MONTCLAIR, Calif. —Easter bunnies grow up and the novelty wears off. Come summer, people often just dump the bunnies.
That's why the number of rabbits in animal shelters across the country swells every summer.
"We are in crisis," said Caroline Charland, founder of The Bunny Bunch, which has 350 rabbits that need homes.
Two hundred of the rabbits are in foster care and 150 are at The Burrow, the adoption center her 20-year-old rescue operates in Montclair, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles.
Charland tries to keep the group's rabbit count around 300, but that isn't always possible, especially in summer. Shelters throughout Southern California will call her and say: "We are euthanizing today. Can you take any rabbits?"
Domestic rabbits that make it to shelters and to people like Charland are the lucky ones, said Betsy Saul, co-founder of Petfinder.com, an online pet adoption database.
"People take rabbits out and figure they will survive on their own," and that's usually a deadly decision for the animals, Saul said.
"Rabbits can die of heart attacks from the very approach of a predator," said Mary E. Cotter of the House Rabbit Society, an international nonprofit organization that rescues rabbits from animal shelters.
"This has been a very big year for rabbits," said Joyce Gedraitis of Bunny TNT, a Wichita rabbit rescue and education club. "It's been a rough year, I think, with all pets, because of the economy."
Bunny TNT works with the Kansas Humane Society to find homes for unwanted rabbits and now has 10 available for adoption.
"There's been a lot of bunnies dumped, just plain dumped in groups," Gedraitis said. "I think people are breeding them and not knowing what to do."
One rabbit gave birth to eight babies at the Humane Society, she said. "I've still got four of the babies."
The Kansas Humane Society tends to see more bunnies in spring and summer, said spokesperson Jennifer Campbell. It currently has seven rabbits available for adoption.
"It's easier to find homes for brand-new babies. Older rabbits sometimes hang out here" a while, Campbell said, referring to three bunnies that have been at the shelter since May.
In the summer, "people will get rid of rabbits because they're going on vacation and don't want to have to take care of them," Gedraitis said.
"To find homes for them during the summer is very, very hard."
Illness and moving are the two top reasons Gedraitis hears for people wanting to give up their rabbits, but "when people just say, 'we are tired of it,' I start asking questions," she said. "Nine times out of 10 they did not spay or neuter and do not like the behaviors."
Spaying and neutering will take care of a lot of bunny behavioral problems, Gedraitis said, and training also helps.
"You can train rabbits," she said. "You can do a lot of little things to make rabbits happy and they will behave.
"They may be called 'dumb bunnies,' but really they aren't," Gedraitis said. "They're pretty clever in a lot of ways."
Rabbits make good pets because they can easily be trained to use a litter box, come when you call them and will play tag, Cotter said. They are inquisitive, intelligent, sociable and affectionate.
But, she warned, rabbits aren't for everyone.
They live seven to 10 or more years, generally they are not good around small children, they must live indoors and require daily feeding, grooming, exercise, together time and cleanup.
The ASPCA estimates it costs $730 a year to care for a rabbit. The first year, it will be about $1,055 because of $325 in capital costs (cage, litter box, spaying and neutering).
A new owner will have to do some rabbit-proofing in areas where the animals will roam, Saul said. Rabbits need to chew their entire life — it's not a phase they will outgrow, so cable guards and furniture leg guards will have to be installed.
Rabbits seem to flourish in mature adult homes, Saul said, because they prefer quiet, bookish pursuits to rambunctious play in rowdy homes.
Education is a big part of what Bunny TNT and The Bunny Bunch do. "We talk as many people out of getting a rabbit as we adopt to," Charland said.
Shelters, rescues and animal experts all have one major piece of advice when it comes to rabbits: Give as many Easter bunnies for gifts as you want next year — but make them all chocolate.