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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Rabbit Rescue

Animal rights activists are concerned about the Chinese Lunar New Year. What could this mean for the rabbits?


Martial artists, dancers, musicians, and parade floats took to the streets and plazas of Chinatown in Los Angeles to help ring in the New Year. Thousands of people gathered together to celebrate the holiday by saying ‘goodbye’ to the year of the dragon and ‘hello’ to the year of the rabbit.

And though dragons were in abundance at this festival, the real star of this year’s Chinese New Year’s celebration was undoubtedly the rabbit.

The zodiac calendar is an important part of the ancient Chinese tradition known as the Lunar New Year. The calendar is made up of 12 animals that cycle through, each getting a chance to symbolize the lucky animal for the duration of the lunar year.

XiaoJun Wang, one of the Shaolin Warriors performing in Chinatown’s Central Plaza, explained that as it is now the year of the rabbit, the animal itself has become a very popular symbol because of the luck it is expected to bring to those who decorate with the symbol or wear the symbol.

"I think people are buying rabbits," said Wang. "I want to buy one."

The new craze has made the rabbit a desirable pet among the Asian community because it is believed to bring the home and owner good luck. You can buy a small bunny for just $14.99 at Liberty Aquarium, one of the only pet shops or stores of any kind in Chinatown that can legally sell rabbits. The owner of the pet store said Liberty Aquarium has been selling lots of lucky rabbits for the Chinese New Year.

But the Lunar New Year might not be so lucky for the rabbits. Animal rights activists are concerned that once the initial novelty of owning a pet rabbit wears off, the rabbits could be abandoned or mistreated by their new owners.

“They probably lose their wear of being cute…and the kids don’t care for them anymore, “ said Lorie Schmucker, volunteer for the Los Angeles Rabbit Rescue.

Schmucker works with the organization to help rescue rabbits from being euthanized after being dropped off at shelters.  The organization also accepts a limited number of bunny drop-offs by owners who no longer want to care for their pet rabbits.  L.A. Rabbit Rescue then helps to place the animals in new homes with responsible pet owners who have the means and the desire to care for them.

Schmucker described the ideal rabbit adopter to be someone that’s going to love them like they would any other household pet, and not just throw them in a garage or an outdoor pen.

Ryan Huling, a spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said the danger with rabbits is that people often see them as accessories.
“They don’t think about the fact that these are an eight to ten year commitment and you have to have a rabbit at home and you have to buy food and water and shelter and take a lot of care,” said Huling.

With the Asian community focused on the rabbit this year, PETA is trying to draw international attention to rabbit cruelty.  They have even started some controversial advertisement campaigns in China that graphically depict a rabbit being stepped on by a woman’s high heel shoe.

“Now is a better time than ever to show compassion to these animals and really understand how they’re able to feel pain and suffering exactly the same ways that we do,” said Huling. 

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