‘COVID bunnies’ are back, crushing relief groups and some shelters – Daily News

Dr. Gayle Roberts had never seen an injury like the one sustained by a pet rabbit lying on her operating table Thursday, August 4, at her veterinary practice in Irvine.

The rabbit suffered compound fractures of both shins, forming a strange kind of mobility allowing him to walk on the exposed bones for weeks. Leg wounds were infected. Mites filled both ears. Because fixing the legs would cause too much trauma, she cleaned the ears and put in antibiotics to cure infections.

But the heart of the white rabbit with black dots around his eyes stopped, probably from a blood clot.

“He was such a sweet bunny. I thought about adopting him myself,” Roberts said, addressing the loss.

The wave of rabbit patients seen by vets, combined with rabbit rescues across Southern California, as well as calls from owners wanting to return the furry pets, has skyrocketed. It’s the result of a buying frenzy at the start of the coronavirus pandemic when parents were looking for cute companions for cooped-up kids and teens.

Now that schools and workplaces are reopening, many owners are returning them, overwhelming rabbit rescue organizations and increasing the population at some area animal shelters. Some owners throw them into parks, neighborhoods, or backyards where they get hit by cars, fall over, or are attacked by predators.

“We see more rabbits than cats,” said Roberts, an experienced veterinarian and owner of Northwood Animal Hospital. She does a “Bunny Day” once a week and that usually means caring for 10 or more sick rabbits brought in by rescue groups, she said.

Rabbit rescue organizations are inundated with emails and calls from cuddly pet owners who say they can no longer care for the animal and want it back.

“It’s so out of control,” said Caroline Charland, founder and president of Bunny Bunch Rabbit Rescue, with locations in Montclair and Fountain Valley. “We can’t track every call – it’s all day, every day, non-stop.”

  • Jane Stronnington, Adoption Manager at the Bunny World Foundation with a Holland Lop rabbit up for adoption in Los Angeles, Calif., Tuesday, August 2, 2022. With Los Angeles Animal Services awash with rabbits, the Bunny World Foundation helps foster rabbits until suitable homes can be found. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Nychelle Hawk and Aaron Allen with their adopted rabbit Hopsalot...

    Nychelle Hawk and Aaron Allen with their foster rabbit Hopsalot at the Bunny World Foundation in Los Angeles, CA on Tuesday, August 2, 2022. With Los Angeles Animal Services awash with rabbits, Bunny World Foundation helps foster rabbits until homes suitable can be found. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Melinda Ratner with a Holland Lop bunny named Lolita Rose...

    Melinda Ratner with a Holland Lop bunny named Lolita Rose for adoption at the Bunny World Foundation in Los Angeles, Calif., on Tuesday, August 2, 2022. With Los Angeles Animal Services awash with bunnies, the Bunny World Foundation helps foster bunnies until that suitable houses can be found. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Lejla Hadzimuratovic with a lion's head rabbit at her Bunny...

    Lejla Hadzimuratovic with a lionhead rabbit at her Bunny World Foundation in Los Angeles, CA on Tuesday, August 2, 2022. With Los Angeles Animal Services awash with rabbits, Bunny World Foundation helps foster rabbits until suitable homes can be found. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A pair of lion-headed rabbits up for adoption from...

    A pair of lionhead rabbits up for adoption at the Bunny World Foundation in Los Angeles, Calif., Tuesday, August 2, 2022. With Los Angeles Animal Services awash with rabbits, Bunny World Foundation helps foster rabbits until suitable homes can be found. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A Flemish giant rabbit named Thunder Bear who rides...

    A Flemish Giant Rabbit named Thunder Bear who is being adopted at the Bunny World Foundation in Los Angeles, CA on Tuesday, August 2, 2022. With Los Angeles Animal Services awash with rabbits, Bunny World Foundation helps foster rabbits until that suitable houses can be found. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

People wanted it during the COVID-19 shutdowns of 2020 and 2021. “But when everyone went back to work, they didn’t want it,” she said. “People would call them COVID bunnies.”

The Bunny World Foundation, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization based in Silver Lake, delivers 16 to 20 rabbits each week to veterinary partners, including Northwood Animal Hospital and VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, said Lejla Hadzimuratovic, president and founder. .

This is just a small dot on the rabbit overpopulation chart.

His group rescues rabbits from city shelters and individuals to prevent them from being euthanized or harmed, then tries to connect them with responsible owners – after having the rabbits spayed and neutered. In an average year, the group saves 1,000 rabbits. This year, the group plans to host 1,500, Hadzimuratovic estimated.

“We’ve been doing this since 2008 and it’s been the worst year ever,” she said. “We’re all losing our minds right now.”

Los Angeles Animal Services, a city agency, reports having more rabbits in its shelters than usual. They have 591 rabbits so far in 2022 compared to 364 rabbits at the same time in 2021, spokesperson Justin Khosrowabadi said in an email response.

Why the overpopulation?

Although little investigation of rabbits is done, rescue organizations, veterinarians, and city and county shelters offer several explanations for the sudden boom and bust cycle.

Most rabbits are obtained on a whim, not realizing the cost of repairing them — up to $1,200 — and the need for special habitat and diet, Hadzimuratovic said. Domestic rabbits cannot survive outdoors, she added.

“Caring for domestic rabbits is an important commitment,” she said. “They are very particular animals and require a space of four feet by eight feet. You can’t put them in a cage. They are not disposable fashion accessories; it’s a lifetime commitment.

Often they are purchased from breeders who do not sterilize the animals, rescue workers say. Owners end up unknowingly buying pregnant does, which can multiply every 28 days, producing up to 12 babies per litter, Hadzimuratovic explained.

“Someone called and said I had 40 rabbits in my house – and that’s not an unusual call,” said Charland, who said he heard of an individual hoarding up to 300. rabbits.

Hadzimuratovic strongly advises against buying from rabbit mills. Sales are illegal in pet stores, except a few with sales licenses, but illegal breeders sell them on the street. “They sell them in upscale places like Beverly Hills and breed them in Riverside County,” she said.

“The illegal sale of rabbits adds to the overpopulation of pets as they are often not neutered,” Khosrowabadi wrote. Animal control officers are cracking down on illegal sales, he wrote.

Often celebrities or just lonely teenagers like to show off their bunnies on social media, Hadzimuratovic said. “They got them for their kids, or people just have bunnies so they can post them on Instagram. Because they are cute.

Adoption, foster family

The Bunny World Foundation has 300 rabbits in its system and most live in 180 foster homes. These foster home volunteers look after the rabbits until they can be adopted. They are sent to vets who sterilize them and immunize them against disease, Hadzimuratovic said.

They work with LA City Animal Services, the Pasadena Humane Society, the Downey-based Southeast Area Animal Control Authority (SEAACA) and animal shelters in Mission Viejo, Moreno Valley and San Jacinto, she said.

Its volunteers transport rabbits from shelters to homes, and often to the veterinarian. Roberts said they make the 90-minute trip to Irvine with sick rabbits or those in need of routine care. They often hold adoption events in Pasadena, Torrance and Burbank, she said.

The group recently received a $35,000 grant from Petco Love, a foundation. It helps with vet bills, she says. Over the past five months, the band’s veterinary bill has been $45,000.

Finding someone to take these furry animals is the hardest part of her job, she says.

“A rabbit is a mixture of a dog, a cat and a horse. They can be as affectionate as a dog and give you kisses. They have the same digestive system as a horse because 80% of their diet is hay, plus they’re really adorable,” she said.

But often there are too few houses and too many rabbits. “We can’t help them all. Thus, it becomes a choice for Sophie every day. You have to decide who lives,” Hadzimuratovic said.

Adopt a pet rabbit:

• Email [email protected] to adopt from the Bunny World Foundation.

• Call Bunny Bunch Rabbit Rescue at 833-3-RABBIT or go to bunnybunch.org.



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Jennifer R. Strohm