There's a rabbit problem in Seattle. Specifically, too many are showing up at the Seattle Animal Shelter, and too few vets are offering complicated rabbit spay and neuter services. It's a problem the Seattle Animal Shelter Spay and Neuter Clinic has recognized, and is now attempting to combat.
Rabbits, of course, copulate like, well, rabbits (or Shawn Kemp in his prime). This leads to baby rabbits - many of which pet owners simply can't care for. It's this predictable phenomenon that has led to rabbits being the third-most dropped off animal at the Seattle Animal Shelter. Through a new program beginning Jan. 2 designed to offer rabbit spay and neuter surgeries to pet owners, the Seattle Animal Shelter Spay and Neuter Clinic hopes to put a dent in the population of rabbits without a home.
While it may not be the city's most pressing concern, the problem is real. The Seattle Animal Shelter adopted out roughly 300 "critters" last year, "most of them rabbits," according to Kara Main-Hester, the Seattle Animal Shelter's Manager of Volunteer Programs and Fundraising. She says the shelter still regularly deals with the problem of unwanted pet rabbits, and that's not to mention the discarded bunnies that get dropped off in area parks - sure to meet an untimely demise at the hands of mother nature. Left alone in the wild, Main-Hester says domesticated rabbits can cause a bevy of problems -- from burrowing to foolishly crossing the road at slow speeds -- but most importantly they don't survive long.
"It's really a miserable situation," she says.
Hence the new plan. Though the Seattle Animal Shelter Spay and Neuter Clinic has offered spaying and neutering to rabbits adopted from the shelter for almost 15 years, opening things up to all of Seattle's rabbit owners is a new approach that's been in the works for about a year, says Main-Hester. She describes the current rabbit situation in Seattle as "a dual-pronged issue," with too many unwanted rabbits ending up in the shelter, and "not enough resources out in the community for responsible rabbit owners to get their animals spayed and neutered."
"It's a need we recognized," says Main-Hester. "We were turning people away on a regular basis who just wanted to do the right thing. So it just seemed to be a natural progression that we would offer this service to people who wanted to be a responsible pet owner."
Right now, if a rabbit owner comes into the Seattle Animal Shelter Spay and Neuter Clinic hoping to get their pet fixed, or looking for guidance on how to do so through an area vet, there's not much help the agency can provide. Once the new rabbit-fixing plan takes effect on Jan. 2, however, Main-Hester says that will change.
"We couldn't help them," says Main-Hester of rabbit owners who would come to the Seattle Animal Shelter for assistance making sure Fluffy didn't reproduce wildly. "There just aren't that many veterinarians in the area that are doing rabbit spays and neuters. It's actually much more complex than a cat or dog spay or neuter, so it's a specialized technique."
Main-Hester says administering anesthesia to rabbits is tricky, and the animals can also be prone to cardiac arrest during surgery, requiring additional care and precaution to be taken. She says that's one of the reasons the Seattle Animal Shelter Spay and Neuter Clinic, as part of its new rabbit-fixing plan, has added a new housing area for rabbits to help keep them calm, cool and collected as they go under the knife. She says staff has also received additional training in preparation for the launch of the program in January.
"Really it comes down to just ensuring that our staff had the knowledge and felt really comfortable to do this," says Main-Hester of the planning and preparation that's gone into the new program. "Obviously, 15 years of doing this with shelter animals is a good first step, but when you're taking care of other people's pets we just have another level of caution and surety that we really wanted to have, and we have that now. We feel comfortable and confident."