Rabbits overcrowd shelters when they are abandoned

Shelters across the country are experiencing a rabbit ‘epidemic’

The Surrey Animal Resource Centre has been experiencing an increased number of abandoned rabbits. (Nicole Gonzalez Filos)

The Surrey Animal Resource Centre has been experiencing an increased number of abandoned rabbits. (Nicole Gonzalez Filos)

Located in Cloverdale sits the Surrey Animal Resource Centre, and inside fluffy rabbits await a place to call home.

The centre shelters dogs, cats, birds, and other small animals, and has been experiencing an increased number of abandoned rabbits. In 2019, the centre took in 60 rabbits, that number grew to 76 in 2020, and in 2021 they saw a total of 129 abandoned rabbits.

With the centre’s capacity to only house eight rabbits, staff members have had to get creative on where to place the growing number of the little furry friends. 

Rabbits that arrive at the shelter don’t come from previous owners. They are all strays and brought into the shelter by folks who happen to run into a rabbit that looks visibly domesticated.

“If someone buys one from the pet store and decides that they don’t want it a few months later, we don’t have the ability to take those in because we’re so full of rabbits that are just dumped in parks,” says Shelley Joaquin, manager at the centre.

When someone finds a rabbit, Joaquin says they call an animal service officer to pick it up or take it to the centre.

One of the reasons rabbits are dumped in parks is because owners don’t realize the animal can at times be destructive by chewing on cords and wires, Joaquin says.

“Sometimes people purchase them as baby bunnies, and then they get bigger. Sometimes people have allergies to not only the rabbits but the hay. Rabbits need an unlimited amount of hay at all times. A lot of people don’t realize they’re allergic to the hay until after they’ve had the rabbit in the home,” she says.

The growing number of abandoned rabbits isn’t just a Surrey issue. Across the country in Quebec, animal shelters are overwhelmed by rabbits and have called it an ”epidemic.” In Florida U.S., domestic rabbits are found hopping around neighbourhoods with residents seeing their little ears everywhere they look.

“Rabbits tend to stay for five and 10 times longer than any other animal because there’s not as much of an adoption pool looking to adopt rabbits. The longer they stay, the less rabbits we can take in to help,” Joaquin says.

Inside the centre, staff members monitor the animals daily. Staff members feed the rabbits, clean their areas, add fresh water, and look after their welfare.

“Are the rabbits expressing happiness? Are they stressed? Are they fearful? We work on litter box training. So, most of our rabbits within two or three weeks are litter box trained,” she says.

At the centre, furry creatures are placed inside x-pens, where they jump, eat, and sleep. The large size pens also make it less feasible for the centre to keep more rabbits due to their size. A typical x-pen is 28 square feet and 40 inches high.

“Those rabbit cages you see in the pet stores are actually way too small,” says Joaquin.

To express happiness, Joaquin says rabbits do a binky, which is when they jump into the air kicking their legs out to the side.

“Those cages make it impossible for a rabbit to express happiness. They need quite a bit of space. When they don’t get that space, they get frustrated like any other animal in captivity,” she says.

To ease the amount of rabbits that arrive, the centre is actively looking for foster homes that can commit to housing a rabbit for a minimum of two weeks. For those looking to foster a rabbit, the centre provides training and education on how to take care of it.

“We supplied everything. The only thing is that if you have other pets in the home, you need a separate room with a closing door,” says Joaquin.

Joaquin says that one piece of advice when handling rabbits is to be willing to go down to their level.

“It’s not an animal that naturally enjoys being picked up and held. Really the only time in the wild you’d be carried would be in the claws of a predator. So, it’s a very natural fear of response to being picked up.”

Joaquin says she can refer those interested in fostering to the Vancouver Rabbit Rescue & Advocacy, as they are also desperate for foster homes.