OK, folks – who among us will admit to being a chocoholic? Anyone? Anyone?
OK, I’ll go first. I am absolutely nuts about chocolate. Chocolate cake. Chocolate pudding. Chocolate doughnuts. And let us not forget good ol’ chocolate chips, on which I’m currently nibbling. Brain food, ya know.
The other night at the grocery store, I found myself (by accident, I swear) in the seasonal aisle, surrounded by chocolate Easter bunnies of all shapes and sizes. As I sized up the options, though, I put my own cravings aside – for just a second – and made a note about what to include in this week’s column: Make Mine Chocolate.
Sounds divine, doesn’t it? But rather than a food order, this catchy phrase is the basis for an important education campaign.
Founded in 2002 by the Columbus (Ohio) House Rabbit Society, Make Mine Chocolate (www.makeminechocolate.org) aims to reduce the number of bunnies – the furry kind – that end up in animal shelters once the thrill of Easter has passed, and the reality of bun ownership has set in.
Through a network of national and international partners, the group operates an informative website, and distributes flyers with these facts:
• Rabbits are the third-most commonly relinquished animals to shelters and rescues, behind dogs and cats.
• To live happy, healthy lives, pet rabbits need to be spayed or neutered.
• A pet rabbit that is “set free” often meets a cruel end, getting killed by a predator, hit by a vehicle, or succumbing to harsh weather conditions or parasite infections.
Now, if you’ve ever visited our Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, you’ve likely met our current team of Ambassador Buns, Mopsy and Star. Neither of them, nor their predecessor, Peter, were spur-of-the-moment decisions. We had to make sure we had adequate space to house them, adequate time to care for them, and a proper diet of timothy hay-based pellets supplemented with some, but not too much, fresh food so as not to upset their delicate digestive systems.
Mopsy came to us as a rescue from a breeding/hoarder situation, and, at first, was quite overwhelmed with her new surroundings. A few weeks in an off-display enclosure, accompanied by plenty of pats and treats by staff, helped her ease into her new life where she helps teach people about what makes a mammal a mammal.
Star’s background as a former pet, where she was lavished with love and affection, made her transition much easier. But we still had to make sure she received the sort of top-notch care she was used to. Learning her likes and dislikes has paid off, and today she is our resident snuggle-bunny, comfortable around adults and kids alike.
Both of these buns have pretty big shoes to fill. From 2008-20, big blond Peter Rabbit served as a mascot for our nature department, first at the Pottawatomie Community Center and then at Hickory Knolls, when we opened in 2011.
I should add that beyond our resident rabbits, we’ve had the sad experience of finding pet buns abandoned in our parks. One, a beautiful chocolate (!) brown female, evaded our attempts to catch her for weeks, and when we finally did, she was too sick to survive. On another memorable occasion, an entire box of domestic rabbits was left at our Ferson Creek Fen nature preserve. They were a motley crew, some with missing parts: a leg, an ear. Thankfully, Critters Pet Shop in South Elgin came to the rescue, and not only treated the animals, but found them good homes.
With experiences like these in mind, we employ Mopsy and Star to educate visitors on what comes with the decision of adding a bun to the family, including:
• Domestic rabbits are best suited to living indoors, not out.
• They chew on anything and everything.
• They have strict dietary needs, and a bowl of pellets isn’t enough.
• Poop – their own – is an essential part of that diet.
• Still, litter boxes fill up and need to be cleaned, at least once a day and sometimes more.
• Exercise, including daily out-of-cage time, is a must.
• There’s no such thing as a “dumb bunny.” Mopsy and Star, and Peter before them, outsmart us, or at least me, almost daily.
If you or someone you know is considering the purchase of a rabbit because it was frolicking in a seasonal display, and it just looks sooo cute …
Remember that the little furball still will be with you 10 years down the road. That’s a decade of daily feeding and cleaning; of arranging for pet sitters or pet-friendly accommodations, when traveling; of bunny-proof or bunny-tolerant baseboards, floors and furnishings. Oh, and a decade’s worth of vet bills, too!
By comparison, chocolate rabbits – even the fancy imported ones – are a bargain.
• Pam Otto is the outreach ambassador for the St. Chocolate, er, Charles Park District, and can be reached at email@example.com.