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Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow : Store Owners, Humane Society Disgusted Over Return of Unwanted Easter Pets

Times Staff Writer

A spokeswoman for the San Diego Humane Society calls it “a big problem.”

A local pet shop owner calls it “a near-epidemic.”

Every year around this time--to be precise, the day after Easter--parents who purchased bunnies, baby chicks and ducks as presents commemorative of the holiday, start returning them.

“Families come in and buy a bunny for their child, and then, the day after Easter they say, ‘My God, we’ve got a pet--we don’t want a pet!’ ” said Zlona Swarts, a saleswoman at Point Loma Pet Shop, which stopped selling rabbits, chickens and ducks three years ago because of the wave of post-Easter returns.

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‘Novelty Wears Off’

Animal House Pet Shop in Normal Heights continues to sell them, and, by early Monday afternoon, Janice Mullen, co-owner of the shop, had taken back two bunnies and fielded “quite a few” phone calls about other returns.

“It’s almost like we’re the test station,” Mullen said angrily. “They test them and bring them back. They buy them for the novelty, and, the day after Easter, the novelty wears off. The excuse they always give is allergies. They say the rabbit gave them allergies. But, before Easter, there was no problem with allergies. So every year we go through this near-epidemic of bunnies bouncing back to the shop.”

Mullen said she refuses to grant a refund. Instead, she gives only a store credit. Rabbits at her shop sold for $19.99 apiece this year. All that’s required to care for them, she said, is a cage, rabbit pellets for food and bedding.

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And, of course, “a little TLC (tender loving care) that we hope extends beyond Easter,” she added.

Holiday Adoption Ban

“This rabbit return business isn’t off the wall at all,” said Lani Kian, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). “We’re very concerned about the situation, so every year now we prohibit the adoption of rabbits, guinea pigs and chicks and ducks two weeks before Easter and about a week after.

“We decided not to adopt out any of those animals this year from March 12 until April 12 for that reason--the reason of return. People adopt these animals impulsively, without concern for the pet’s welfare. Once the holiday is gone, the thrill is gone. And often, the animals are brought back in a neglected state.”

Kian said that potential buyers should remember that rabbits, like any animal, need more than just food.

“They should ask themselves if they intend to own this animal for the rest of its life,” she added. “If they can’t make that commitment--and many shop owners are beginning to ask them that--then they have no business owning the animal. A new pet needs consistency and regularity, and many of these people don’t give them that.

“They give them nothing but trauma. Kids ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at them until the day is over, and then they don’t want them. Rabbits need a consistency of people and routines, and proper feeding, for a long, long time.” A well-cared-for rabbit can live up to eight years.

Same Problem at Christmas

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Kian said the same scenario occurs around Christmas, with puppies and kittens the victims. She said pet shops contribute to the problem by simply trying to make a sale. Many of the animals being returned then show up on the doorstep of the Humane Society.

Several pet shops contacted said they quit selling rabbits, chicks and ducks because of returns or because of buyers being irate when shops refuse to accept the returns.

“We stopped carrying those animals five years ago,” said Carol Regis, owner of Mission Hills Pet House. “The purchase of animals like these, as symbols of a holiday, has to be thought out, and, in so many cases, it just wasn’t.”

“The rate of chicks and ducks coming back was phenomenal,” said Judy Pippett, manager of Pet Kingdom in Loma Portal. “So, we don’t carry them anymore. As far as bunnies go, we put up a huge sign saying, ‘Please consider that you’re getting a pet with this purchase--not an Easter bunny.’ That seems to turn a lot of people away at the cash register. We sold about 30 bunnies for Easter, and so far--my fingers are crossed--we haven’t had any back. I think it’s only because of the sign. It’s been a huge problem at other stores.”

As Janice Mullen of the Animal House Pet Shop put it, “People who buy bunnies for their kids are like the ladies who buy velvet dresses to go to the big ball. Once the ball’s over, and the event has come and gone, they return them. The fact that these animals are living creatures just doesn’t matter to most people.”


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