KINGSTON — Local animal shelters and rescues are still facing pandemic pressures, including so-called “pet regret,” which Kingston Animal Rescue (KAR) says is real and has significant consequences for animal welfare organizations.
KAR is a Kingston-based charity and primarily volunteer-run organization that specializes in rabbits. It has seen a dramatic increase in requests from owners seeking to re-home domestic rabbits, many of which were adopted or purchased as “pandemic pets.”
According to KAR, between 2018 and 2020 it saw an average of 12 rabbit surrender requests per year. In 2022, the organization received 146 — a 1,116 per cent increase compared to pre-pandemic. In the last three weeks of the year alone, the organization was asked to assist 40 rabbits. KAR already has 24 rabbits in its care. The organization adopted out 17 rabbits last year.
“We started the rescue out of a love for rabbits and knowing how very misunderstood they are. Rabbits are high-need animals, requiring as much care as a dog or cat,” said Jessica Hellard, co-founder of KAR, in a news release on Jan. 10. “They can live 10-plus years, should not be kept in small cages, need to be spayed or neutered, and see a vet regularly. And they really can breed quickly, leading to a population explosion in a short period. We want to help as many rabbits as we can, but the current demand is overwhelming.”
With rabbits being the third most abandoned pets, after cats and dogs. They are often purchased on impulse from pet stores.
This is one of the reasons KAR advocated for a municipal pet store bylaw that included rabbits a decade ago. The bylaw was passed by Kingston city council and came into effect on Aug. 14, 2013, restricting the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores to only shelter or rescue animals. The city continues to have one of the most progressive pet store bylaws in Canada.
According to KAR, the bylaw ultimately led to the closure of two pet stores locally and had a significant positive effect on domestic rabbit overpopulation in the years since it was established. Prior to the bylaw, KAR assisted with an average of 40 rabbits per year. Requests dropped in half following the implementation of the bylaw.
“In our 12 years of operation, we have never seen the frequency and volume of requests we are seeing now,” Alison Migneault, co-founder of KAR, said. “We had made real, tangible progress in addressing pet overpopulation locally in the last decade, and we’re now facing abandonment numbers like we have never seen. It’s incredibly disheartening because we know we can’t help them all. Unwanted rabbits are often simply abandoned outside if they cannot be re-homed — and that is a death sentence.”
The pandemic has also had serious economic consequences for KAR. Pandemic stay-at-home orders and closures restricted the organization’s ability to fundraise for two years while at the same time inflation and demand has led to rising veterinary costs. For example, the cost of a rabbit neuter has increased by more than $100 in the last two years.
KAR identifies and prioritizes assisting rabbits in need and will continue to take in rabbits as resources allow, seeking to help as many rabbits on their waitlist as possible.
There are a number of ways the organization says people can help:
• Foster a rabbit: One of the most important resources for the organization is the availability of foster homes, and volunteers who house and care for rabbits in their homes. The organization does not have a facility. Every animal in its care stays in a foster home. KAR needs more foster volunteers in order to help more rabbits. They provide all startup supplies and medical care.
• Donate: KAR health-checks and spays or neuters every rabbit. The average cost of a rabbit spay with a rabbit-savvy vet is $446. Including a health exam, food and other supplies, the average cost to rescue a rabbit exceeds $600. KAR is a registered charity. Donors will receive a tax receipt.
• Be a responsible pet guardian: Reduce the strain on animal welfare organizations by ensuring you can commit to an animal. Research and understand the lifespan and needs of the animal you are thinking of purchasing or adopting. Ensure you have the necessary financial resources to care for your pet now and in the future. Always spay and neuter.
• Adopt, don’t shop: Adopting an animal from a shelter or rescue will ensure you are matched with a companion appropriate to your lifestyle, family and home, and you help two animals — the one that you adopt and the one that takes its place at the shelter or rescue.
For more information, to learn about fostering and donating, visit www.kingstonanimalrescue.com.