Rabbits and the Law

By Katlyn Weiser, Development Database Coordinator

While domestic rabbits are the third most common pet in the United States, there is a disconnect in how we think about and classify them pertaining to animal cruelty laws. Our Commonwealth’s animal cruelty laws do extend to rabbits, but there are limiting factors when rabbits are classified for laboratory, agricultural or game use. Under agricultural practices, domestic rabbits are raised for meat, and under gaming practices, domestic rabbits are used as live bait for training hunting dogs. Rabbits used in laboratories are purchased from breeders and then used for cosmetic and medical testing.

This inconsistency of our views of the domestic rabbit creates a barrier in keeping the species safe and ensuring that they are treated humanely. At Animal Friends, we strive to increase the public’s awareness of the domestic rabbit. In recent years, rabbit rescuers have seen great success in placing rabbits in safe, loving homes.

In 2003, Animal Friends welcomed its first rabbit residents. Bunnies throughout western Pennsylvania needed our help, and the staff and volunteers at Animal Friends were eager to act. Over the years, many foster volunteers have opened their homes to rabbits awaiting adoption and, in the process, freed up kennel space for additional animals. We are proud to have found safe, loving homes for hundreds of rabbits through our lifesaving work over the years.

Domesticated rabbits face incredible challenges in securing greater protections and also receiving proper care and husbandry. Rabbits are entitled to receive adequate living space inside your home and should feel safe and comfortable. Domesticated rabbits should not live in outdoor hutches or small, confined spaces.

Rabbits are extremely intelligent and can use logic and thinking skills. Domesticated rabbits’ lives, which typically extend beyond a decade, should consist of enrichment and exploration. Cardboard tunnels, shelters and crumpled newspapers are just a few things that are used to help your bunny thrive in their home.

Sadly, many people still classify our third most adopted companion animal as a commodity to be sold, hunted and used for experiments. Rabbits can be bred, sold, mistreated and even killed depending on that rabbit’s status. And, rabbits can be used for agricultural practices including the production of meat and fur.

Through education and community support, we can build a more informed generation of rabbit owners and advocates. Thanks to the work done by staff and volunteers at Animal Friends, and partner organizations like Rabbit Wranglers and House Rabbit Society, we have already saved hundreds of lives. Animal Friends is committed to continuing this vital work and will act as a voice for the rabbits, cats and dogs who need us the most. It is imperative that we redefine domestic rabbits as companion animals so they are afforded the same protections as dogs and cats in our Commonwealth.

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