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Rabbits Are Being Abandoned As Chicagoans Give Up Pets Adopted During Lockdown, West Ridge Shelter Says

Animal intake at shelters dropped during the pandemic as people stayed home. But as the city reopens, they are getting more requests to take in unwanted animals.

Two bunnies recently rescued by Red Door shelter after being abandoned.
Red Door Animal Shelter
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WEST RIDGE — During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, pet purchases and adoptions soared in Chicago and the rest of the country.

But as coronavirus restrictions lifted this year, the pendulum is swinging back as people return — or even abandon — their pets.

For one shelter, this has meant an “unprecedented” number of surrenders and abandonments of their specialty animal: rabbits.

Red Door Animal Shelter in West Ridge is among the foremost rabbit rescue organizations in the city, getting 300 requests a year to take in pet rabbits. They’ve already surpassed that number between April and early August and the numbers are only going up, said Marcia Coburn, president of Red Door Animal Shelter.

“A lot of it has to do with COVID,” Coburn said. “Pet adoptions or purchases went up during the lockdown. It’s just a novelty that kind of wore off. It’s so overwhelming right now.”

The issue is not just confined to rabbits. Chicago rescue groups have also been overwhelmed by the number of chickens being released after pandemic restrictions were relaxed.

“Beach Bunny” was rescued from Pratt Beach after being abandoned.

Animal experts have wondered if more people would abandon or surrender their pandemic pets. At the city pound, intake numbers are returning to pre-coronavirus trends, said Jenny Schlueter, spokesperson for Chicago Animal Care And Control.

The city took in 1,155 animals in June, compared to 802 in June 2020 and 1,720 in June 2019.

As people spend less time at home, return to work and move, pet surrenders are ticking up again, Schlueter said.

“It’s about what didn’t happen for awhile,” she said. “We’re on track to get back to 2019 levels. The same reason that people gave up pets before… now that things are opening up, those factors are back.”

The issue may be more pronounced with bunnies because there is less regulation around adopting and buying them, Coburn said.

Chicago and Cook County have regulated where dogs, cats and other animals can be sold, but bunnies are easier to get than some other pets. Rabbits are the third most popular pet behind dogs and cats, Coburn said.

Coburn also said it’s more common to abandon bunnies because people are more OK with leaving them in the wild, Coburn said.

In recent weeks, Red Door has rescued dozens of rabbits, including one at Pratt Beach and one at Loyola Beach. Many of the rescued rabbits are still young, suggesting that they were adopted as babies within the last year or so, Coburn said.

Red Door volunteers have named the rabbit rescued at Pratt Beach “Beach Bunny.” The young animal survived an unknown number of days near the beach, fighting heat and natural predators, Coburn said.

Beach Bunny is at Red Door being treated for pneumonia, and if all goes well, the rabbit will be available for adoption. Plenty of other recently rescued furballs are also up for adoption.

“It’s amazing she’s still alive,” Coburn said of Beach Bunny. “With luck, she’ll find a new home.”

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