had died sometime during the night, I found comfort in remembering how much affection and attention he received from those who appreciated him for who he was.

Not that loving Phoenix was a chore—far from it. He was resilient and mischievous and spirited. He enjoyed playing, being talked to, and napping in the sunshine. And, like all rabbits, he loved a good binky and a bit of banana or carrot.

SaveABunny took him in right about the time I had decided I wanted to foster rabbits. “Foster,” indeed. I think I managed to actually foster only one. I became instantly attached to the others, six in all, and had to quickly learn how to be a good bunny guardian. Thus I found myself at the sanctuary fairly often, and it was inspiring seeing how Phoenix healed and how committed everyone was to giving him the best care possible.

PhoenixAs the remains of his charred outer ears fell off and his medical needs became more acute, SaveABunny established The Phoenix Fund to help him and the most seriously ill and injured bunnies get the treatment they need.

Though deeply wounded—physically and psychologically—Phoenix learned to trust humans. I was always astonished that he would let me, or anyone, pet him. But he did, and he seemed to know he was never going to be harmed again.

It was especially gratifying to see Phoenix bond with other rabbits, since early on he seemed to have little interest in his peers. He found love with Melody, and when she died, it was heartbreaking. But he loved again, this time with a gentle, bashful bunny named Poodalia. You can see a short video of them together here. If you know rabbits, you know part of their bonding ritual is to groom each other’s ears. Poodalia didn’t care that Phoenix had no outer ears—she just licked the base where his ears had been, and Phoenix patiently complied (even if it made him twitch his head). Sadly, after a long life, Poodalia passed in March.

I last visited Phoenix a couple of months ago, delighted for the chance to say hello and pet him and marvel at his ability to forgive human beings. Since that time, he had joined a group of other senior, special-needs rabbits at SaveABunny—several friends affectionately known as the Late Bloomer Club.

In the decade Phoenix lived at SaveABunny, he healed others as he himself healed. He learned to trust and help teach people about animal abuse. He loved and was loved. As his health declined and the end came closer, I understand Marcy was ready to make the agonizing decision to help end his suffering. In what seems to me like his final gift to her, Phoenix let go and died among his fellow Later Bloomers, surrounded by unconditional love.

He really was a miracle bunny.

 

Postscript: Because he was a minor, Phoenix’s tormentor was never publicly unmasked. Animal cruelty charges were filed against him, but in the end, he received probation and counseling.

 

With Easter just days away, a lot of parents are thinking of ways to give their children a little holiday joy. Chocolate is a nice treat (at least when it’s not tainted by animal cruelty and child slavery), as are vegan jelly beans. But many well-meaning people think this is the perfect time of year to bring home a rabbit for their kids. Not only is this usually a terrible idea—countless rabbits end up abandoned after children become bored or Mom and Dad discover the animals require as much attention as a dog or cat—but many parents buy a bunny from a pet store rather than adopting from a shelter or rescue group. (Ouch.) It seems parents believe rabbits, children, and Easter are a perfect combination.

Rabbit advocate Tracy Martin and friends.

Rabbit advocate Tracy Martin and friends.

This is the kind of myth Tracy Martin has worked to disabuse people of since 2005, when she founded an education campaign called Rabbitron, named for a bunny she brought home many years ago. “Sadly, when I had her I did everything wrong,” says Tracy. “Wrong food, housing, and care. I just didn’t know any better. Later, when I learned more about rabbits and I realized my mistakes, I was inspired to try to educate others on what rabbits need to be healthy and happy. I also wanted to make others aware of the plight of rabbits at Easter, when so many are purchased only to be discarded afterward. My rescued rabbits have taught me so much—they even inspired me to become vegan.”

A skilled graphic designer, Tracy uses her talents to create vivid ads that are displayed on buses, in newspapers, andRabbitron_ad on billboards around her Spokane, Washington, community. She’s even done some public-service announcements for television. “I try to reach more people through my Rabbitron Facebook page, as well as taking every opportunity to do radio and TV interviews as they come up to try to reach as many people as possible. Besides the campaign, I also answer questions about rabbits online and conduct ‘bunny tours’ in my home to show people what it’s like to live with rabbits.” Tracy and her husband not only care for 20 rabbits, they also share their home with pigeons, hens, dogs, and cats.

Rabbitron_billboardTracy used to fund the Rabbitron campaign on her own, saving money all year. “In recent years I have been able to get some help with donations from friends and people who want to help,” she says. “Also, after partnering with River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary, we pool our resources to benefit the campaign as well as spread awareness for the sanctuary.” River’s Wish primarily rescues rabbits, though they are also home to horses, chickens, goats, and pigs. The sanctuary adheres to the House Rabbit Society standards and philosophy for rabbit adoptions, which means potential rabbit adopters must first understand the responsibilities involved in living with a house rabbit.

So what’s the biggest misconception people have about living with rabbits? I ask. “I think the biggest misconception is that people have no idea how fun and silly and opinionated rabbits are,” says Tracy. “I think most people’s interactions with rabbits are limited to looking at them in a cage. They are not seeing what rabbits are all about, the personalities they have, and that they are just as personable and fun as the dogs and cats they are familiar with.”

For more on why rabbits and Easter don’t mix, visit Rabbitron. You can also follow Tracy on Twitter @RabbitronTracy and like her Facebook page.

 

The animal rights group Igualdad Animal (“Animal Equality”) has revealed details of their December rescue of 31 rabbits from a farm in central Spain.

Eight activists took part in the raid, jumping over a fence and gaining access to the farm, which was also raising pigs. The activists — Sun, Edgar, Ivan Yahira Jose, Esther, Sharon and Eu — put the rabbits into large plastic containers and drove the liberated animals to a rural location not frequented by humans. There the activists had prepared three burrows with a large network of tunnels, which Igualdad Animal says the rabbits took to right away, “feeling for the first time the fresh grass of their new and safe surroundings.”

 

31rabbitsfreed_2Active in Spain, Peru and Venezuela, Igualdad Animal has carried out a number of open rescues in recent years, including six baby pigs in August 2007, four minks from a fur farm in July 2008 and 10 hens from an egg farm in December 2008.

A statement released by the organization reads: “We want to dedicate this new open rescue to all the non-human animals that we could not rescue this year and who have been victims of human habits and prejudices. They are the reason that leads us to work every day with greater dedication…. We also want to dedicate this new open rescue to all those who strive every day to help other animals without expecting anything but the satisfaction of knowing they have helped others who needed them.”

 

According to Igualdad Animal spokesperson Sharon Núñez, the organization “believes that all sentient beings deserve equal consideration, this meaning that all animals’ interests should be considered equally no matter an individual’s gender, age, species, degree of intelligence, etc.”

Igualdad Animal has pledged to rescue at least one animal a day in 2009, calling open rescues “an inextricable part of our identity.” In that spirit, the group has adopted a new slogan that reflects better that work for non-human animals: “Educate, Investigate & Liberate. They are, in our view, three types of activism closely interrelated and complementary: Education as a way of freeing animals through the change of social consciousness. Investigating as a way of helping society discover the reality of animal exploitation. And finally, Liberating, which is to implement our wishes and words to help those individuals who are enslaved and suffering at the moment.”

 

31rabbitsfreedAlthough I would have preferred to see these newly liberated rabbits placed in permanent homes with human guardians, at least they’re better off now than they were. With no experience in the wild, they will have to learn to survive on their own — foraging for food, dealing with inclement weather, coping with predators and insects, etc. — but they certainly face a brighter future than they did at the farm, where they were destined for a terrifying death and someone’s dinner plate.

To view some excellent photos of the rescue, click here.

Donna Karan did it. Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren did, too. In fact, many fashion designers have acknowledged the cruelty of fur and decided they don’t need to use it.

 

So what’s up with über-cruel Karl Lagerfeld? The chief designer from fashion house Chanel recently attracted the ire of animal activists everywhere by defending fur. In an interview with the UK’s Telegraph, the designer said the fur industry is justified because the “beasts'” fur comes from would “kill us if they could.”

 

As PETA’s Michael McGraw points out, “Lagerfeld seems particularly delusional with his kill-or-be-killed mentality. When was the last time a person’s life was threatened by a mink or rabbit?”

 

Lagerfeld was quoted as saying that hunters who have learned no other skills depend on the fur industry to make a living. Yet 85 percent of fur comes not from hunters, but from Chinese fur farms, where there are no laws to protect the millions of animals who are routinely beaten and skinned alive.

 

Fortunately, plenty of designers, including Stella McCartney and Marc Bouwer, are showing the world it’s fashionable to go fur-free.

 

Lagerfeld better hope he comes to his senses before he meets a killer rabbit in a dark alley.

 

killerrabbit

PETA is reporting today that designer Donna Karan has announced that her fall 2009 lines will be fur-free and that she has “no plans” to use fur in the future. This announcement came days after PETA launched their (now offline) DonnaKaranBunnyButcher.com Web site and after fashion guru Tim Gunn sent Karan and designer Giorgio Armani a video that he narrated for PETA showing animals skinned alive for their fur and urged them to shun fur in their designs. 

 

“Any designer in the fashion industry who does not want to watch the PETA video and see exactly what happens to animals and how they’re treated and how the product that they use comes to the marketplace, I believe, is egregiously irresponsible,” said Gunn in an interview about the video.

 

PETA and other activists have been working for nearly a year on dk1the Donna Karan campaign ― protesting outside her boutiques, crashing her runway show and exposing her cruel use of fur online. PETA spokesperson Michael McGraw said that Armani and Karan were singled out because “they have both made pledges to be fur-free, but have gone back on their word when it comes to rabbits, as if rabbits aren’t fur-bearing animals.”

 

In response to the claims, an Armani rep said, “Despite the fact that we have previously sold products made from animal fur, the Armani Group has now decided to renounce making such items with the exception of those in rabbit fur, the by-product of an animal that is a staple source of food… We must stress that PETA is exploiting our name to stir up public opinion without acknowledging that we actually include very few fur items in our collections, while certain competitors of ours base much of their business on furs.”

 

Please contact Armani to tell him that while the meat of gentle rabbits killed for their fur in China is sold to be eaten, the suffering they endure is exactly the same.

PETA’s long-running campaign against Donna Karan was just kicked up a notch. For years the pressure group has been working to get the designer, who runs the fashion labels Donna Karan and DKNY, to honor her one-time promise to stop using animal fur in her collections. To help put an end to Donna Karan’s fur cruelty, PETA has launched a new parody Web site, DonnaKaranBunnyButcher.com. (Warning: graphic images.)

 

The new site allows activists to take action, watch and share videos, grab wallpaper for your computer and stay up to date on PETA’s campaign to stop the Bunny Butcher.

 

PETA launched this campaign to help animals on fur farms, who spend their entire lives confined to cramped, filthy wire cages. Fur farmers use the cheapest killing methods available to end the lives of animals, including neck-breaking, suffocation, poisoning and anal or vaginal electrocution. Many animals on fur farms are electrocuted by having rods inserted into their rectums and 240 volts of electricity sent through their bodies, frying the animals from the inside out in order to keep from damaging the pelts. The animals convulse, shake and often cry out before suffering painful heart attacks.

 

There are many ways that you can share this information, which will help countless fur-bearing animals. A couple of simple ways are by emailing PETA’s parody Web site to friends or by adding one of PETA’s new “Donna Karan: Bunny Butcher” videos to your own Web page or online profile.

 

Please be a voice for these defenseless animals! Tell Donna Karan you will boycott her collections until she no longer uses the skins of dead animals. Please write to or call Donna Karan now.

 

Please send polite comments to:

Ms. Donna Karan
Donna Karan International, Inc.
550 Seventh Ave.
New York, NY 10018
212-789-1839
212-789-1856 (fax)
sparham@dkintl.com

 

Other ways to help stop the Bunny Butcher:

 

  • Join PETA’s A-Team if you want to be on the front lines to help stop Donna Karan from selling fur and to get involved in other animal issues at local and national levels.
  • Support PETA’s work to help them put an end to Donna Karan’s support of killing rabbits in ways that would break your heart.
  • Ask your friends, family, and coworkers to contact Donna Karan to build even more support for the boycott.
  • Post a banner to your personal Web site or your MySpace or Facebook page to let the world know that Donna Karan butchers bunnies for their fur.
  • Join the “Donna Karan, Bunny Butcher” cause on Facebook, and tell your friends to join too.
  • Share the videos on MySpace or Facebook—or wherever you are online. Whether you have five friends or 5,000, sending the video to your friends is a great way to expose the cruelty that goes into wearing the skins of dead animals.
  • Subscribe to the official PETA YouTube channel so that you will be the first to know about their newest videos.

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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