ROGERS PARK — It took 30 volunteers three days to rescue five abandoned baby rabbits someone released in Rogers Park over the weekend.
Late last week, volunteers learned more than a dozen baby rabbits and their mother had been released by the Metra tracks near the intersection of Farwell and Ravenswood avenues.
A team of volunteers organized by Red Door Animal Shelter was quickly mobilized to save them, said Toni Greetis, vice president of the West Ridge animal shelter that is the city’s only rabbit rescue.
Over the course of three days, 30 volunteers trekked through two blocks of dense foliage near the Metra station, searching for the rabbits. They cleared thick underbrush with machetes so they could lay bird nettling along the perimeter, then tried to startle the rabbits so they’d run toward the nets and get stuck, Greetis said.
“Rescuing rabbits is not an easy task,” Greetis said. “The babies are really, really fast and they slip through your hands. This was definitely the worst terrain we’ve ever dealt with, but we were really blessed that we had so many volunteers because we really needed the extra people, given it was such a large territory.”
Sadly, the mother rabbit was found dead near the tracks, and all five or the rescued babies were covered in ticks, Greetis said. The volunteers weren’t able to get very close to the train tracks due to safety concerns, preventing them from rescuing more of the rabbits, Greetis said.
Volunteers are continuing to monitor the area to see if any of the other missing rabbits turn up. People who live nearby can call the shelter at 773-764-2242 if they spot any.
Volunteers named the rescued rabbits Short Line, Trax, Choo Choo, Smoke Stack and Caboose.
Those baby rabbits are among hundreds of unwanted pet rabbits that people release each summer when they no longer want to care for them, Greetis said. Red Door Animal Shelter has rescued 24 bunnies this year alone.
Volunteers at the shelter neuter or spay and care for the rescued rabbits until someone is able to adopt them.
“We spend a considerable amount of time and effort doing whatever is necessary to keep them comfortable and happy for the rest of their lives,” Greetis said.
Even though some rabbits live outside, former pets struggle to survive in the wild, Greetis said. They face all kinds of dangers, including heat exposure, predators, cars and a lack of access to food and water.
“People need to understand that these are domesticated animals, and they cannot survive in the wild,” Greetis said. “I think people innocently believe that they can dump rabbits outside because they see wild rabbits, but an abandoned pet rabbit will die a horrible death. They usually can’t even survive a week on their own.”
It’s common for pet stores to sell rabbits around Easter, without providing much information about how to care for them or prevent them from breeding. This results in an influx of abandoned rabbits in the summertime, when families decide they can no longer keep the pets they bought or struggle to accommodate their numerous accidental offspring, Greetis said.
“We spend all summer rescuing Easter bunnies,” Greetis said. “It’s really common for them to be dumped around one or two months after Easter, and we’re around that mark right now. In this situation, I assume somebody bought the mother without knowing she was pregnant and released her with her babies after she gave birth.”
There are much safer options for families who can no longer care for their pet rabbits, Greetis said. People can call Red Door Shelter or the city’s Animal Care and Control in order to relinquish their animals without risking the pets’ lives.
“Please don’t dump them outside, they cannot survive,” Greetis said. “If you see one that’s been abandoned, you should report it.”
Domesticated, pet rabbits have different coat colors (white, orange, black, spotted) and are generally larger than wild rabbits, Greetis said. Some breeds look similar to wild rabbits, but Red Door volunteers can tell the difference by examining their shape and size, Greetis said.
Anyone can report an abandoned rabbit to Red Door by calling 773-764-2242 or emailing email@example.com.
The shelter always need more people to adopt rabbits. Red Door provides support and information so first-time rabbit owners can learn to properly care for their new pets, Greetis said.
Rabbits make “great companions” because they’re clever, personable creatures with “quirky, funny personalities,” Greetis said.
“They make wonderful city pets. They’re kind of similar to cats, in that they’re clean and quiet and they use a litter box. But they’re also kind of like dogs in that they seek out attention. They like to be pet, they like to play with toys,” Greetis said. “There’s a misconception that they’re stupid, but they’re incredibly smart. They’re always doing something goofy and they’re bossy little animals.”
To learn more about Red Door Animal Shelter’s efforts to help rabbits, visit their website.
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