By: Mike Keiley,
NEFED Board Member &
Director of Adoption Centers and Programs, MSPCA-Angell
Executive Director, Northeast Animal Shelter
Every spring social media pages are riddled with compelling memes warning people about the plight of rabbits at Easter. I believe these warnings come from a good place of wanting to protect rabbits and to save shelters from an expected influx of rabbit surrenders the days and weeks following Easter. Each year the same messages dominate the animal welfare landscape and are perpetuated with confidence from shelter staff and volunteers. Makes sense, right? After all, some of these messages are claiming that 95% of rabbits acquired at Easter don’t even make it to age 1.
However, very few people have ever really questioned if this is true. “Do we actually see a surge of intake of rabbits after Easter?” or “what does it mean that Easter bunnies don’t make it to the age of 1?” Does that mean they are neglected and die in their homes or that they are surrendered to shelters before they are one? More importantly, how does shutting down adoptions and vilifying people for considering getting a rabbit at Easter actually help homeless rabbits?
In a recent examination of intake over the last three years, the MSPCA looked at the number rabbits coming into the shelter month to month. In the last three years, in the chart below, you can see during the months surrounding Easter (April/May) there was no significant increase in rabbit intake. In fact, January and September seem to be the highest months for intake of rabbits.
A compilation of 2021 statistics from 12 adoption centers in New England conducted by Shelter Animals Count shows a similar story. The highest number of rabbits surrendered were before Easter and then not until July. As you can see from both graphs, intake is fairly consistent month to month and small variations are likely to be attributed to a number of factors, none of which point to an obvious Easter related spike in intake.
I would contend that as a field, we very quickly apply these fear tactics over and over again despite not having data to support this. Don’t get a puppy or kitten at Christmas. Don’t give pets as gifts to loved ones. Don’t put black cats up for adoption at Halloween. Don’t get a puppy during this pandemic. Where are all of those pandemic puppies everyone warned us about? I’d contend people are more willing to change their job than they are willing to give up their pet to go back to the office. Perhaps instead of fear and shame, we should reposition ourselves to be a positive resource for families considering a rabbit or small animal for Easter. After all, wouldn’t it be better if people had the chance to get information from the animal care experts on our teams to help people avoid making the mistakes we are worried about? Also, if they are going to get a rabbit for their family, wouldn’t it be best if that was a homeless rabbit in need and one that is spayed/neutered? Our shelters are all full with rabbits and other small animals, we should be welcoming adopters into our centers whenever we have the chance.
Let’s make this year the year that we shed our old messaging. Let’s invite families into our centers to learn and to adopt. Let’s greet people with open arms instead of closed minds. I am proud to be part of a collaboration between the MSPCA, Northeast Animal Shelter, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Dakin Humane Society and Lowell Humane Society. We are teaming up and hosting fee waived adoption events April 9 and 10th for rabbits and other small animals the week before Easter. We hope to find a home for every small animal in our buildings and we plan to share our success stories with all of you and our data too.