A rabbit as a pet… suitable or not?

The story of two rabbit shelters

To keep the reader informed about the many voluntary foundations that are concerned about the destiny of these animals. Apart from that, these foundations often seem to be terra incognita for the upholder (of justice). A while ago a discussion took place about the suitability of a rabbit as a pet. Many people had an opinion about this. But in practice, it is proven that a lot of rabbit lives are or were in a sorry state of affairs. My own rabbits were also 'disposable rabbits' before, they were dumped at a rabbit shelter. Dumped only because the children in the family, for which they were bought, lost interest in them or because taking care of rabbits was too much trouble. Rabbits like this sometimes have the luck to end up in a rabbit shelter.
rabbitMany rabbits are set free in the woods to figure out for their selves how to stay alive or they are put for sale on the internet, where they have a chance to end up as snake food. Apart from that, it is quite customary to throw rabbits over fences at children's farms, when people don't want to take care of them anymore.
Please read the story of two rabbit shelters in The Netherlands: The Bunny Bin at Ermelo and Shelter Goofy at Oldenzaal. Foundation Bunny Bin at Ermelo has been founded by Wilma Moolenbeek and focuses on the goal to ease the suffering, which happens on a large scale says Wilma, of pet rabbits. Wilma is aware that she can only do so much, because she realises that many Dutch pet rabbits are wasting away from loneliness, are sometimes taken care of in the wrong way and that not all these owners can be reached. But every rabbit that can be helped is a victory. You can find the cutest and sweetest little rabbits in pet shops, they are living playmates, and are sold for just a little amount of money. Children are very good in persuading their parents and telling them that a little rabbit will make them happy. Unfortunately, many people buy a bunny impulsively - usually just one. Often people are told by the salesperson that the rabbit is a dwarf rabbit, when it later turns out it isn't and many times it happens that the sex of a baby rabbit is judged wrongfully because the animals for sale are so small and too young. But economically seen, a baby rabbit sells better than an adult one. Many of these rabbits are condemned to a life in cages that are too small (because compared to buying the rabbit the price for a cage can be quite high…) and often food and treatment are based on naive ignorance. Little is known about the diseases a rabbit can catch, and even less about the behaviour of the animal and its necessities for a long and most of all happy life in good harmony with its owner(s).
Another dramatic detail is the fact that rabbits can reach the age of 8-12 years but in the Netherlands the average rabbit will only reach the age of about 3 years. Admitted, rabbits are vulnerable animals, much more vulnerable than many people realise, but with more knowledge and a better consideration beforehand should the age expectation surely be able to rise. Wilma mentions the story of a mother who was startled about the possible age of 8-12 years… then her daughter would not be a teenager anymore! It was almost as if it would better suit her if the animal would not last that long and cynically spoken, she would not have to do much for that. But, says Wilma, the life of this intelligent and funny animal should count for something as should the quality of its life, doesn't it? In a country with a relative prosperity… and hopefully morale… we could do much better!
rabbit with broken earsThis challenge Wilma and her team are eager to take on. And with her many other rabbit shelters, like Shelter Goofy at Oldenzaal - no competition of course, but interest groups that sound the alarm bell and who try to reach people and educate them. Foundation Bunny Bin has started her activities in 2002. Since then, a total of 1921 rabbits have been taken care of and for 1854 bunnies a good new home has been found. People can buy a 'disposable' rabbit at Bunny Bin under the condition that they sign a contract that states people will not use the animal for breeding. Another important factor is that the new owner can bring the animal back to Bunny Bin, if he or she cannot take care of the rabbit anymore, for whatever kind of reason. Bunny Bin takes care of castrating the male rabbits that are brought to the shelter, so they cannot reproduce anymore. It's a rabbit shelter that has a good name, and is widely known in the Netherlands. The price of a 'disposable' rabbit is somewhat higher than of a bunny in a pet shop, because the charges of castration have to be compensated. When the animal has not been castrated, the Bunny Bin asks for a voluntary donation.
rabbitShelter Goofy at Oldenzaal has been founded by Truus van Gaalen and her husband Gerrit. Both have started taking care of rabbits in 1990 because there were no other shelter options, and both of them have been working as volunteers on the Animal Ambulance. In 2004 they took in 788 animals (rabbits and guinea pigs). In 2005, when this article was published, this number was already reached in summer.


Once in a while, the animal shelters get into situations even they are astonished about. At the end of May 2005 I came upon the story of neglected rabbits in Apeldoorn. Rabbit shelter Goofy, in the person of Truus van Gaalen, was concerned about the fate of these animals after a report that she received. rabbitThe owner of the rabbits contacted the shelter herself, because she did not know what to do about her situation. Eight years ago she bought two rabbits for her children. A couple of years later, two more rabbits joined the club. She mentioned she had about 60 rabbits now. The bunnies were housed in an aviary of 4 by 5 meters and apart from the rabbits there were also some chickens and pigeons in the aviary. In the aviary there were five cages and outside another three cages, all filled with rabbits. Truus van Gaalen could take forty of these rabbits with her to the animal shelter. The owner voluntarily gave these animals up because she was aware that there were too many of them. She could not give the rest of the rabbits up. Apart from the big number of rabbits in too small accommodations the animals were neglected to a certain extent. Some bunnies had inflamed eyes, abscesses on their backs, torn ears etcetera, not to mention the consequences of inbreeding.
rabbitA couple of days after Shelter Goofy took forty rabbits away from the aviary, I went back with a colleague to check up on things. There, we saw 18 adult rabbits present in the aviary, of which two had a litter. With help of the Animal Ambulance we arranged that these animals could be brought to Shelter Goofy. The local department of the Dutch RSPCA mentioned that, if the animals could not have been brought to Shelter Goofy, they would have had a problem, because they only could take in three rabbits. After this, fifty rabbits have been born, of which twenty are still alive. The other baby rabbits had to be euthanized because there were some without ears, legs or with spina bifida, in short: the outcome of inbreed. In total this brings us to 108 rabbits of which 78 are still alive and for which appropriate homes have to be found. All expenses like veterinary bills, food, housing etc. have to be paid from the own resources of the shelter. The rabbit shelters can only keep working because of the donations they receive.
Another example concerns an abuse in a park at Putten. This park is being used as a dumping spot. Not to dump garbage- although some people seem to treat their pets that way, according to Wilma. Neighbours with a view on the park can see almost daily which animal has been dumped. Usually this concerns bunnies and guinea pigs. What happens to these animals? The rabbits that have been living there longer have turned wild and look upon the piece of land as their territory. Pet rabbits are not suited to live in the 'wild'. The females are constantly pregnant and the males fight with each other, often until one dies. Newcomers are directly under attack. Neighbours have seen rabbits and guinea pigs being drowned during chasings. The animals that can be caught, usually the ones that are in bad shape, are brought to Bunny Bin which often spends a fortune on veterinary bills to doctor the animals up. Some even have to be euthanized. Bunny Bin keeps accurate track of the rabbits background. The figures speak for themselves. Well 'they are just animals'? Tekst and pictures source: Dutch magazine Police, Animal and Environment.

This article is part of a series on pet adoption. Below the table of contents of this series. Below that even more articles about pets.

Table of contents

Introduction: keeping pets.

An example: the dog

The history of dogs.
Modern day dogs.
Consequences of irresponsible breeding for dogs.
Drawbacks for dogs.


Why do people want pets?
Drawbacks for humans.
The pet-industry.


Take a pet?

More articles on pets

Are pets education tools?
Bad reasons for keeping pets.
Dependency of animals.
Letting go of attachment to animals.
Children and their perception of animals.
A disposal fee for every pet animal purchased?
Abandoned pets as "free as a bird"?

Links to articles about specific animals

Suffering of reptiles.
Why the goldfishbowl is bad.
A rabbit as a pet… suitable or not?