ORLANDO, Fla. – A group in Orlando is attempting to rescue domestic bunnies in Azalea Park.
Stephanie Gallino, a volunteer with Orlando Rabbit Care and Adoptions, said the bunnies are believed to have been dumped in the area in December. She predicts there are now about 50 bunnies living in the neighborhood. She said since the bunnies are domestic, they won’t be able to survive long in the wild.
“I came in person, when I was driving down the blocks of the street, there were bunnies everywhere. In every yard,” Gallino said. “It’s just a sad situation for the community because these people have to come outside and see animals that need rescue, and no one can do anything about it at this point.”
Orlando Rabbit Care and Adoptions said nearly four million rabbits can be reproduced from just two bunnies in a four-year time frame. The group said in 2021, they were requested to help rescue 575 rabbits. During the first two months of 2022, they say they’ve been requested to rescue 130 rabbits.
" A lot of people don’t realize the big differences between the domestic and the wild ones. They are like, ‘Oh, there’s rabbits who live in the wild, this guy will be fine. They just kind of toss them out,” said Alicia Branoff, adoption and foster coordinator for Orlando Rabbit Care and Adoptions.
Wild rabbits are not the same as domesticated rabbits. On top of being bigger and slimmer, they also know how to burrow and get away from predators compared to domestic rabbits.
Orlando Rabbit Care and Adoptions is the only rescue in the area that cares for rabbits. Orange County Animal Services and Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando do not take in rabbits. The rescue is all home foster-based, so they can only take in as many rabbits as there is room in foster homes.
Currently, the rescue says it is over capacity, with 80 rabbits in the program, no foster homes available, and a waiting list for rabbits to move to new foster homes.
The rescue also says the 10 other rabbit rescues in Florida are also at or above capacity. Taking the rabbits in without enough fosters right now would likely affect their ability to take in any more rabbits for the rest of the year.
“If we have proper community support we would be able to take in these rabbits and still be able to handle more rabbits throughout the year, BUT ONLY with support needed from the community,” the shelter said in a statement.
Gallino said her goal is for community members to step up and foster the animals.
Orlando’s rabbit problem
Orlando Rabbit Care’s president, Kathy Harter, believes COVID-19 partially contributed to the increase in rabbit ownership, just as it did with cats and dogs.
“A lot of rescues, dogs, cats too, all sharing the same thing that they’re getting a lot of intakes now because people are going back to work and they find they don’t have room in their life for their pet,” Harter said.
While larger pet stores like PetSmart and Petco no longer sell rabbits, other pet stores can, and they can sell them at a younger age than a veterinarian can check the rabbit’s gender, Harter said.
That means someone may take two rabbits home, not knowing they have a boy and a girl, and end up within a few months finding a litter of baby bunnies. Plus, a rabbit can get pregnant the day they give birth, and a pregnancy cycle only lasts around 30 days.
Moreover, there are few veterinarians in the area equipped to handle spaying or neutering a rabbit, a process that can cost hundreds of dollars.
“This time of year we are also going to see a lot of bunnies being purchased and then dumped very quickly because we’re coming up on Easter,” said Branoff. “And who doesn’t love a good Instagram picture of your kid with a bunny? They’re very good in a picture but they’re not very good pets for kids, especially really young kids.”
If you are thinking of getting a rabbit, Orlando Rabbit Care and Adoptions suggests trying out to be a foster for a rabbit instead. Rabbits are a 10-year commitment and can be expensive to care for.
You can apply to be a foster at the rescue’s website.