Going Beyond Cute Photographs

…How to better promote adoptable rabbits at shelters using words on Petfinder and social media such as Facebook

As a volunteer and Facebook administrator for New Jersey House Rabbit Society, one of my goals is to promote adoption from shelters and rescue groups in our area. Those of us working with or helping house rabbits know there are always many rabbits in need of good homes with knowledgeable caregivers.

Both shelters and rescue groups often strive to find the most suitable adopter possible for each animal, using screening applications and other means to sort through what could be multiple applicants for one rabbit. Yet shelters may lack some of the same advantages of their rescue partners in their ability to promote rabbits within their care and distinguish who among many may be the best fit for each particular rabbit. Shelters may be more limited in the time they can dedicate to getting to know each rabbit and thus, knowing how to describe each rabbit’s unique personality, traits, or special needs.

For this reason, I have chosen to focus on shelters in particular, and how they can take some small yet crucial steps in improving the odds that rabbits within their care find homes that are best suited for their needs and personality. To begin the process, shelter staff or volunteers will need to commit time to getting to know each rabbit individually and, preferably, outside of a small cage environment. Rabbits kept in small starter cages alone will never have the chance to show their true personalities or preferences. Neither will they give the most accurate indication to more casual observers, such as the general public, of what these companion animals are really like.

To really get to know an individual rabbit, the rabbit should be taken out of the cage daily and be given as much exercise time as possible within a larger, rabbit-proof and safe indoor environment. This space doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be as simple as an x-pen with a few cardboard boxes to hide in, some chew toys, and a litter box. If kept up permanently and within public view, this more spacious rabbit environment could also serve as a recommended and preferred example of how to more appropriately house a rabbit on a long-term basis.

As a rabbit begins to relax within this new space, those who observe the rabbit daily will better understand what makes him or her unique. They will be able to see if this rabbit is shy or outgoing, very active or subdued, playful or calm and relaxed. Observers will also be able to take note if a rabbit enjoys being handled or prefers to just be watched from a distance. They can then make educated assumptions regarding what type of individuals might be best able to appreciate the rabbit’s personality…if they might be older children or adults, for example. If a rabbit is aggressive or particularly fearful, an observer will be able to make note of this too and recognize the rabbit’s need for help from a foster caregiver, perhaps, or the care of someone who is not a first-time rabbit caregiver.

After a rabbit’s personality is better known, the next step in promoting adoption is to create a description of the rabbit that is both appealing and accurate. As examples, I have copied and included here actual descriptions of rabbits that appeared through Petfinder and that were provided by several different shelters across the country. My comments on each entry are included along with each description provided.

St. Huberts Animal Welfare Center – Madison, NJ

Hi everyone, my name is Alice and I am a young adult Californian bunny! I originally came from a meat farm with a few of my friends and am now looking for a new, bunny experienced home. I am still getting used to human interaction and am in need of a patient, and quiet household. If you’re interested in meeting me, please visit our shelter in Madison. We are open Sunday-Tuesday from 12-4 and Wednesday-Saturday from 12-6. Primary Color: White Secondary Color: Seal Weight: 4.1 Age: 2yrs 1mths 0wks Animal has been Spayed

Pet ID: 31646
Spayed/Neutered • Current on vaccinations
Every rabbit who enters a shelter has a story to tell. If you know the story, tell it. Stories like this bring feelings of empathy and help distinguish one rabbit from another. In my experience in posting about adoptable rabbits, those with particularly dramatic stories, like this one, tend to draw the most attention and desire in sharing among others. I also like that the author here made note that this rabbit needs a “bunny experienced home.” It is important to acknowledge the true needs of rabbits to ensure that he or she isn’t adopted out and then brought right back to the shelter again just a week or two later. Also, if the rabbit is spayed or neutered, please mention this. Those that know rabbits will all agree that this surgery offers many important benefits for rabbits and their caregivers. We like to know these things.

Animal Care Centers of NYC – Manhattan

A volunteer writes: Rocket is a small- to medium-sized all-black Dwarf mix with the sweetest personality! Despite his name, this little guy has a rather reserved, quiet demeanor. He absolutely adores affection, and will hunker down more and more as you pet his beautiful, shiny coat. Rocket loves head, neck, nose, you-name-it rubs! His sweetness and comfort with people would make him a good choice for a first-time bunny owner.

Pet ID: A1100866
Volunteers can be great assets for shelters, especially those that are experienced in caring for or interacting with rabbits. If you find someone who offers help in this area, please give them a chance to work with you. You never know how much they could benefit your work as an organization and help the rabbits in your care as well. In this case, the shelter involved relies heavily on volunteers for getting to know their rabbits and creating good descriptions of them. This particular volunteer was especially helpful perhaps in recognizing that this rabbit would be a good choice for a first-time bunny caregiver. She noted also that this rabbit enjoys being petted and even seeks out such attention.

A volunteer writes: Cordelia is an adorable medium-sized black and white dwarf mix. This girl is quite shy. She’s curious enough to approach and sniff you, but will quickly retreat. Cordelia is also a bit pudgy, so in addition to socialization she’ll need a good diet and exercise regimen. Therefore, she really should be adopted by a bunny-savvy adult-only home. Cordelia has very interesting markings. She’s mostly black, with white fur on her chest and front legs. She also sports a Dutch-like crooked white stripe down the front of her face, and best of all she has a cute white cottontail!

Pet ID: A1084540
This is another nicely written description by a volunteer. Remarking that this rabbit is quite shy and needs help with both socialization along with a good diet and exercise regimen is important to include, even if it may discourage some adopters. It simply means that this rabbit would benefit the most from an experienced caregiver and would not be a good fit for someone who has children. Including a description of her interesting markings ends her description on a positive note as well.

Hi-Tor Animal Care Center – Pomona, NY

Check out this little sweetheart! Charlotte (Charlie) is under a year old. She is a Harlequin mix rabbit. She is also known as a “Unicorn Lop” with one ear up, and one ear down. Charlie is playful and adorable. She is sure to amuse you with her silly personality. For more information, please contact us at [email protected]

House trained • Spayed/Neutered • Primary Color(s): White • Secondary Color(s): Blue or Gray • Coat Length: Short
If you know a rabbit’s age, it can’t hurt to include this. If the rabbit is a senior rabbit, this should always be mentioned, since senior rabbits often have special needs. Providing an email for contact within this rabbit’s profile makes it easy for an interested or serious adopter to contact someone immediately. That which facilitates the adoption process can help in making a rabbit more attractive to potential adopters. I would caution, however, that it may also encourage those who are more spontaneous in decision making and less likely to do their research first before choosing to adopt a rabbit to submit an adoption application as well.

Introducing Miss Liza! She’s got class, she’s got grace! Liza is a lionhead mix with an elegant flare. She is doing well with her litter box skills. Liza loves her hay, and is learning how to play with toys. For more information, or to arrange a meeting, please email us at [email protected]

House trained • Spayed/Neutered • Primary Color(s): White • Secondary Color(s): Brown or Chocolate • Coat Length: Long
This shelter makes an obvious point of litter box training and house training their rabbits whenever possible. By including these notes, it is obvious the shelter staff believes in and works toward ensuring that all their rabbits are adopted out as indoor-only animals. A house trained, litter box trained rabbit is of great benefit to both new and experienced rabbit caregivers who otherwise would not have the knowledge or time to do this for a rabbit themselves. Those who are dedicated and able to provide such service for rabbit adopters are, among others, even more committed to finding the best home possible for a rabbit.

City of Coppell Animal Services & Adoption Cent – Coppell, TX

Santa and Mrs. Clause were surrendered to the shelter when their owners could no longer care for them. The black rabbit is male while the grey one is female. Rabbits make great pets for someone looking to add a family member. They do best when allowed to play on a daily basis, outside the cage and when kept safe from excessive or inappropriate handling (best with older children or adults). They require a special diet with a lot of fresh veggies and hay and lots of attention. Rabbits can be spayed/neutered and it generally makes them friendlier and less likely to mark inappropriately.

Primary Color(s): Black • Secondary Color(s): Blue or Gray • Coat Length: Short
Again, if you know the story of a rabbit within your care, always be sure to share it with others. This shelter took the extra step of including care-related information within the profile of their rabbits. Educating others about rabbits is critical to helping slow the numbers of rabbits that are relinquished to shelters or abandoned every year. It is also important to note that the two rabbits described here are bonded. I am pleased to see that the shelter appears willing to ensure that both go to new homes together. Bonded rabbits should not be separated without good reason. Separating a bonded pair can cause unnecessary stress and even depression in individuals.

Humane Society of Summit County – Twinsburg, OH

Ethel and Lucy were found in a dumpster with a litter of babies. Surprisingly, they shared all the responsibilities of parenting the wonderful babies. All the babies have found loving families! Now this fantastic, adorable bonded pair of sweeties are looking for their forever home together. They are spayed and the adoption fee is $80.

Pet ID: 32237644
Spayed/Neutered Primary Color(s): Black • Secondary Color(s): Blue or Gray • Coat Length: Short
This is another example of a shelter recognizing the importance of a bonded rabbit pair needing a forever home together. The adoption fee for this pair, $80, might seem high for some people. But actually, it is a fair price. The full cost of a single spay surgery in a rabbit can add up to hundreds of dollars, so an adopter really is getting a bargain in this price. Some shelters have an adoption fee of as little as $15. Smaller fees like this may lead us to the impression that rabbits are low-maintenance companion animals that are cheap to care for and maybe even short-lived as well. Experienced rabbit caregivers know this is far from accurate. Smaller fees also leave a rabbit more vulnerable to adoption by those who are less thoughtful about the commitment caring for these animals requires, and those who may have no intention of keeping the rabbit long-term; some would be just as happy to take a rabbit as snake food, or to train a hunting dog, for example. Others might even want to eat the animal.

Hi! I am Mia! My previous owners neglected me and left me living outside in the freezing temperatures. I am a sweet, adorable adult rabbit. I would love to hop, hop, hop into your heart and home! Come visit me today at HSSC.

Pet ID: 34186812
Remarking that this rabbit was left outside in freezing temperatures suggests indirectly, if not directly, that a rabbit should, most appropriately, be kept indoors under most if not all circumstances. It also again may promote extra empathy among potential adopters.

Seattle Animal Shelter – Seattle, WA

HOW TO ADOPT: For foster animals, please fill out a critter adoption questionnaire available at the shelter and meet with an animal care officer at the shelter for review. The Seattle Animal Shelter is located at 2061 15th Ave W. The shelter is open six days a week (Tuesday-Sunday), 12-6 pm, and closed on Mondays and holidays. After the review, please allow 5-6 business days for the foster parent to reach out to you to set up a meet and greet. More About House Rabbits: House rabbits need a large, rabbit-proofed **indoor** area of your home to live in, with covered areas to hide and relax in. Rabbits are intelligent and social animals; they do best with a rabbit companion, and need daily interaction with their human friends. Rabbits should be fed high-quality hay pellets, unlimited hay, and fresh leafy greens. (Leaf lettuce, carrot tops, parsley, cilantro, and pesticide-free dandelion are good choices.) Treats include small portions of carrot or fruit, such as apple, berries, pear, grape, or banana. Your rabbit will need regular nail trims and vet checks. With proper care and lots of love, rabbits can live to be 10-12 years old. You are expected to make a lifetime commitment to your bunnies, and they should be treated as an integral part of the family. The primary caregiver must be a responsible adult, and young children should always be supervised when interacting with your bunny and instructed on proper approach and handling. Household cats or dogs should, of course, also be carefully supervised at all times and introduced in a calm and quiet manner.

Pet ID: 34329104
In circumstances in which a full description of a rabbit may not yet be available, the next best thing to do is to follow the example shown above. By providing the depth of information shown here, the shelter is demonstrating both their knowledge of proper rabbit care as well as their strong commitment to finding educated new rabbit caregivers for those animals within their shelter. Providing information like this will help prevent spontaneous reactions to seeing a rabbit and wanting to adopt one without first fully understanding or appreciating what is involved in their care. Those who may need guidance or ideas on what to share specifically may find this website link to be particularly helpful. Another great resource, and one which can be used even for public display purposes, comes from this link.

Through close observation and by carefully selecting their choice of words when describing a homeless rabbit, volunteers, adoption counselors and other shelter staff members can effectively and efficiently help each rabbit who enters their shelters to find the best and most suitable home possible. Well-written descriptions of homeless rabbits also makes sharing of this information easier and more appealing to those outside of such organizations also looking to make a difference.

by Judy Books

New Jersey House Rabbit Society