Pandemic pets lead to “pet regret” and significant domestic rabbit overpopulation
Kingston Animal Rescue under intense strain as pet rabbit surrender requests soar
Monday January 9, 2023
Kingston, ON – Nearly three years on, animal shelters and rescues continue to face intense pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kingston Animal Rescue (KAR), a Kingston-based charity and primarily volunteer-run organization that specializes in rabbits, has seen a dramatic increase in requests from owners seeking to rehome domestic rabbits, many of which were adopted or purchased as “pandemic pets.” This so called “pet regret” is real and has significant consequences for animal welfare organizations.
Between 2018 and 2020, KAR saw an average of 12 rabbit surrender requests per year. In the last year, the organization has received 146 – a 1,116% increase compared to pre-pandemic. In the last three weeks alone, the organization has been asked to assist 40 rabbits. KAR already has 24 rabbits in its care. The organization adopted out 17 rabbits in the last year.
“We started the rescue out of a love for rabbits and knowing how very misunderstood they are. Rabbits are high-need animals, requiring as much care as a dog or cat. They can live 10+ years, should not be kept in small cages, need to be spayed or neutered, and see a vet regularly. And they really can breed quickly, leading to a population explosion in a short period. We want to help as many rabbits as we can, but the current demand is overwhelming,” says Jessica Hellard, Co-founder of KAR.
Rabbits are the third most abandoned pets after cats and dogs and they are often purchased on impulse from pet stores. This is one of the reasons that KAR advocated for a municipal pet store by-law that included rabbits a decade ago. This by-law was passed by Kingston City Council and came into effect August 14, 2013 restricting the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet stores to only shelter or rescue animals. The city continues to have one of the most progressive pet store by-laws in Canada.
This by-law ultimately led to the closure of two pet stores locally and had a significant positive effect on domestic rabbit overpopulation in the years since it was established. Prior to the by-law, KAR assisted with an average of 40 rabbits per year. Requests dropped in half following the implementation of the by-law.
Kingston also has a by-law limiting the breeding of rabbits aimed at reducing pet overpopulation and ensuring appropriate care. While these by-laws are necessary and effective, they only apply to activities within the City of Kingston and do not extend to surrounding communities, which allows rabbit breeding and selling to continue locally.
“In our 12 years of operation, we have never seen the frequency and volume of requests we are seeing now,” says Alison Migneault, Co-founder of KAR. We had made real, tangible progress in addressing pet overpopulation locally in the last decade and we’re now facing abandonment numbers like we have never seen. It’s incredibly disheartening because we know we can’t help them all. Unwanted rabbits are often simply abandoned outside if they cannot be rehomed – and that is a death sentence.”
The pandemic has also had serious economic consequences for KAR. Pandemic stay-at-orders and closures restricted the organization’s ability to fundraise for two years while at the same time inflation and demand has led to rising veterinary costs. For example, the cost of a rabbit neuter has increased by more than $100 in the last two years.
KAR prioritizes assisting rabbits in need and will continue to take in rabbits as resources allow, seeking to help as many rabbits on their waitlist as possible. Here’s how you can help:
Foster a rabbit:
One of the most important resources for the organization is the availability of foster homes, volunteers who house and care of rabbits in their homes. The organization does not have a facility. Every animal in its care stays in a foster home. KAR needs more foster volunteers in order to help more rabbits. They provide all start-up supplies and medical care.
Learn more about fostering: https://www.kingstonanimalrescue.com/foster
KAR health checks and spays or neuters every rabbit. The average cost of a rabbit spay with a rabbit-savvy vet is $446. Including a health exam, food, and other supplies, the average cost to rescue a rabbit exceeds $600. KAR is a registered charity. Donors will receive a tax receipt.
Donate to KAR: https://www.kingstonanimalrescue.com/givenow
Be a responsible pet guardian:
Reduce the strain on animal welfare organizations by ensuring you can commit to an animal. Research and understand the lifespan and needs of animal you are thinking of purchasing or adopting. Ensure you have the necessary financial resources to care for your pet now and in the future. Always spay and neuter.
Adopt, don’t shop:
Adopting an animal from a shelter or rescue will ensure you are matched with a companion appropriate to your lifestyle, family, and home, and you help two animals – the one that you adopt and the one that takes its place at the shelter or rescue.
Photo caption: a group of baby bunnies rescued by Kingston Animal Rescue during the pandemic
For more information, please contact:
Co-founder, Kingston Animal Rescue