Monica Perez was driving to her job in Miami Lakes one Monday morning in late May when she suddenly slammed on the brakes. In front of her car was a small furry white ball; a baby rabbit tiny enough to fit into one of her hands. Perez got out of her car to move the animal to safety.
“At that moment all I could think of was just trying to get the bunny out of the road to avoid being hit by someone else,” Perez says. “But when I went to move him, I noticed there was a cat nearby and I got scared. I didn’t want the cat to harm the bunny either.”
So after an internal debate, Perez took the baby rabbit back to her car. Then she picked up her phone and called friends to discuss what to do next.
Rabbit dumping is becoming a bigger problem every year in the United States. Numbers of found and rescued rabbits have skyrocketed in what some have called “a bunny boom.” For many years, these booms have followed Easter, when people release gift animals they have received. According to the House Rabbit Society (HRS), which has branches nationwide including in South Florida, volunteers rescue about 1,500 to 2,000 rabbits every year from local shelters.
“When it comes to rabbits, people only really think of them because of Easter,” says Lauren Rodriguez, a rabbit owner and rescuer from Boynton Beach. “People think that rabbits will be great presents and gifts for their children, but then they find out the harsh reality of how high maintenance owning a rabbit really is, and decide that they no longer want them.”
Rodriguez, who works at an organization called CottonTails Rescue in Fort Lauderdale, spends her spare time looking through social media platforms and checking to see if there are any rabbit sightings by locals. “I grew up owning rabbits, they’re my biggest passion,” Rodriguez says as her eyes fill up with tears thinking about the animals. “I don’t understand how people can be so cruel to them. It’s not fair.”
Last year alone, Rodriguez found and rescued over 23 rabbits, personally taking some into her home either temporarily or permanently.
Linda Rosenbaum, a rabbit breeder and rescuer from Boynton Beach says the increase of yearly Easter rabbit dumps is concerning. “It’s showing that people are getting worse at impulse decisions. People are not thinking anymore before doing something and unfortunately this is the consequence of the actions that these people are making.”
Rosenbaum took part in a group roundup in Boynton Beach back in 2018, where volunteers got together around Pioneer Canal Park to catch rabbits that were once people’s pets. On that Saturday there were around seven rabbits caught, and the week before volunteers were able to capture 17.
“I’ve been rescuing rabbits for over 10 years, and in those years I’ve met rabbits with all different kinds of personalities and attitudes. So far in 2021, I have caught 9 rabbits in my spare time between having a full-time job and being a rabbit breeder,” Rosenbaum says regarding her experience. “[More] often times than not I end up having to come up with a rescue plan because these animals don’t trust humans after being left to survive on their own. They lose trust in us, and they’re already naturally nervous animals to begin with.”
Shelters can reach maximum capacity. When this happens, they turn away rescued rabbits, forcing those who saved the animals to either keep them or try and find them a home on their own.
“Rabbits get killed in shelters like other animals do, and that’s the part that breaks my heart,” Rodriguez, the CottonTails Rescue volunteer says. “Everything could just be avoided in the first place if people did their research… Rabbits are not toys, and they’re not presents. They’re live animals with feelings and emotions that take a lot of work and responsibility to own and manage.”