The Pasco County Commission adopted an ordinance on Oct. 10 banning the retail sales of rabbits.
The board previously had prohibited the sales of rabbits in public venues, but now is banning the sales at pet stores and retail establishments.
The board previously voted to prohibit the retail sale of dogs and cats, to protect the pet and consumer from unlicensed breeders, pet sellers and pet dealers.
In adopting the retail ban on rabbit sales, the board cited the necessity of the ordinance based on “the increase in abandonment of pet domestic rabbits in the wild and being surrendered in large numbers to rabbit rescues and animal rescue organizations by pet owners who are unable or unwilling to be responsible for ownership and care of their rabbit for the life of the pet.”
The ordinance also cites information from animal welfare organizations, animal rescues and animal shelters that attribute the primary cause for abandonment on the impulse buying from retail pet stores during specific holidays without sufficient forethought or education on the care and pet ownership required for the life of a rabbit.
It also notes domestic unvaccinated and unsterilized rabbits being abandoned in communities or in the wild present a growing threat to the health of native wild rabbit species through the potential spread of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus, Type 2 (RHDV-2), which is now being monitored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
During a Dec. 7 meeting, Dr. Betsy Coville, a veterinarian from Lutz, told commissioners that rabbits are the third most-surrendered pet.
“They require higher maintenance than dogs or cats and can live 10 to 12 years,” she said. “Frequently dumped outside, when the rescues are full, they starve, become prey for coyotes, or are hit by a car.”
Bunny mills are consistently the source for these rabbits that become unwanted.
They’re “no different from the puppy mills that we recognize as inhumane,” she said. “There are currently three locations in Florida that have placed bans on retail sales of rabbits: Orange County, Desoto County and Key West.
“They have all placed rabbits, along with dogs and cats, in their retail sale ban.”
Animal advocate Renee Rivard, who appeared before the board on Sept. 28 and at the Dec. 7 meeting, reiterated her concerns.
On Dec. 7 she said: “The Tampa Humane Society has taken in 246 unwanted pet rabbits so far this year. That’s 100 more than last year.
“Hillsborough County commissioners are taking action, because the Tampa Humane Society is their partner in helping the county with unwanted pets.”
She asked the Pasco board to do the same: “There is no facility in Pasco County that takes in unwanted rabbits. Suncoast House Rabbit Rescue is your partner with unwanted pet rabbits here in Pasco County. Suncoast House Rabbit Rescue has told you that they are overwhelmed.”
In September alone, they had to turn away 66 unwanted pet rabbits.
“It is extremely difficult to find fosters and homes for rabbits. Rabbits are a high-maintenance pet,” Rivard said. “They need specialized veterinarian care, which is expensive.”
She also explained the majority of rabbit sales are impulse buys at retail stores that especially occur around Easter, when children tell their parents they want a bunny rabbit.
Rivard told commissioners: “You have roughly 45 pet stores in Pasco County; 36 of them survive, without selling rabbits.”
The board directed its staff to bring back a proposal to amend the county ordinance to ban the bunny sales.
Mike Shumate, the director of animal services, brought the proposed change to the county ordinance to the board at its Oct. 11 meeting. The board approved the ban on a 5-0 vote.
Published October 19, 2022