Pascoe is one step closer to banning retailing rabbits

Pascoe is one step closer to banning retailing rabbits

published June 23|updated June 23

New Port Richey – Delicate, long-eared Easter icons are often victims of their own kindness.

For months now, animal advocates have been working on Pasco County leaders to realize that rabbits purchased as pets are too often being discarded, abandoned, and abused. But Pasco County commissioners voted this week to add a layer of assistance that may begin to change that.

The commissioners unanimously approved a law to ban public sales of rabbits, and to prevent flea market sellers and other breeders from selling them in the open. The ban went so far as to ban pet stores from selling rabbits, but immediately after commissioners voted to ban public sale, they asked employees to readjust an amendment that would also ban retail.

If approved, it would place rabbits on the same level as dogs and cats, which have been banned from pet store sales in Pasco since 2020. That doesn’t mean big pet stores like PetSmart and Petco don’t offer animals. They partner with rescue groups to adopt stray animals in need of new homes, giving them a space to display their rescue animals.

This model has worked with major pet retailers who know that once someone adopts a new pet, they will need a place to buy food, toys and other supplies, said Michael Schumatt, director of animal services at Pasco, Michael Schumat.

Often bought as an impulse purchase, especially during the Easter season, bunnies turn into high-maintenance pets. They are not good pets for children, they do not like to be carried and can scratch or bite.

When pet arrangement is unsuccessful, many rabbits are simply left in the wild, where they are not equipped to fend for themselves but are equipped to reproduce quickly. Animal shelters often do not take them and there are limited rescue resources in the area for those who will.

“Anything you can do to stop the constant flow of rabbits will help,” said Curtis Marsh, who runs Suncoast House Rabbit Rescue in Holiday. He just got another call from someone who has 22 rabbits to go home.

Renee Revard, an animal advocate from Manatee County, has encouraged a ban on the retail sale of rabbits. She said local officials say 80% of the rabbits purchased will be handed over, abandoned, or die. The resources of animal rescue groups are already stretched and rabbits add to the burden. She said, “Please help them.”

Barbara Costa, a New Port Richey resident who works with a local cat rescue, said she gets calls from people who think she can take in their unwanted rabbits. When she tells them no and asks her where they should be taken, she has no answer. “We know what’s happening to them,” Costa said. “They are giving it up.”

Commissioner Mike Moore asked Shomatt if he would agree to the commission banning retailing rabbits outright, and Shomaty said he would. It will be necessary to hold a second hearing and take action to do so, given that the commission did not announce this plan in advance.

The commissioners also talked about how to handle sales of other rabbits, such as animals bred for 4-H projects or agricultural purposes. County officials said they would consider the legal aspects of doing so before bringing back the entire retail ban for voting.

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Earlier this year, Hillsborough rejected a ban on retail rabbit sales, but many Florida counties have one, including DeSoto, Martin and Orange counties.

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