August 18, 2016 - 5:05 am
Easter has come and gone, but all through the Las Vegas Valley are furry reminders of the fully grown pets that are now more than one can handle.
Once the holiday novelty of owning a bunny wears off, many people take to the streets to dump their high-maintenance pets in hope they adapt to the wild or find a new home.
“Many people very mistakenly believe that a rabbit released into a park can survive on his or her own,” said Doug Duke, executive director at Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Domesticated rabbits require human care for survival. The vast majority who are abandoned will starve to death or violently perish — by coyotes, dogs, vehicles, birds of prey, disease and more.”
Rabbits: The third-most purchased pet and most commonly dumped
The Nevada SPCA, 4800 W. Dewey Drive, has approximately 100 rabbits and rescues and adopts 10 to 12 each month. Last month, it received seven in distress after a good samaritan witnessed a family dumping the animals in a large park in 110-degree heat.
“We are always at full capacity with rabbits,” Duke said.
Illegal bunny dumping has been an issue in Las Vegas for years.
“Rabbits are the third-most purchased pet in the country and also the most-dumped animals in countries,” said Maria L. Perez, founder and president of the nonprofit all-volunteer rabbit rescue group Las Vegas House Rabbit Society. “They’ve very misunderstood creatures. Resources in this town for rabbits are slim. Most rabbit rescues are underfunded, under-resourced and considered inept at rescuing rabbits in the community. No one wants to volunteer or make donations.”
Since the chapter started, Perez estimates it has spent $700,000 on medical expenses for rabbits.
“Rabbits can have a litter every 21 days,” Perez said. “That means that two bunnies can create 350 bunnies in one year.”
People will also breed rabbits only to find that selling rabbits is not very profitable, according to Stacey Taylor, a rabbit advocate and rescuer who runs the Facebook page Bunnies Matter in Vegas Too. Common dumping sites include Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, Sunset Park and most golf courses.
“A lot of people have been dumping their rabbits at Floyd Lamb Park, and while I don’t have proof of this, one neighbor told me it’s his right to bear arms and shoot anything on his property,” Taylor said. “He said he’d shoot the bunnies because he can’t shoot the people who dump them, and they destroy his property.”
The rabbit-dumping problem can especially be seen at the “Las Vegas Dump Site,” a large state mental health facility on Charleston Boulevard near Jones Boulevard where hundreds of feral rabbits are free to run around. It’s estimated that as many as 1,000 domestic rabbits live there, according to Sacbe Meling, co-founder of V Animal Sanctuary.
People continue to dump their pet bunnies there, which are subject to become malnourished, suffer heat strokes, and get hit by traffic, according to Taylor.
She estimated that she has spent close to $10,000 trying to help rabbits through rehoming, medical bills, and food and water.
“What happened was that the state thought it would be calming for their mental patients to have bunnies running around in the facility, so they let about 40 bunnies loose, not spayed or neutered, of course,” Taylor said. “The state did not take into consideration that rabbits breed like rabbits. The population exploded.”
Taylor said the state tried to fix the problem in 2015 when it contracted a former rescue called V Animal Sanctuary. The state paid $17,000, but it was able to save only 238 rabbits.
“By expert estimations, in order to complete the project, a budget of $1.2 million is needed for vet expenses, enclosures, location, transportation, manpower, feed, medication, etc.,” Meling said.
Meling said many of the rabbits were sick and in need of extra help, which included surgeries for major injuries.
“Some rabbits had vet bills for $350 on just one rabbit,” he said. “Unluckily, there are too many rabbits out there on Charleston and all other dump sites. There is not enough of a budget or locations to rehome them. We rehomed many out of state, in state and at our former location. We contacted almost every single sanctuary in the U.S., and they were all full.
“By the time we hit 200 rabbits, we were out of places to rehome.”
Research before you bring a bunny home
Before making an impulse decision to purchase a rabbit, animal advocates advise people do research.
Rabbits need plenty of space to exercise to avoid problems such as hip dysplasia and foot and back problems.
Perez stresses the importance of having rabbits indoors and of spaying or neutering, which is essential to their optimal health.
Although spaying or neutering costs roughly $250 to $350, it can help calm the rabbit and prevent cancer.
“Due to our desert climate, indoor living is a necessity. Instead of pellets, rabbits need to primarily eat Timothy hay and daily fresh salad greens. They are social animals, and most will do best living with a soulmate (or lifelong friend),” Duke said.
In an attempt to combat the problem, the society has raised money to fund billboards throughout the valley that read, “Rabbit Abandonment is Against the Law.”
“Before you get a bunny, do research,” Taylor said. “The ideal person who can adopt a rabbit doesn’t have any young children and doesn’t have cats or dogs. Since they are high-maintenance pets, children shouldn’t be in charge of these small creatures.”
Bunny advocates say state’s help needed
“What is sorely needed is legislation to require that bunnies be spayed and neutered before ever being sold, more awareness campaigns to dissuade purchase and promote shelter adoptions, breeders banned, and enforcement to fine and jail those who are cruel to rabbits or dump them,” Perez said. “These are difficult to achieve, but we hope and pray one day that will be the case for these wonderful companion animals.”
Taylor and Perez hope to work with the state to do a trap, neuter and return program to stop rabbit overpopulation. Fosters are also needed.
Taylor currently has 10 rabbits that are spayed or neutered and awaiting adoption. Fees are $65, but Taylor accepts any donations.
If people see an injured rabbit, Taylor urges them to try to gently pick it up, put it in a carrier and take it to a vet. Aloha Animal Hospital, 7341 S. Torrey Pines Drive, works closely with Taylor and Perez.
“The state is broke. It provides little to no help to many other issues in the state. If there is anyone out there to blame, it is the community that, through time, has allowed this to happen and has contributed to this issue,” Meling said. “We have laws in place that allow everyone to breed rabbits with no control — feed stores, country stores, pet stores have rabbits in their stores all of the time. They always have an overstock of rabbits. Where do you think these end up?”
For more information on the Las Vegas House Rabbit Society, visit lv-hrs.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach North View reporter Sandy Lopez, email email@example.com or call 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.
For more information on the Las Vegas House Rabbit Society, visit lv-hrs.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.