With Easter approaching, many parents are likely to consider buying pet rabbits for their families. But Charity Gullett, founder and president of the Pekin-based nonprofit organization The Charitable Rabbit cautioned that rabbits are high maintenance pets with specific needs.

“People have an image of rabbits as fun, cute, cuddly animals that you can hold and carry around,” she said. “That’s really not the case. They feel more comfortable with their feet on the ground. In nature, the only time they get picked up is by a predator who’s got them in their mouth. There are some rabbits who have gotten acclimated to it and are more accustomed to being picked up. But it makes them very nervous. They also have hollow bones, so if they struggle to get away and you hold them tight, they can break their own backs. “

Rabbits require a diet of timothy hay and various greens, according to Gullett. They can defecate up to 300 times a day, need as much room as a cat or a small dog, and have a tendency to be territorial.

“You can’t just throw two rabbits together,” she said. “There’s a whole bonding process you have to go through. Some rabbits won’t bond with each other, and they can fight to the death or be seriously injured.”

Gullett founded The Charitable Rabbit in 2017. The group’s mission is to advocate for rabbits as companion animals, educate rabbit owners, and aid area shelters by offering instructional materials, consultations, and educational events. The Charitable Rabbit also aids area shelters with fostering needs, socializing rabbits, and extending volunteer support for rabbit programs. With increased education, Gullett believes, the number of unwanted rabbits in shelters will lessen as owners learn more about how to care for and bond with their rabbits.

“I work in the veterinary industry,” said Gullett. “I started out volunteering with other animal organizations and was fostering rabbits. That’s how I ended up with my first two pet rabbits. I started to realize and witness the lack of information available to people and the lack of education in understanding what it takes to have a rabbit. A lot of times, unfortunately, people get rabbits on the spur of the moment.”

One of the organization’s first initiatives was the Spay Neuter Wellness program, by which rabbit owners can apply to the group for credit vouchers to help alleviate the cost of having their pets spayed or neutered. The initiative is an important one, Gullett said, because an unspayed female rabbit can give birth to a little of between three and 10 kits every 30 days.

“People get sticker shock when they get a rabbit and want to get it spayed or neutered,” Gullett said. “Often, it costs more than a dog or a cat, because you have to have an exotic veterinarian who’s had the extra training. They can apply and get a credit voucher that would offset a portion of that surgery that we pay to the veterinarians. It helps get that education out there and establishes them and their pet with a veterinarian. They’re responsible for getting the exam, and they have to pay for that. Then, they come back for their pre-operative wellness exam. The doctor sends the confirmation of good health to us. We then issue the credit voucher to them. We mail it or show up to the surgery and present the voucher. That’s a portion (about $100) that we pay.” 

The Charitable Rabbit began providing foster care for animals from local shelters late last year, said Gullett. So far, the group has rescued six rabbits and has had one that has been adopted into a permanent home. The group receives funding primarily through public donations and holds fund-raising events like auctions and sales of shirts, books, educational materials and pet supplies. Funds raised are spent primarily on medical care.

“We had a rabbit that had a really bad eye and needed quite a bit of medical care to save the eye,” Gullett said. “Another came in and was extremely malnourished. It took him about two months to get him back to good health. 

The Charitable Rabbit remains true to its roots as an educational advocacy group by holding informative events like the quarterly Hoppy Time.

“It’s a fun get-together,” said Gullett. “It’s like an indoor dog park, but for rabbits.”  

Hoppy Time events provide exercise for pet rabbits and a chance for both rabbits and their owners to socialize and network, Gullett added. Adoptable animals are always present. The next Hoppy Time event will be held at 2 p.m. March 30, in the Pekin Public Library Community Room.

(The library staff) lays down heavy-duty (tarpaulins) to protect the floor,” she said. “We’ll have tables set up on their sides. That’s a barrier so (the rabbits) stay on the tarps. We have tunnels, toys, boxes and sandboxes for them to play with.”

One challenge to owning a rabbit, or any other exotic pet, is that finding after-hours veterinary care can be difficult, Gullett said. Veterinarians at emergency clinics in the area do not feel comfortable treating exotic animals. The nearest after-hours care for an exotic pet is at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Meanwhile, time is very much a factor.

“Often, when a rabbit gets sick, your window of opportunity to provide medical care is very narrow,” she added. You have a 12- to 24-hour period and you could lose them, because they get sick so quickly. They hide their illnesses, so by the time you notice, it’s an emergency.”

For more information on The Charitable Rabbit, visit www.facebook.com/thecharitablerabbit.