Best practices: convincing someone to surrender a cute wild bunny
July 5, 2022 6:24 PM   Subscribe

I know someone who is keeping a healthy and relatively unstressed wild young bunny -- in actually pretty good conditions for that, but still inside and possibly illegally. Looking for rhetorical strategies to help her decide whether to give the rabbit to a wildlife rehabber for release. Hoping to avoid being personally lectured or yelled at -- I'm doing my best here.

I already know these arguments: disease, parasites, legality, stress of the animal (it seems relatively unstressed but maybe not joyful).

Looking for either additional arguments or good framing for the arguments I already know.

There are no other rabbits in the house, just an ancient and uninterested cat and a mellow dog (I think).

The rabbit currently has the run of a home office with a lot of impressive branches and bits of nature all over the room, a cave to hide in (cat carrier), and is being fed mainly grass -- I've already told the person not to feed it too much fruit or sweet food, so please don't panic about that specific thing, although of course hay would be better.

I have already contacted a couple of wildlife rehabbers in case I can convince this person to pass the rabbit along.
posted by amtho to Science & Nature (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One idea is to suggest building an outdoor pen for the rabbit so that it can eat clover. A fenced in area with a little cave for protection. (That way, the rabbit remains a pet but safe from predators. And learns to live outside, so when it's ready to go free, it will already know how to exist outside.)

Another idea is to suggest that the rabbit will want to mate and be a successful creature passing on its genes, so by living indoors they are not reaching their full potential.
posted by xo at 6:38 PM on July 5, 2022

I don't think your assessment of lack of joy is fair. How can you really know? Is the "owner" asking for your input?

If the animal is being mistreated, then you have a case, but this seems like you just don't like the situation.

Mind your own business.
posted by rhonzo at 6:40 PM on July 5, 2022 [23 favorites]

I am feeding a young squirrel, right now. He / she has a fairly wide range, to my delight, I see them daily! Very pleasant. I can't imagine someone stepping in and telling me I shouldn't leave whole walnuts around for them. I had a cousin warn me about every disruptive thing a squirrel can do, and I am disrupted by delight, basically. That squirrel is in short supply, lots of cats, hawks, etc in my hood.
posted by Oyéah at 6:54 PM on July 5, 2022

Best answer: Your friend has a good heart, and so do you. I have two house rabbits and have thought these issues and this situation through in past. Indeed, I found a wild urban rabbit that had been bitten and did briefly consider nursing it back to health. I did not for reasons you listed and took it to a rehabber.

A few ideas, if you decide to have this conversation:

* Check out the law in your area, and have the facts straight.

* When Thumper gets stasis from eating carpet fibers, where is your friend going to take him? The law makes it a sticky situation (I would think) for most vets to handle. Rabbits in the wild face various challenges, but so do rabbits in human environments.

* Rabbits are social animals, not built to live solitary lives. Getting a house rabbit isn’t the answer for a whole bunch of reasons, nor is “adopting” another wild rabbit.

BUT, and it is a BIG but: to the points raised above, is this animal living a bad live currently? In nature, it can expect ~3 years max, if it can avoid becoming something else’s lunch. In captivity, up to ~8 (assuming otherwise healthy, etc.) Maybe have a think about whether intervening at this point is in the animal’s best interest — I could see this going either way, depending on various factors.
posted by cupcakeninja at 7:08 PM on July 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

seconding cupcakeninja’s question about veterinary care. A solitary life can be a frustrating one, particularly for a postadolescent boy bunny. Prior to surgery, my domestic boy rabbit did unspeakable things to the housecat.
posted by mochapickle at 7:22 PM on July 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Think about all the hawks that could be eating the bunny but are going hungry instead, and plants that are getting overgrown bc the bunny isn't eating them.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:48 PM on July 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The loneliness aspect is key, I think. I know that socialization is important for domestic rabbits, and one of the rehabbers just called me back and mentioned this as well.

Also, it is definitely illegal to keep this kind of wild animal as a pet in this area.

And vet care would be impossible, I think. Best case if it gets sick is that it would be surrendered to a rehabber at that point, but then the whole thing becomes iffy.

The rehabber who called me back also said that:

- Wild rabbits shouldn't really live on grass; they would be in the woods, probably, eating a different diet;

- The rabbit will almost certainly become more fearful as it gets older (I'm not 100% convinced of this, but I'm 90% convinced, which is good enough).
posted by amtho at 7:56 PM on July 5, 2022

Best answer: Domestic rabbits are an entirely different species from cottontail rabbits. I'm assuming what your friend has is a cottontail. Unlike European rabbits (the wild ancestors of domestic rabbits), cottontails are actually pretty solitary outside of mating.

Vet care might be impossible if it remains captive, but it's not going to get vet care if it's released to the wild, either. The reality is that if it's released it's probably going to die soon afterwards. Most wild rabbits don't live very long and one that has less experience living outside probably has even less chance of success than most. There's nothing wrong with passing it on to a rehabber for eventual release but I personally don't think it's terrible for your friend to just keep it either, as long as it doesn't seem stressed. There's plenty of information online about what wild cottontails eat if your friend wants to provide an appropriate diet.
posted by Redstart at 8:19 PM on July 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: ...She has a 14-ish year old son living with her. I'm not sure he should have to deal with sick rabbit ---> no vet care...
posted by amtho at 8:48 PM on July 5, 2022

In some places feral domestic rabbits are more common than cottontails. Here are some guidelines to figuring out which you have. In Vancouver, for example, there are tons of rabbits in certain city parks and they're pretty much all domestics — the descendants of abandoned pets. You can identify them because the head and ears are shaped quite differently and domestics are a lot larger. Depending on where you are, the legal status of a feral domestic rabbit might be the same or different from a true wild cottontail.
posted by 100kb at 9:56 PM on July 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

My biggest concern would be diet. Grass is just one part of the wide variety of plants a rabbit eats and the variety is important for a good nutritional balance. Domestic rabbits usually are feed rabbit specific kibble balanced with lots of hay and a variety of greens. Also, what will this person feed the rabbit come winter?
posted by carrioncomfort at 3:11 AM on July 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Hoping to avoid being personally lectured or yelled at -- I'm doing my best here.

Please extend this courtesy to your acquaintance.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 4:49 AM on July 6, 2022 [6 favorites]

I think you are doing your best but I'm not quite sure I follow your arguments.

If it's just that it's illegal, well, pass it along and be done with it. If you're concerned about the rabbit's diet, which is more than fair, let your friend know what the rehabbers say the rabbit should be eating while in captivity and maybe help her source it. If it's the future health of the rabbit, well, you'd have no control over the future health of the rabbit if she released it either, or rehabbed it and then released it.

You seem very invested in the moral aspect of this and all I see is a wild animal being kept as a pet in a manner that doesn't seem to be stressing out the animal or the owner. If your concern is the son being traumatized by the care the rabbit won't hypothetically receive if it were to hypothetically need vet care, I'm sure you've thought of the trauma from releasing what is now a pet into the wild to, most probably, be eaten? It's a cottontail.

Ideally we shouldn't keep wild animals as pets. Rescuing animals that aren't endangered is also not ideal, they were probably going to be a hawk's lunch or a coyote's. Those animals were going to eat the sick/wounded one and maybe allow a healthy rabbit to breed, or to survive a little longer to feed her babies, who would then go on to breed. And so on.

But what's done is done. Keeping a rabbit, as long as the rabbit is not being abused or harmed, has really no great impact on the web of life or the ethics of it.
posted by lydhre at 5:23 AM on July 6, 2022 [10 favorites]

I don't know you, I'm just extrapolating from what you've written in this particular question. I wouldn't say you sound inflexible, but you are doubling down in your comments on why this is something you need to intercede with.

I happen to think you'd be better served if you helped your friend feed the rabbit properly and let go of the rest.
posted by lydhre at 6:49 AM on July 6, 2022 [7 favorites]

So you say your friend is doing a good job of looking after the rabbit, it seems like your concern is that it’s illegal, not the welfare of the rabbit. You say you’re looking for arguments to help her decide whether to keep it or give it to a rehabber …but then you later say you want help to try and convince this person to pass the rabbit on. But the rabbit’s being looked after, so honestly, what’s your issue? You sound really over invested in this.

The rabbit is happy, your friend is clearly getting joy looking after it and you…just want to meddle in it and destroy all of that? So what’s most likely here is that you pester your friend, guilt them into releasing the rabbit and it will probably die in a week or two in the wild. Dead bunny, heartbroken owner. Are you sure you’re a friend in this scenario because if it were my rabbit I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t consider you one. Oh, and something tells me you know this when you’ve already asked to not be lectured on this. Just let the rabbit issue go. Seriously.
posted by Jubey at 7:19 AM on July 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

I should add, the biggest reason you should leave this alone is because you don’t have an argument to get your friend to give up the rabbit. You’re coming here looking for us to give you one, which makes me question your motives.
posted by Jubey at 7:51 AM on July 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

Like others, I'm not sure this needs an actual intervention. Your rhetorical approach could instead take the form of a dialogue and some seed-planting.

If this is a friend, it's perfectly legit to ask, in a normal conversation, "So, is this little one here for the duration?"

If yes, then informed-but-tactful inquiries about diet, whether it's going to start spraying, etc. can be normal expressions of curiosity.

If no, then questions focus on timeline. You could slip in, "I saw something on FB about rehabbers who did this with a mountain lion, I'm sure they could help with a rabbit, too."

By your account, Bunny Boy/Girl seems okay. It might start behaving in ways your friend finds hard to manage, or it might develop some health issues. But a person already cohabitating with a cat and a dog who then adds a wild rabbit is probably observant and ready to adapt.
posted by Caxton1476 at 9:23 AM on July 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Disease, parasites, and stress for the animal are all potential downsides of keeping any kind of pet. The bunny sounds way better off with your friend than it would be as coyote lunch, so why are you policing your friend's pet care? Is your friend really dumb or irresponsible in general?

I don't mean to be unkind, but you are WILDLY overstepping your role as this person's friend. If you were living in their home I could understand that this could all have some impact on you, but it doesn't seem like that is the case.

As a non-live-in friend, your role in this ended at "I looked it up and maybe hay would be better than grass." It certainly ended well before you took responsibility for how they are caring for their 14 year old kid's mental and emotional wellbeing.
posted by invincible summer at 11:01 AM on July 6, 2022 [7 favorites]

Wow, I don't know why you are getting so much flack for being concerned about the welfare of a wild animal being kept illegally. You are absolutely in the right to be questioning this- it's rarely good for wild animals to be kept as pets. It's immaterial that a wild animal may have a shorter life in the wild- especially since no one here can possibly speculate on such a thing- they are WILD, and they deserve to live their wild lives. No human can approximate a wild rabbit's life in their *fucking home office*.
Ultimately your friend is doing this animal a disservice, if they are truly a wild rabbit. Rabbits have very delicate digestive systems, and there isn't a good way to replicate this for a wild animal if you don't know what you're doing. Wild rabbits need to eat a huge variety of plants, seeds and twigs. Most wild rabbits are crepuscular, and should have to be up in the day when they want to be roaming at dusk or dawn. The home range of a wild cottontail can average 8 acres or more, with the males roaming farther than females. Is your friend's home office providing the same enrichment as 8 acres of outdoor space? That's pretty hard to believe. Regardless of whether or not cottontail rabbits are considered "solitary" by humans, they still require the company of other cottontail rabbits to live fulfilled lives.

Domesticated rabbits have hundreds of generations of proximity to humans in their genes- and even at that they are easily stressed and can still die of fright. Wild rabbits do not have this. As this wild rabbit becomes more hormonal as it reaches adulthood the stresses of living in an unnatural environment are going to increase. It's extremely stressful for wild rabbits to be lifted of the ground, for example. Their flight instincts will be constantly engaged as they sense everything larger as a potential predator. They are hard wired to do this- you cannot remove this trait by being nice to them. This is the makings of a very unhappy animal that should be in this position. Stress in all rabbits, domestic and wild, can trigger heart attacks or gastric stasis.

I really can't believe people in this thread have so little empathy. It's not cute, fun, or kind to keep able bodied wildlife as pets. Full stop.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:27 PM on July 6, 2022 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok y'all. This went way weirder than I thought.

When I said, "Hoping to avoid being...yelled at," I thought it would be from people who thought I wasn't angry enough, which is how my next door neighbor reacted. Sheesh.

Have any of you kept the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on hand just in case the moment called for it?

I'm probably the least judgmental person -- on either side of this issue -- in the Eastern United States, or, apparently, on Metafilter. Please stop leaping to conclusions from on top of my tiny pebbles of rhetoric.
posted by amtho at 5:39 PM on July 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm probably the least judgmental person -- on either side of this issue -- in the Eastern United States

Dude what?

There's just really not a clear morally correct path here. Rabbits in the wild are prolific snack food for predators. In my neighborhood in Seattle there are rabbits everywhere and very many coyotes these days. The baseline existence for wild animals isn't joy, it's fighting to survive. Your acquaintance is meddling with nature but the stakes are super low here, why not take a pass on it?
posted by counterfeitfake at 10:10 PM on July 6, 2022

Good lord... another person who is shocked at the vitriol being directed at the asker. This is a wild animal! Regardless of how quickly it might become a hawk snack, it deserves to be treated as the wild creature it is and not live out its life in a room in someone's house.

Why does the person have the rabbit in the first place? Or did I miss that? Did the person take it in because they perceived it to be orphaned? I know that the wildlife center near me goes out of its way to explain to would- be rescuers that if an animal seems orphaned it probably isn't... parents are probably nearby or foraging.

Anyways, strongly seconding oneirodynia's post that the rabbit deserves diet and enrichment that most likely could not be provided to it. This is a long shot, but would the person consider releasing and getting a domestic rabbit instead?
posted by whistle pig at 10:19 PM on July 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Have any of you kept the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on hand just in case the moment called for it?

I… really don’t understand this. Is your acquaintance keeping a bunny on hand in case the moment calls for it? I can’t even hazard a guess as to what this metaphor (??) is supposed to convey.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 4:46 AM on July 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: kept the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on hand

... is like keeping an understanding of issues on hand in case you need to speak coherently about them, whether to persuade or to help make complex decision making less overwhelming.
posted by amtho at 7:13 AM on July 7, 2022

So your neighbour thought you weren’t angry enough…why? Why is it up to you to be ok or not with this? Are you from the Ministry Of Rabbits where your judgement of this is so important that you’re compelled to dictate the direction your friend must take?

You’ve contacted wildlife rehabbers to convince this person to pass the rabbit along, which implies that they need convincing because they don’t want to…why are you inserting yourself into someone else’s personal business so much? Why have you decided that you get to be angry enough or not about this? Why have you decided to build a compelling argument and contact people over this?

The level of investment you have here is just bizarre.
posted by Jubey at 9:51 PM on July 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

It looks like one of OP’s comments was deleted or edited, but they stated that the bunny-possessor released the bunny back into the wild several days before this post was even made, which makes this whole discussion even more baffling.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 5:10 AM on July 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

I assume the OP didn't know at the time of the post that the bunny had been released. I don't see anything baffling, just someone concerned that a wild animal in captivity might not have a good life.
posted by Redstart at 6:40 AM on July 8, 2022

Response by poster: Sequence of events as I recall it:

I meet A virtually and we decide to meet in person.

A texts me asking for advice because her cat has brought a bunny inside (or the bunny has been brought inside another way; my memory is fuzzy.)

I, thinking the bunny is injured, give her contact information for local wildlife rescuers, and advise her how to keep the bunny alive overnight. I also tell her not to feed it too much fruit or sweet vegetables.

I text my neighbor, who knows a lot about domestic bunnies, and she has an emotional reaction (which people do, when animals are involved). She connects this woman, A, with the many people she's heard about who don't handle wild animal issues well, not taking into account the many _right_ things that A is doing, or her good intentions and willingness to be educated.

I get more information from other sources, especially since A seems willing to listen and -- breaking news -- is not a native English speaker.

[time passes]

I visit A several days later. She shows me the bunny, who is living in a room away from the cat. A is worried about releasing the bunny, and probably also lonely. The room is full of material from the woods: branches etc.. There are also multiple places to hide. The bunny doesn't seem particularly stressed, and actually comes out into the room when I'm there.

I'm a little freaked out by this, but don't want to overreact.

A few days later, I make plans to visit A again. The day before the visit, since I feel humans have a responsibility, in general, to take care of animals that we collectively take into our care, I ask MeFi about the situation.

Some people get upset on MeFi. Some people think I'm too invested, some people think I'm not invested enough, and I feel gratitude for not having human children to be judged by.

A couple of days later, I keep my second appointment to visit A, prepared to have a whole discussion about the bunny and what I've learned -- it seemed too sensitive to discuss over the phone, so I waited for the in-person visit. It turned out she released the bunny the day before (or so).
posted by amtho at 4:11 PM on August 21, 2022

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