February 15, 2005 > A Cute Little Bunny...Right for Your Classroom?
A Cute Little Bunny...Right for Your Classroom?
by Nancy Lyon
I recently attended an animal welfare conference in San Francisco and while scanning the tremendous amount of available resource material, a brochure addressing the suitability of rabbits as classroom pets caught my eye. As an animal shelter volunteer, I'm aware of the sad lack of responsibility and compassion we teach our children each June as school lets out when rabbits, guinea pigs and other small animals are turned over to the shelter because they have become inconvenient. Far too many are put to death because there are more rabbits than appropriate families wanting to adopt them.
Because children as well as adults are often drawn to rabbits, they are common in classrooms. The information presented by the Marin County based non-profit organization SaveABunny, a chapter of the House Rabbit Society, offered some thought provoking facts that educators need to consider before bringing a rabbit into the classroom.
Diet and exercise
Rabbits have very specific dietary requirements. They need a high quality pelleted food in limited quantity, fresh greens every day with water and hay available at all times. Disruption of this routine, or being fed the wrong thing by a child, can cause illness or even death. Rabbit veterinary care can be very expensive.
Rabbits also need daily exercise. Are you willing to "bunny-proof" your classroom so that you can allow the rabbit safe out-of-cage time necessary for his physical and emotional well-being? Rabbits need at least three hours of exercise daily. Teachers need to be especially vigilant about removing toxic items: plants, electrical wires and human snacks and candy. Snack time with child/rabbit interactions need to be carefully monitored.
Their delicate nature
Rabbits are prey animals - they are typically very sensitive and do not do well with the natural exuberance of children. They can be easily stressed and do best in a quiet, consistent environment - few, if any, classrooms fit that description. Rabbits have fragile bones and delicate digestive systems. They can be severely injured or accidentally killed by the unintentional mishandling of a well-meaning child. Most children, especially those under the age of seven, cannot appreciate the subtle nature of the rabbit, and quickly lose interest. As a teacher, are you prepared to love and care for the rabbit as your own companion for ten years or more?
Teacher and school liability
Most rabbits don't like being picked up, and can bite and scratch if frightened. Teachers and school officials are advised to consider their potential liability for injuries caused by the rabbit, as well as their responsibility for the animal's well-being. Children can also have allergies to the rabbits or the hay and litter needed for proper care.
Weekends and vacations
Rabbits who rotate to different homes on weekends can suffer extreme stress. Improper care is likely even in the most families. What happens to a classroom rabbit at the end of the school year? Surrendering him to a shelter only teaches children that animals are disposable when inconvenient.
The sad result
This past year has seen a tremendous increase in the number of rabbits in the Tri-City Animal Shelter as well as other shelters. Along with an extraordinarily large number of post-Easter rabbit "strays" and owner surrenders, there was the sadly predictable school year end dump of rabbits and other small animals. Rabbits are the third most frequently euthanized animals in shelters in the U.S. These are living creatures that deserve and require a lifetime of care and consideration. Before you consider bringing an animal into your classroom or home ask yourself whether you are willing and able to provide that kind of commitment.
SaveABunny is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to rescuing rabbits faced with euthanasia. You can call them at (415) 388-2790 or visit www.SaveABunny.com. Your class can sponsor a rabbit and receive regular pictures and updates. A quotation in their brochure is very appropriate - "Teach that a generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things that renew humanity." ~ Buddha
A local resource
For local help with rabbit care and behavior, you can contact members of the House Rabbit Society at the "Cottontails" - The Bunny Helpline at (510) 797-6679.