On behalf of the media, I wish to apologize to rabbits everywhere.
About the only time we ever mention rabbits is around Easter, when we either do pieces on how wonderful bunnies (along with chicks and baby ducks) are as gifts, or share the local shelter's warning that pets are bad ideas as gifts.
I've never done the former story, but I've written plenty about the latter. Bunnies, chicks and baby ducks should never be given as Easter gifts, at least not without plenty of thoughtful consideration beforehand. Too many times the formerly "fluffy" or "fuzzy" grow up and are seen as a messy inconvenience. Or they become the rope in an ongoing tug-of-war between the child who wanted the pet and the parents who insist the responsibility for the animal's care must fall on their son or daughter.
In either scenario, it's the pet who loses, ignored in a rarely cleaned cage, or dumped on the nearest shelter or rescue group.
My good deed done with such warnings, I then ignore rabbits until Easter rolls around again, as will most of the media. But our Easter efforts leave the story half-told, and for that, I'm sorry. The other half of the story? What most people don't know about pet rabbits, and should.
Rabbits make wonderful pets -- for adults! Bun-lovers know the animals are playful, quiet, clean and affectionate. The time and effort you put into getting to know your pet pay off many times over. They're perfect for apartment dwellers and suburbanites alike.
What they're not perfect for is children. Parents buy rabbits thinking the animals will consent to lots of quiet lap-sitting, serving as sort of a warm, stuffed animal with a twitching nose. But rabbits aren't like that. The younger ones are very active, and even the adults love to kick up their heels in bursts of bunny joy.
Rabbits are also too fragile for many children, especially younger boys and girls who cannot be relied on knowing how to handle a pet correctly. If you pick up a rabbit without properly supporting his legs, he may panic and kick out, a move that may not only scratch a child but could break the bunny's back.
Guinea pigs and rats are better pets for children, but these, too, need strong parental oversight to ensure they're being well-cared-for, of course -- not fights over "responsibility," but guidance. The ultimate responsibility for any child's pet falls on parents, who must also ensure that the animal is being respected and cared for. This model teaches children another important lesson: compassion.
Another misconception about rabbits is that an outside hutch is the best place to keep one. Not so! Outside rabbits are especially vulnerable to predators, and can be frightened to death even by killers who cannot get close enough to bite. Outdoor rabbits are especially prone to neglect -- out of sight, out of mind -- and are bored to bunny tears in their small enclosures.
You'll get the most out of sharing your life with a rabbit if you bring him inside and make him a part of that life. Most rabbits can be litterbox-trained, and what few droppings that do stray are small, neat, and easily cleaned up with a handheld vac.
Are you missing out on the pleasure a pet rabbit could bring to your life? Visit your local shelter and find a "second-chance" rabbit who's right for you. If the shelter doesn't have any for adoption, ask them for a referral to a local rabbit rescue group.
Kind beings that they are, rabbits will accept my apology, I'm sure, and my promise to write about them more frequently than once a year.
PETS ON THE WEB
No group has been more influential in bringing rabbits out of hutches and into homes than the House Rabbit Society. The HRS homepage (www.rabbit.org) gets better every day, with up-to-date information on health, nutrition, training and problem-solving. The site also has referrals to rabbit rescue, too. Another Web site worth visiting is the whimsical Bunny Thymes newsletter (www.cyberus.ca/(tilde)buntales/index.html). While not as in-depth as the HRS site, Bunny Thymes offers some thoughtful reading for rabbit fans.
Wrapping has a way of making anything look elegant, although some folks might think of pretty packaging as a bit of overkill for a bag of old-fashioned clothespins my friend Ellen gave me. But Ellen and I know better. The humble wooden fasteners are a real find in an age where clothes dryers have put even their metal-spring successors largely out of business. The Penley Corp. of West Paris, Maine, still makes old-fashioned clothespins, used mostly for crafts these days. If you ever played with them as a child, you already know they're great toys, but you may not know they're not fun only for children. Old-fashioned wooden clothespins make wonderful playthings for pets such as rabbits and parrots. The pins are fun for them to play with and chew on, and are inexpensive to replace. They're well worth searching out.
Q: I am getting a new puppy in two weeks and want to save my home. I am looking for a 6-foot-wide tension gate. I have tried pet stores and baby stores. Some stores have them that length, but they screw into the wall (I have wood that I do not want to destroy). Or the gates are only 2 feet tall, which won't work with a soft-coated wheaten terrier for very long. If you have any ideas, I would appreciate them. -- Susan, Indianapolis
A: The best selection of baby gates I know of is in the Doctors Foster and Smith catalog (800-826-7206; www.drsfostersmith.com) -- and even they don't have a tension gate that will stretch across 6 feet. I'm no engineer, but having dealt with enough dogs and baby gates over the years, I'm guessing a tension mount doesn't work for an opening that large. The catalog does offer an attractive hardwood gate that would fit, although you would have to attach it to the woodwork.
You might also consider rethinking the space in which you'd like to confine your puppy, choosing instead an area where a baby gate would have to cover a standard door opening only (you'll find the widest choice of models in that size). Or you might consider a doorway where the mounting hardware won't be a problem.
Best wishes with your new puppy. The wheaten is one of my favorite breeds: handsome, good-natured and a lot less hardheaded than many other terriers.
Q: We are looking for kittens to buy for our grandmother. But there is a shortage and we are having trouble finding any -- and if we do they cost a lot of money. We are looking for two kittens from the same litter and we would like to get them locally. Do you have any suggestions? We are hoping to get them for her for Easter. -- K.S., Albany, N.Y.
A: How about for the Fourth of July instead? Or Labor Day? Kitten season is just getting under way now, with prospective "mom" cats howling for their toms through the spring air. In a couple of months, shelters will be awash in the results of these feline encounters -- more kittens than could ever be adopted, many of whom will have to be killed. The tragedy repeats every year, the summer rerun nobody wants to see. But that will continue until more people spay and neuter their pets.
For anyone looking to adopt a kitten, summer and early fall are the prime times. You'll find all the selection you could ask for, kittens in all colors and patterns, all anxious for loving homes.
I have to ask, though: Does your grandmother know about your plan? Pets should never be a surprise gift, because too often the recipient isn't interested in the responsibility they represent. Make sure your grandmother wants two playful kittens underfoot before you pick out any kittens.
My suggestion: If she really wants the kittens, give her a gift certificate to your local shelter, and in a couple of months, go with her and let her choose her own pets.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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