Victory! Florida’s Hillsborough County Bans Retail Sales of Rabbits
In a victory for rabbits and rescuers in Florida, Hillsborough County has banned the retail sale of rabbits in pet stores and other public locations! Now, we’re once again urging Pinellas County to do the same.
Animal advocates have been pushing for this ban for over a year. More than 1,000 of our supporters in Florida signed our alert supporting it, and our campaigner Katie Nolan spoke in support at the last county commission meeting; you can hear her comment at 32:00.
Thanks to the pressure everyone put on, Hillsborough County commissioners voted 6-1 to approve a measure that bans the retail sale of rabbits, leaving violators facing a civil fine of up to $500. However, the measure still allows pet stores to partner with rescue groups to offer adoptions at their locations.
Last year the county almost passed this ban, but opted for an educational program instead, which was unsuccessful. According to the county’s Pet Resource Center, it hadn’t lowered the number of rabbits who were surrendered to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, which took in 272 rabbits in 2022 alone. The organization spent $40,000 just to spay and neuter them and had to turn another 95 away because they had no space. This year, it’s already taken in more than 190.
Sadly, government-funded shelters in the Tampa Bay area don’t accept rabbits either, leaving rescues and volunteers to care for them, find foster homes, and place rabbits in need. The few rabbit rescues in the state are all overwhelmed and financially strapped. Suncoast House Rabbit Rescue, for example, spent $8,000 last year to spay and neuter the rabbits it took in.
Even more troubling is that many rabbits are also being abandoned outside and left to fend for themselves, which puts them at serious risk of being injured and killed, and potentially spreading the deadly rabbit virus RHDV2, which could wipe out wild rabbit populations. Rabbits on the loose, who are difficult to catch, are also not something animal control is equipped to deal with.
Sadly, many people don’t realize how much specialized care rabbits need before getting one, and once the novelty wears off many rabbits find themselves in need of a new home.
Rabbits are commonly misunderstood as easy to care for animals and “good starter animals” (a horrible concept that includes the perception that smaller animals are less valuable and that their deaths don’t matter very much) for children, but in reality, they need a lot of care, exercise, enrichment, and love. They can live up to 10 years and require much more space than the traditional backyard hutch that is commonly thought of as proper rabbit housing. They also need other rabbits.
Rabbits are also quite fragile; their backs can easily be broken by improper handling, and they can very literally die from stress, making them an extremely poor choice for children. They also require specialized veterinary care because they’re treated more like exotic animals, and it’s expensive to have them spayed and neutered.
Fortunately, more communities are recognizing the problems caused by the retail sales of animal companions and are taking action like this. Hillsborough County now joins Pasco County, Orange County, DeSoto County, Martin County, Key West, and Port St. Lucie, which have all passed similar bans.
If you’re a Florida resident living in Pinellas County, you can help make Pinellas County the next to pass a ban like this by signing and sharing our alert.