PITTSFIELD -- Who doesn't love rabbits? They are cuddly. They are soft. They are as cute as a bug's ear.
But they are also alive, not toys. And therein lies the problem, according to several animal rights advocates.
"They're so cute, but rabbits are high-maintenance animals," said Doreen Reynolds-Consolati, a volunteer with The House Rabbit Con nection. "And sometimes, people buy them for their kids, and after a few weeks, they're not fun anymore."
Some parents then release the animals into the woods.
"And when you let a rabbit out into the wild, you haven't set it free," said another volunteer, Claire Bosma. "You've signed its death warrant."
Bosma, Reynolds-Consolati and a third woman, Mary Davis, were at Petco on Merrill Road on Sunday afternoon to educate people about choosing rabbits as pets.
The House Rabbit Connection is a Springfield-based nonprofit organization that seeks to educate pet owners about the complexities of owning rabbits. The organization takes in rabbits from animal welfare organizations, animal control officers and veterinarians, provides them with temporary foster care and locates new homes for them.
Easter is the most popular holiday for pet rabbit purchases, said Davis. Each year, thousands of rabbits nationwide are purchased around the Easter holidays as pets.
But rabbits are not always the soft, huggable, passive bunnies that most lay people envision. Sometimes they bite. Sometimes they are aggressive. Sometimes they are, for lack of a better term, very un-rabbit like.
What happens then, said Bosma, is that families simply release rabbits into the wild, believing that they will survive in a rural setting.
Not likely, said Reynolds-Consolati. Domestic rabbits generally do not understand how to forage, and have no real experience with local predators, particularly foxes. If they don't starve, they will be eaten.
"They don't really have a chance," she said.
On Sunday, the three women were at Petco passing out leaflets and talking to parents and their children about proper rabbit care.
Petco, by the way, no longer sells rabbits.
"We favor the adoption process [advocated by House Rabbit Connection]," said Vinnie Tardibuono, Petco's inventory manager. "A lot of people just don't understand what it takes to be a responsible [rabbit] owner."
And, said Bosma, the women were not opposed to the purchase of rabbits as pets. In fact, the rabbits they had on display at Petco were all owned by them.
"But [owning a rabbit] is a big commitment," said Reynolds-Consolati. "We say that rabbits are like cats. They love you, but in their own way."
To learn more about the House Rabbit Connection, go to www.houserabbitconnection.com.