The Other Homeless Problem

I first saw Floppy in June. I saw him sitting in my driveway one evening near dusk, when I was returning home. He very obligingly hopped down the driveway and into the brush, out of my car’s way. Floppy is a very cute rabbit, tan in color, and one ear hangs down. Hence, its name. I have no doubt that Floppy is a domestic rabbit. Not only is its coloration a give-away (wild rabbits are gray/brown), but it is quite tame and allows people to get close. This rabbit used to be someone’s pet. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised that that someone also called him “Floppy” due to its droopy ear!

The floppy eared rabbit was sited today, alive and well (Nov 23).

I have wondered, as you may have wondered, how did Floppy end up here, so far from his home? It looks like someone dropped him off, or “merely allowed him to escape”. What was that person thinking?

The location where I saw Floppy is across the road from a parking spot where people disembark to walk their dogs. It is rare these dogs are leashed when they get out of the cars. Dogs love to chase rabbits. It is in their genes. A very good friend of mine recently purchased a full size poodle. He is amazed how often that poodle reveals its natural instincts for hunting. In particular, it loves to chase rabbits, to a point it’s become an impediment in its training. Can you guess what a dog does to a rabbit when it catches one? But for rabbits in the wild, domestic dogs are just one of a long list of predators waiting to catch it. On Vancouver Island, wolves and cougars are top predators, known to take all types of domestic animals. Domestic cats, especially feral ones, just love to eat rabbits and I have seen one doing so in the field next to where I saw Floppy. And don’t forget the avian predators. Hawks and eagles hunt by day, and owls hunt by night. Periodically, walking along the powerline I see the aftermath of a predator/rabbit encounter: tufts of hair strewn about. Dumping a pet rabbit into the wild is likely a death sentence by predators.

Fortunately, some domestic rabbits seem to have strong survival genes. They know when to run, and they know to keep running. Some know how to hide, and they love to hide in the thickest of blackberry bushes. Almost as secure as a cage. These smart rabbits are rarely seen in the open during the daytime. They stay close to cover. If they have to cross an open spot, they run quickly across. Maybe Floppy is one of the smart ones.

I like to see the rabbits; there is something almost pastoral about rabbits feeding on grass in a field or along the verges of a road. They eat not only grass but also weeds and various green shoots. In the summertime there is lots of food for them. In the fall, much of the grass has turned dry and yellow. The fresh shoots have come and gone. As autumn turns to winter, there is even less to eat. And times can get tough when the ground is covered with snow. Wild rabbits turn to the soft bark on the stems of shrubs. But what do the domestic rabbits eat? In places where people see these domestic rabbits, they often drop off food, like raw vegetables. In the local spots where you routinely see rabbits, I see evidence of people leaving food. Those are the lucky rabbits. Dumping a pet rabbit into the wild is ultimately a death sentence by starvation.

Rabbits are fun pets to have. When people release them into the wild, not only do they do a disservice to the rabbit, but they are also depriving some child from having one as a pet. Wouldn’t it be better to advertise the rabbit for free in one of the classified magazines, or in one of the free online classified advertisements website? Most people who have rabbits as pets also have cages, waterers and feeders. Let them go too! Or take the rabbit to a service group like the SPCA who specializes in finding homes for unwanted pets like rabbits. They recognize that domestic pets need homes not wilderness.

I haven’t seen Floppy for a couple of weeks now. The last time I saw him he was hopping up the road away from my dogs, but directly toward some dogs disembarking from a car. Floppy disappeared into the bush before those dogs saw it. (My dogs are past the age of chasing anything now.) At this time of year there is still lots of food available for rabbits. The grass is long and there is lots of cover. Floppy has shown he has some natural survival instincts, and he will definitely continue to need them… I hope I’ll see Floppy again.

Posted in A View from the Outside, Featured, September 2011, Slideshow

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