Quebec shelters overwhelmed by rabbits as advocates call for stricter regulations

·3 min read
The surge in abandoned rabbits prompts has prompted two Quebec organizations to call for stricter regulations in the province. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
The surge in abandoned rabbits prompts has prompted two Quebec organizations to call for stricter regulations in the province. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

The number of rabbits being dropped off at the Montreal SPCA recently is higher than the executive director has ever seen.

"They are young, most of them are less than one year old," Élise Desaulniers said.

In 2019, the organization took in 140 rabbits. In 2021, some 370 ended up at the animal shelter.

Desaulnier says people underestimate the amount of care and space rabbits need. Now, with shelters overflowing, many have to be euthanized.

It's not a just problem in Quebec. Abandoning rabbits outdoors has been an "epidemic really for quite some time, but it escalated hugely during the pandemic," said Haviva Porter, executive director of Rabbit Rescue Inc., based in Cambridge, Ont.

The organization has rescue teams operating in more than 75 cities across Ontario and Quebec, capturing domestic bunnies that have been released outdoors.

"We've had to send out teams every single day, multiple times per day sometimes to get these rabbits," she said.

Rabbits aren't for everybody

Porter said domestic bunnies cannot survive long on their own outdoors.

She said breeders and pet stores are contributing to the problem by not educating customers about the amount of time, space and money that must be invested in a rabbit.

"Their vet bills are much higher than for cats and dogs and people aren't often prepared for that," Porter said.

Rabbits live longer than many people expect, and can get into trouble chewing or digging in the house, she explained. But they can be amazing, social pets for the right home, she added.

Her organization is asking for donations to help care for rescue bunnies, and for foster homes to help care for the abandoned animals so they don't end up being put down.

Patricia Durocher, who handles communications for Proanima, a rescue in Boucherville, Que., said her organization has also seen an uptick in rabbits being abandoned outside or dropped off at shelters.

"It's a lot of work to have a rabbit," said Durocher, but her organization has been dropping adoption fees to compete with breeders and pet stores — encouraging the right people to adopt and care for them so they don't have to be euthanized.

The Montreal SPCA made a similar offer in December, cancelling adoption fees for families who have all the necessary equipment to care for rabbits.

Calling on Quebec for change

Two Quebec-based rabbit groups, Adoption lapins sans abri and the Association québécoise de protection des lapins, wrote to the Quebec government back in November calling for stricter provincial regulations.

"Despite the indisputable efforts of municipalities to further regulate the sale of animals or sterilization, it is clear that action at the provincial level is necessary," the letter states.

Rabbits are offered little legal protection as they are bred for domestic purposes, to harvest fur and for food, the organizations say in the letter.

The assistant deputy minister for animal health and food inspection, Christine Barthe, replied last month, sending a letter to the two groups — saying the government is aware of the need to educate the public.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will launch a campaign targeting the abandonment of rabbits during the Easter period, she wrote in the letter.

Barthe said the ministry is looking to "strengthen these awareness-raising activities, provide information on the specific care to be given to rabbits and encourage citizens to report to the ministry any situation that could compromise the safety or welfare of animals."

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