Submitted by: Yuri Klitsenko
by Constance Young as published in About Town
The symbol of the Christian holiday of Easter, the "Easter Bunny," is thought to go back to the 1500s or 1600s in Germany, but some trace it to pre-Christian fertility stories, and as a symbol of Spring's renewal. Others refer to the role of the hare in Christian iconography, where a three-eared hare design symbolizes the "Holy Trinity." According to tradition, the Easter Bunny makes his visit every year, scattering brightly-colored eggs as he goes.
The Easter Bunny has become such an icon of spring and Easter that thousands of people gleefully give a gift of a live bunny to their kids each year. Many soon discover that a chocolate bunny would have been an easier, safer, and less expensive purchase. Rabbits are not as undemanding as some people think. Although they may look timid and sweet, they are not "low maintenance" and often demand expensive care. They can live eight to ten years or longer and require as much work as a dog or cat. Rabbits may look cuddly, but that's also misleading since rabbits often become frightened when held. Their reputation for rapid and impressive breeding is well-earned, so spaying or neutering, at the usual cost of about $100 or more, is essential. Unneutered females give birth to an average of about ten live young a year, or three to four litters each season.
Domestic rabbits aren't the same as the "wild" rabbits you occasionally see in your back yard. Wild rabbits in North America are usually Eastern cottontails, whose coats are grayish-brown with a scattering of black, usually with white feet and sometimes a white spot on their foreheads. Full-grown cottontails are about the size of an average cat and weigh between two to four pounds. Rabbits in the wild rarely live longer than 12 months owing to their 90 percent mortality rate. Cottontails can be found almost anywhere—in fields, woods and farmlands, and especially in areas where there are thickets and brush piles for shelter and places to hide.
If you see another type of rabbit running free or begging at your door for food, it is most probably a domestic rabbit who has been dumped and who will probably not survive unless caught and re-homed. All too often people adopt a cute bunny on a whim, particularly around Easter time, and then become frustrated by their care needs; so they unknowingly "free them" to almost certain death. If you see such an animal, please contact the House Rabbit Society or your local humane society who can lend you a trap and help you find a foster or permanent home. Domestic rabbits come in about 20 or so breeds with an array of different colors, sizes, shapes and coat types. Longer coated breeds require daily grooming. There are dwarf breeds (less than two and a half pounds) and then there are the giant breeds.
LuLuBelle, the14-lb Flemish Giant rabbit who lives with Columbia County resident Nancy Furstinger, could be considered a poster child for the fun and sweetness of rabbits, but also their fragility. Nancy dubs LuLuBelle a "tripod" because she has only three legs. LuLuBelle would most assuredly have suffered the short, brutal life of many other "strays" if she hadn't met Nancy, who has been involved in animal rescue ever since she first moved to the Hudson Valley. Nancy is one of a small group of dedicated "Bundergrounders" who have been fostering rabbits for the House Rabbit Society and other groups. She is also an award-winning author who has written many animal-oriented children's books.
LuLuBelle had to have her right rear leg amputated after an accident at the humane society that was holding her. Although Nancy had shared her home with house rabbits for 15 years, she said that she had never seen one so enormous or missing a limb. Flemish Giants are among the largest of domestic rabbit breeds, and can range from about 13 pounds through 22 pounds, and even up to 28 pounds. "Once LuLuBelle started to recover, however, and she found her center of gravity, there was no stopping her," Nancy remarked. "It was amazing how fast she could slither—like a sidewinder snake serpentining sideways with her own peculiar locomotion." When LuLuBelle got stronger and explored the backyard, Nancy said "she showed off her exuberant personality by doing lopsided 'binkies' as if sprung from a popcorn-making machine." Rabbit experts describe the "bunny binky" as the jumping, twisting, head-flicking movement that rabbits do when they are feeling happy and playful.
All bunnies require care, but three-legged bunnies require extra special care. They have to have their ears cleaned frequently on the side of the missing limb. "LuLuBelle still attempts to scratch her ear with her phantom limb," says Nancy, who also massages LuLuBelle's spine to straighten out the kinks and periodically checks the bun's left hind foot to make certain that a sore hock doesn't develop since it's doing the job of two feet. Despite the challenges, obviously this gentle giant has charmed Nancy.
Go Chocolate? LuLuBelle's message is particularly important this time of year when many people innocently take in adorable real live "Easter bunnies" only to abandon them to shelters because they become too much to handle. Rabbits need a specialized diet, proper housing and ideally, play time outside of their cage with their caretakers. Their litter boxes need periodic changing; they need fresh water and plenty of hay as well as fresh vegetables and special rabbit pellets. In the wild, rabbits eat grass, which, in its dry form is simply hay, which should be offered in large quantities on a constant basis and should be considered far more than just chewing entertainment. In addition to the invaluable fiber, hay also provides vitamins, minerals, and protein in a form the rabbit's digestive tract can handle.
For those of you who refuse to be deterred by the challenges of taking a rabbit into your home, visit the website of the House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org), or consider taking in one of Nancy Furstinger's two fosters Sugarberry and Ukulele by going to www.therabbitresource.org/adopt/males.html for pictures of these bunnies and other adorable rabbits.