The City News Team

Mind The Rabbit

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This is the Year of the Rabbit and you may be thinking of getting one. Instead of buying a pet rabbit, consider adopting, says the House Rabbit Society of Singapore.

This coming week, the Chinese usher in the Year of the Rabbit. While this calls for a time of celebration with family and friends, members of the House Rabbit Society of Singapore are duly concerned about the rise in impulse-buying of rabbits to mark the season.

This time of the year means profits for pets shops, some of which can be found displaying and encouraging passersby to buy up all those “cute bunnies.”

What might happen after the Chinese New Year is that owners become bored with the rabbits, or tired of the cleaning and feeding that comes with owning any pet. Worse, the Year of the Rabbit will end around the same time next year—so what happens to this year’s “hot pet” when it’s no longer hot?

Each year, large numbers of rabbits become unwanted pets and are abandoned, euthanized or carelessly given away. From July 2009 to July 2010, more than 60 abandoned rabbits were found across Singapore in lift landings, parks, reservoirs, even parking lots, cooped up in their cages or inside a box. Irresponsible owners leave their pets there, hoping some kind soul will pick them up and care for the rabbits.

Unlike dogs or cats, rabbits are not armed with natural defences like sharp teeth or claws. One HRSS volunteer responded to a help call and was shocked to find the carcass of a rabbit, with part of its body covered in maggots. It is not known how long the animal had been abandoned before meeting its cruel fate. While most rescued rabbits can be nursed back to health, those who are severely sick or injured have to be put down.

On top of this, restaurants are offering rabbit meat as a festive delicacy this year. According to a local newspaper, sales of rabbit meat has doubled this season which is a major concern for HRSS.

PETS ARE A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT

Owning pets is a long-term commitment. Although rabbits require different levels of attention and care compared to dogs and cats, it still begs the question: Why buy a pet if you don’t intend to keep it?

After the novelty of owning a cute, cuddly animal—rabbits in this case—has worn off, the daily mundane task of caring for the pet sets in. This is usually the time when the individual or family member neglects their pet(s) and subsequently decides to abandon them.

President of HRSS, Jacelyn Heng, is a firm advocate of protecting the welfare of rabbits in Singapore. One of the aims of HRSS—an all-volunteer, non-profit organization—is to raise awareness and educate the public on the plight of the pet rabbit population in Singapore. Its three core messages are: “Don’t buy a pet on impulse,” “Adopt, don’t buy,” and “Sterilize, don’t breed.” Heng believes that a family or individual should only keep a pet when they are prepared to take care of it in the long term.

More than re-homing and rescuing rabbits, HRSS also runs a fostering program to house rescued rabbits until they are ready to be adopted. At this moment, there are 11 volunteer “foster parent” homes that house these rabbits.

Betty Tan, who is a HRSS volunteer and foster parent, shares her experience, “Being a foster parent gave me a chance to help these rescued rabbits live in a secure environment while waiting to be adopted.”

All the rabbits from HRSS are sterilized and litter-trained before they are put up for adoption so potential owners need not worry about unwanted breeding and can let them roam freely in the house, just like cats and dogs.

Contrary to common belief, not all the rabbits that HRSS rescues are local rabbits; there are also other breeds like the Netherland Dwarf, Dutch and the long-eared Lop. A full listing of rabbits that are ready for adoption can be viewed in the adoption gallery on HRSS website.

CN PHOTOS: Koh Meng Kwang

HOW TO ADOPT YOUR BUNNY

One of the first things that HRSS will do is arrange an initial interview with potential adopters to find out more about their background and experience in owning pets. A follow-up meeting would then take place at the potential adopter’s home so HRSS can view and ascertain if there is enough space to house the rabbit.

HRSS strongly advocates a non-caged environment and promotes housing rabbits indoors in a free roaming, bunny-proof environment. Since rabbits are prey animals and have strong hind legs built to run, they require lots of exercise to stay healthy and happy. Alternatively, Heng suggests a spacious playpen setup as the next option. She also advises against leaving rabbits outdoors where the animal may be exposed to harsh weather conditions or other stray animals.

After passing the interview and house inspection, a date will be arranged for HRSS to deliver the rabbit to its new foster owner(s). At the same time, HRSS volunteers will give the new owners a list of things, such as pet food and accessories, to acquire from HRSS-partnered pet shops which give adopters good discounts. Through these face-to-face meetings, HRSS volunteers will reiterate the importance of maintaining the necessary dietary requirements and other related matters.

While the adopting process may be a little more tedious than buying a rabbit from a regular pet shop, HRSS finds it necessary to do so in order to ensure that these rabbits will be re-homed to good and dependable individuals or families. The entire procedure may take several weeks before official adoption documents are signed. By complying with these standards, HRSS ensures that proper care and attention are given to these rescued rabbits, which will hopefully have a happier home and future.

THINK BEFORE YOU BUY

Since its inception, HRSS has been able to re-home over 40 rabbits annually but their work continues and they rely on the public to help them in their mission.

So before you decide to get a rabbit, please think again about the 10 years of commitment involved in keeping this pet for its entire lifespan. Please don’t get a rabbit thinking it will bring you luck. The only guarantee is that it will offer you responsibility, and the occasional cuddle.

If you still want to own a rabbit, adopt one from HRSS.

HRSS is appealing for more Foster Parents to help take care of rescued rabbits. For more details on this, please visit www.hrss.net to get in touch with one of their volunteers. Sponsorships or donations are also welcome.


Furry Facts
Did you know?

With sterilization and good house care, rabbits can live up to 12 years. An average lifespan of a rabbit is between 5 to 8 years old.

Rabbits cannot survive on carrots alone as it contains high sugar content, which is not healthy in the long run. Rabbits should be given a daily mixed diet of fresh green, leafy vegetables, good quality pellets and fresh green timothy hay, available from pet shops.

Rabbits do not need to be bathed. These furry creatures are clean and fastidious groomers who clean themselves regularly. However, clipping their nails and daily brushing of their fur are needed especially during the molting period.

Setting a rabbit free in the forests and jungles does not help them. On the contrary, they become quick targets for preying animals such as stray dogs. An abandoned rabbit carelessly misplaced in the wild, an open space, or near the dustbin, may suffer from starvation, heatstroke or in worse cases, physical abuse by passers-by. They eventually suffer a slow and painful death.

Rabbits are not low maintenance pets; monthly expenses usually range between S$50 to S$70. This excludes unforeseen visits to vets, which can be costly. As such, they are not suitable as gifts for anyone, especially children, since rabbits are prey animals and do not like being carried or cuddled for too long.

(adapted from www.hrss.net)

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