The Pasco County Commission has directed county staff to come back to the board with a recommendation regarding banning the retail sale of rabbits.
Pasco County outlawed the sale of kittens, puppies, cats and dogs from pet stores last year, and now animal advocates want a similar ban on the sale of pet rabbits.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said the board should consider a ban, and he and his colleagues voted to have county staff bring something back to the board on the issue.
The action followed emails received by commissioners and requests during the public comment portion of a meeting in September and also in December.
During the 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.
“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 bunnies 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.
“Petco and PetSmart stopped selling rabbits in 2007, and only work with rescues. They are the No. 1 and (No.) 2 retail pet supplies in the U.S., so obviously, a ban will not hurt these businesses financially. This ban will take the pressure off rescues and humane societies — removing the guilt of turning them away and negating the need for owners to dump them.
“Pasco County has been a leader in the state in protecting animals, with anti-tethering laws and pet sales bans.
“Now, as we are working to educate and change laws in neighboring counties, we hope you will be the trailblazer for the Tampa Bay region,” the veterinarian said.
Animal advocate Renee Rivard, who had appeared at both the Sept. 28 and Dec. 7 meeting, reiterated her concerns.
At the Dec. 7 meeting, she told commissioners: “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 said.
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 added.
She also explained that the majority of rabbit sales are impulse buys at retail stores. That especially occurs 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 argument that Petco and PetSmart haven’t sold rabbits in years seemed to resonate with Mariano.
He mentioned that and noted that in addition to hearing from speakers, he’s received emails on the issue.
He made a motion to have county staff look into the issue and to report back to the board, which received unanimous support from his colleagues.
Published December 22, 2021