Michael Jaenicke, Features editor
LUMBERTON - No surprise here, but Easter is a busy time for Carroll Lewis, owner of Lewis Pets, who says that there is a rush on rabbits.
Lewis said his store sells about 15 rabbits during an average week, but that number reaches as many as 100 in the weeks leading up to Easter. He sells rabbits for $16 each.
Rabbits keep Stevie Ledermann busy for more than the Easter holiday. The 15-year-old Lumberton High School sophomore raises rabbits as part of an FFA project. She started the project during her freshman year and has been trying to get her three to multiply but, surprisingly enough given the reputation of rabbits, that hasn't happened.
“This is so much better than volunteering for a vet or planting trees,” Ledermann said. “I got the idea in animal science class. I've had a dog, cat and fish and wanted something different. Besides, bunnies are so cute. It was a good excuse.”
But first she had to convince her mother, Rona, who agreed, but only if the rabbits lived outside. She figured a rabbit was “the lesser of four choices that included raising a pig, goat or ferret.”
Her father, Steve, helped build three outdoor cages and fencing.
“Growing up we had chicken, pigs and horses - basically a ‘Green Acres' kind of place, whereas Rona is more of a city girl,” he said.
The fact that Ledermann aspires to study veterinarian medicine in college helped her cause. Early on she found that while rabbits are soft and cuddly, it takes time to get to know their nature.
“They didn't like to be held at first,” she said. “Their back claws are what you have to watch out for. They're strong and sharp. But rabbits are really simple to keep.”
Carroll says hare care is not difficult.
“Rabbit basics include food, water and providing a cool enough climate,” Lewis said. “They weigh about a pound when they're 4 to 8 weeks old and will grow to around 3 pounds. You will spend about $20 to feed one rabbit for a year.”
Rabbits should be fed 1 to 3 ounces of pellet food daily per pound of body weight. Small rabbits weigh 2 to 4 pounds, but they get as large as 8 pounds. A rabbit's diet can be supplemented with roughage, usually hay. Water is most important. Unlike humans, rabbits cannot get water from food.
Dara Russ, 22, has two dwarf rabbits that live in her bedroom, and last Wednesday bought another rabbit from Lewis Pets.
“I'm getting a harness you can put the rabbit in to walk around,” she said. “It's like a dog leash, except they do more roaming around than you leading them around.”
Russ was feeding her rabbits too many pellets and on become obese.
“They're now on a diet,” she said. “I give them green hay instead of pellets and a raisin a day as a treat.”
Miranda Hair decided to hop into the rabbit world by buying one for her 3-year-old daughter.
“I had one years ago and thought it would be a different kind of pet for her to have,” she said. “It's also a great way for my daughter to have a pet of her own and to teach her about the responsibility involved in raising it.”
Russ warns potential rabbit owners that bunnies shed.
“That's something you have to be aware of when you buy a rabbit,” she said. “Make sure you know what to expect or you'll be in for a few surprises. Still, having rabbits isn't as difficult as having other pets.”
While Ledermann was having problems getting her rabbits to produce offspring, Lewis says that is rare. And they come quickly. A rabbit's gestation period is about a month.
There are 40 breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association.
Rabbitweb.net recommends a 30-by-30-by-14-inch cage for a small rabbit. Larger rabbits need a 30-by30-by-16-inch home. Lewis Pets sells a cage and starter kit for $39. Larger cages can cost up to $300.
Domesticated rabbits cannot survive in the wild, but given the chance, they will escape from human owners.