|Newsletter Article Archives|
Pet Store Bunnies
by Kathleen Wilsbach, HRS Maryland/DC/NoVA
(Wisconsin House Rabbit News, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2002)
Many members and adopters confess to me that they purchased their rabbit from a pet store or breeder, before they “knew better”, knew about HRS or the many rabbits turned into our local shelters. But there really isn’t shame for an act done in ignorance. When I decided to get my first rabbit, back in 1990, I too was looking at baby bunnies in pet stores. I too didn’t know. The only thing that stopped me from buying one was a neighbor telling me he was going to euthanize his rabbit when he moved. Thus Clover entered my life.
The real shame is people who have purchased a rabbit after they do know about HRS and the large number of rabbits in our local shelters. Sometimes they offer the explanation that rabbits in pet stores and at breeders need homes too. Sometimes they make the purchase out of pity. But that reasoning requires ignoring the larger picture of rabbit overpopulation and rabbit suffering.
Most of us have seen that little baby pet store rabbit whose days are numbered, either because he is ill, or because she hasn’t been sold and is reaching puberty. Sometimes the store owner tells the truth about the awful fate in store, being fed to snakes or shipped back to the breeder (usually to be killed). Some of us have encountered breeders who slaughter the rabbits who don’t measure up to some standard of “perfection”. Bunny lovers that we are, our first impulse is to rescue these unfortunate waifs by purchasing them.
But before succumbing to such an impulse, please consider the consequences of your actions.
When you “rescue” a suffering rabbit by buying him, you are rewarding someone for causing his suffering and condemning many more to the same fate, this is no solution.
Every time you pay a pet store or breeder for a rabbit, you are rewarding them for what they are doing, and condemning more rabbits to the same fate.
And if you have room in your home and heart for another rabbit, buying instead of adopting denies a home to one of our local shelter rabbits. Refusing to purchase them causes sellers to experience a loss, leaving them to purchase fewer rabbits, thereby causing the breeder to produce fewer. If no one ever bought a rabbit from a pet store, pet stores would stop carrying them, and breeders would stop breeding them to be sold in pet stores. Buying is condemning more as yet unborn rabbits to the same horrible treatment and fate, and it rewards cruel treatment with your money.
It may seem unbearably harsh to just leave pet store rabbits to their fate. There are actions you can take that will ultimately help many more rabbits.
Don’t support stores that sell rabbits by buying supplies there. Let the owner or manager know why you don’t shop there anymore. This now includes the Petco chain that has started selling rabbits in many states, despite promising to many rabbit rescue groups that they would never sell rabbits.
If you observe rabbits who are suffering from neglect, no water, dirty water, dirty bedding, or sick rabbits not receiving medical attention, then the first person to whom you should report a problem is the person in charge of the rabbits. If you do this tactfully and non-judgmentally, you may get the problem corrected immediately.
The next step is to contact local Animal Control authorities. Unlike animal control, HRS does not have law enforcement power and does not have the power to compel anyone to care properly for the rabbits they have. In most locations you can report neglect to your local animal control office or humane organization.
Most pet stores are governed by local animal cruelty statutes that can be vague (http://www.animal-law.org/statutes). Wisconsin statute 951.02 states: “No person may treat any animal, whether belonging to the person or another, in a cruel manner.” This section does not prohibit bona fide experiments carried on for scientific research or normal and accepted veterinary practices. In addition, Wisconsin statute 951.13 states “No person owning or responsible for confining or impounding any animal may fail to supply the animal with a sufficient supply of food and water as prescribed in this section.” Wisconsin goes farther than some states by providing guidelines for meeting proper shelter, food and water standards. Some cities and counties have additional laws that may be more specific. Unfortunately, in Wisconsin baby rabbits can be sold or given away as long as proper brooding facilities are provided for the animals while in possession of the original owner. However, baby rabbits under 2 months of age cannot be sold or given away in any quantity less than 6 unless in the business of selling these animals for agricultural, wildlife or scientific purposes. Some other states have no age restrictions at all.
Some locals require pet stores to be licensed with the city or county government. The USDA office of Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates large animal facilities under the federal Animal Welfare Act. Most retail pet stores are exempt from licensing and inspection by APHIS, with the exception of stores that sell exotic “pocket pets” like sugar gliders, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, etc.
It is the judgment of both the animal control officer and then the judge (if charges are pressed) what constitutes “adequate” or “necessary”. If you can collect information and observations over a period of time, this will strengthen the case. Photos could also be used as evidence. Your willingness to testify is also important. Record the name and address of the business. Maintain a journal, indicating the dates and times of visits and problems you have observed. Note the names of the people to whom you have spoken about the problem and what their reactions are. If your journal demonstrates a habit of poor care, action can be taken.
Penalties for violation of provisions protecting animals in Wisconsin range from a Class A forfeiture to a Class A misdemeanor. Thirty-one states now provide felony level penalties for certain types of animal cruelty violations, including Wisconsin.
Although reporting things to the authorities and having them take legal action may seem arduous and a somewhat indirect way to help the rabbits suffering in pet stores, in the long run it will help many more animals. And in our society where capitalism rules, put your money where your heart is and don’t financially support businesses that perpetuate cruelty and contribute to pet overpopulation.
A special thanks to Kathleen Wilsbach, Chapter Manager of the Maryland/DC/NoVA HRS Chapter for granting us permission to reprint her article, “Pet Store Bunnies.” The section on state statutes was modified to reflect Wisconsin laws.