(What is a Responsible Breeder?)
First and foremost, the question which must be asked about breeding rabbits is:
Can the breeding of rabbits for any reason be justified when there is such a massive over-population of rabbits, resulting in thousands being “humanely” killed (euthanized) in shelters and many more thousands meeting untimely deaths because they have been dumped outside where they do not have the abilities needed to survive? Note: Both “good” breeders and “bad” breeders contribute to the over-population of domestic rabbits!
A second question which must be asked is:
Is it possible to satisfy a rabbit’s natural need for the company of other rabbits, including a life partner with whom to snuggle, groom, and play, without having rabbits reproducing uncontrollably?
A third question to consider is:
Given that there is an 80% probability of uterine cancer in a female rabbit who isn’t spayed by the time she is five years old (whether she has been bred or not), is it appropriate to breed a rabbit for more than a year or two before getting her spayed?
Apart from these issues, which we offer as food for thought only, since there are no absolutes when answering them, there are many other factors involved in what constitutes responsibility when breeding rabbits.
Why Do Breeders Breed?
To perfect a breed, in respect to specified standards regarding physical characteristics, health, and/or temperament;
For ego strokes when the breeding leads to winning at rabbit shows;
To make money;
To create a better commercial meat or wool product;
To let the kids “see the miracle of birth”;
Because people were careless with unaltered rabbits;
Because people thought they had two same-sex rabbits.
Obviously, animal lovers will judge these various reasons as being more or less worthy. Nevertheless, whatever the purpose or reason – for every rabbit brought into the world, if it is given a home, another rabbit must die for lack of that home.
What Constitutes a Responsible Breeder?
Apart from the various reasons for breeding listed above, the term “breeder” usually refers to a person who deliberately undertakes to breed one or more specific breeds of rabbits to enter into rabbit shows. For the purpose of this part of this article, that is how we will use the term.
Breeders, being human, run the gamut in terms of being responsible (“good”) or irresponsible (“bad”). The following list can serve to evaluate how responsible a breeder is. Note: it can also be used to evaluate how responsible rescue organizations and animal shelters are, if you ignore the items dealing specifically with breeding.
Responsibility, in descending order, includes:
- Knows how to sex rabbits prior to their reaching puberty.
- Spays or neuters all rabbits sold or given away as “pets”, so the offspring from their breeding programs won’t fall into the hands of irresponsible people who may breed out of carelessness or for inappropriate reasons.
- Sells “pet” rabbits only to people who provide fully safe living facilities (i.e., behind solid walls, roof, floor) and who fulfill the rabbit’s social, emotional, mental, and physical needs, and verifies this via inspection.
- Pre-screens people before they purchase “pet” rabbits to guarantee that the transaction is in the best interest of both rabbits and people.
- Not selling pet rabbits to people intending them to be pets for young children.
- Not selling pet rabbits that will be exposed to tobacco smoke in their new environment.
- Verifying that allergies to rabbits or hay will not adversely affect the success of the home for the rabbits;
- Exploring whether the people are committed to keeping the rabbits for life, taking them if they move, and refusing no-animal rentals;
Encouraging them to consider anything predictable in their future that could cause them to have to give up the rabbits, and not selling rabbits to them if there is;
- Asking if they are both able to and willing to cover vet bills;
- Verifying they have access to a knowledgeable rabbit veterinarian before letting rabbits go to them;
- Requiring the signing of a contract guaranteeing commitment to the above.
- Knows and effectively shares information on care of rabbits, including everything needed to accomplish item 3 above (including, for those who will share their homes with their rabbits, how to rabbit-proof and train rabbits with respect to chewing, digging, urine, and droppings).
- Cautions potential purchasers of “pet” rabbits against getting young rabbits, but waiting until they are adults ( due to greater destructiveness, changing temperaments during early months, etc.)
- Takes back any rabbits sold if for any reason the purchasers can’t or don’t want to keep them.
- Contributes to trying to stop pet store selling of rabbits, “bad” breeders, etc.
- Includes rescue of non-purebred rabbits in their activities.
- Breeds only for physical characteristics which benefit the rabbit (i.e., will not breed for physical standards that are detrimental to the rabbit – this automatically disqualifies breeders of certain breeds).
- Puts equal or greater emphasis on health and temperament than on physical characteristics in their breeding.
- Breeds for females capable of giving birth easily and safely.
- Considers the female’s health of paramount importance when determining when and how much to breed.
- Keeps and cares for any rabbit for whom a home as described in item 3 above is not found, and provides such a home.
- Provides the same such home for any rabbit retired from showing.
- Provides medical treatment, not killing, for every ailment, no matter what it is, no matter how contagious (using isolation to protect other rabbits). This is not meant to exclude euthanasia for humane reasons, where a rabbit is suffering and nothing can be done to help, or where a disease has such a high death rate that it isn’t appropriate to allow a rabbit to suffer for the tiny chance that he might survive.
- Uses every bit of their influence to pressure ARBA to rid its ranks of “bad” breeders.
- Is extremely cautious not to expose their rabbits to deadly diseases at rabbit shows
Obviously, only someone intimately familiar with a breeder and with how to care for rabbits, etc. can evaluate a breeder based on these qualifications. It is unfortunate that there are so many “bad” breeders. In our opinion, it is quite a risk to go to a breeder for a companion rabbit, if you don’t already know they qualify as a “good” breeder. Unfortunately, the same can also be said in general about shelters and some rescue organizations.
Typically, when potential rabbit caretakers approach a breeder, a shelter, or any other source of rabbits they can only make such judgments based on how they are treated and what the standards appear to be.
The more complete the pre-screening and education you receive prior to being allowed a rabbit of your own, the more certain you can be you are dealing with a responsible person or organization.