BRUNSWICK — With Easter arrives a season of sadness. The practice of getting rabbits as Easter “gifts” for children is, in actuality, a time of death.

Thousands of “Easter bunnies” don’t make it beyond their first year. Sure, at 4 months old (the legal age at which they can be sold), every baby rabbit is the cutest thing. But they grow up – and fast.

By 6 months, rabbits are already sexually mature. Males begin to exhibit aggressive behavior and spray urine on everything. If there is a female, he will be at her constantly, sometimes injuring her. Make no mistake – you will have a litter.

Solution: Get the male neutered and the female spayed. Neutering is easy and not costly – about as expensive as the same procedure for a male cat. But spaying is much more complicated and expensive. This needs to be done by a veterinarian who has a lot of experience, specifically with rabbits. Besides ending the risk of pregnancy, the surgery calms both sexes and, more importantly, prevents them from developing cancers later in life.

If you don’t do this, here’s where the phrase “breed like rabbits” comes from: A female does not have a heat, but rather is an induced ovulator. If an unneutered male is present, she will release eggs, and can be impregnated. Gestation is about 28 days. After having that litter (can be two to 12 rabbits, depending on breed), she can become pregnant again immediately. Twenty-eight days later, more babies. And so on.

Maturity and the accompanying behavior is one of the main reasons rabbits are neglected and abandoned. But the biggest reason is that the child loses interest and doesn’t want the rabbit anymore. It falls on the parents to take the responsibility. And they often don’t want it, either. So, the poor animal is relegated to a small cage, hutch or pen, away from everyone, barely surviving because no one is really taking care of it.

Many times, they develop fatal problems that go unnoticed. Or they freeze, or they get heatstroke, or something gets to them. Dogs, cats, foxes, skunks, raccoons, coyotes and birds of prey are all capable of killing a rabbit. The rabbit will die.

Next, the family decides to “release” the bunny into the wild. Domesticated rabbits have no idea how to protect themselves and find shelter and food. Wild rabbits will not “adopt” a tame one. The rabbit will die.

If the rabbit was gotten as a pet for a young child, the child will want to pick it up and cuddle it. Rabbits, especially babies, are nervous. They think a bird of prey is carrying them off, so they will fight.

The child gets scratched and bitten. The rabbit is dropped. Often, its back is broken from the struggle or the drop. Crippled, the rabbit is euthanized. Either way, the rabbit dies.

Rabbits have specific nutritional needs. Their diet should consist of 80 to 90 percent grass hay (not straw) and 10 to 15 percent fresh vegetables, mainly dark, leafy greens, not just carrots. The last 5 to 10 percent can be rabbit pellets, specifically those made from timothy hay, not alfalfa. And fresh water, daily. Their digestive systems are very sensitive. Improperly fed, the rabbit dies.

Rabbits need regular exercise – they are built to run, not sit in a cage to become overweight. They need contact, as they are social creatures. Another rabbit is the best companion, but they can adapt to other animals. Just remember they are prey animals, so you must be sure your other pet or pets will not attack. They should be a part of the family. If left alone, they can die from living in filth, neglect and despair. Again, the rabbit dies.

The solution is to not get a rabbit for the wrong reasons. They are not low-maintenance, short-term, “starter” pets. They can live 10 to 12 years, if properly cared for. They are sensitive, intelligent and full of personality, though you’d never realize what they have to offer if you neglect or abandon them. They are not good pets for children.

Get your child a stuffed or chocolate rabbit. And if you decide to go ahead, do the research about their needs and care. And, most of all, do not purchase a rabbit from a pet store or breeder. There are always rabbits in shelters, cast-offs from last Easter or a fall fair. If they aren’t adopted, these rabbits are put down. They die.

Please, don’t add to the death toll this year. If you have a rabbit and decide it’s no longer wanted, find a rescue or shelter and surrender it.

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