Lucky Rabbits Not So Lucky After All

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Lucky Rabbits Not So Lucky After All

By Margo DeMello, Animals and Society Institute
February 2011

It would be wonderful if one day we could create holidays with animals at their center where the animal was truly celebrated, rather than intensively bred, abandoned, or slaughtered.

Another holiday, another excuse for throw-away animals.

For rabbit lovers, it was bad enough that Easter is the time of the year when uninformed families purchase pet rabbits to give to their children. Because of Easter’s long association with rabbits (which itself derives from the rabbit’s connection to the moon and association with rebirth and regeneration), the rabbit is the go-to animal to not only symbolize the holiday, but to purchase, in live form, as a gift for it.

Baby bunnies, as well as chicks and ducklings, are purchased at pet stores and feed stores every year as gifts, and every year, many of those same rabbits find themselves abandoned at animal shelters, or worse, in the wild. Those that aren’t often don’t survive because the purchasers were not planning to commit to these animals for their lifetimes.

February 3 marks the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit, which occurs once every twelve years in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, and is celebrated throughout Asia and among Asian communities everywhere. Communities around the world will hold festive celebrations, ushering out the Tiger and in the Rabbit.

The bad news is that because rabbits are considered especially auspicious during its special year, many people want to get rabbits to keep in the house during the year. Unfortunately, this will result (as it did in the last Year of the Rabbit, 1999) in countless rabbits being abandoned after the year is over.

Why are animals such intractable symbols for holidays such as this? I suppose on one level, rabbits should consider themselves lucky that they’re not turkeys. Turkeys famously represent Thanksgiving to Americans, commemorating a harvest feast held by American colonists in 1621. This symbolic association results in some forty-five million turkeys being raised and slaughtered every November.

But even without that wholesale slaughter, rabbits still do not fare well at Easter, and nor, evidently, do they fare well during the Year of the Rabbit. House Rabbit Society Singapore points out that during the last Year of the Rabbit, in 1999, over twice as many rabbits were abandoned at that nation’s shelters than in 1998. This year looks to be no different.

In addition, many Chinese restaurants are now offering rabbit-meat dishes to commemorate the New Year, leading to yet more suffering. In the United States, rabbits are not covered under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, so killing them is not regulated at all, and they are not stunned prior to death.

Going back to the ancient belief that a severed rabbit’s foot is “lucky,” rabbits who are considered to bring luck to people end up suffering in a myriad of ways.

It would be wonderful if one day we could create holidays with animals at their center where the animal was truly celebrated, rather than intensively bred, abandoned, or slaughtered.