All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Classroom Pet Rabbit Teaches All The Wong Lessons

Dear Marie,
My son’s kindergarten class has a bunny. It’s kept in a cage in the back of the classroom. Every day, the kids drop all kinds of things into the cage, from toys to candy. They stick their fingers in between the bars and poke at him. They crowd around and make the type of noise that only a group of 5-year-olds can make. Then, the teacher brings the rabbit out for the kids to hold. The rabbit has been squeezed and dropped more times than I care to remember. I volunteer in the classroom regularly so I know that this goes on pretty much all of the time. This seems like a terrible life for the bunny but the teacher feels that having an animal in the classroom is a good "learning experience." What do you think?
Costa Mesa

Dear Sandy,
Keeping an animal in a classroom is almost always a bad idea. There is never enough adult supervision to ensure its safety and well-being. Furthermore, if a child learns anything about pet care, it will most certainly be imperfect information.

For example, maintaining a rabbit in a cage does not provide that animal with a quality life. Caged animals are emotionally stunted. They have opportunities to run, play, explore, or bond with people or other pets. Furthermore, if foreign objects are dropped into a cage, a rabbit is in danger of suffering serious health problems. Rabbits chew everything. They don’t discriminate between food and crayons.

If stress is added to this equation, i.e., children poking, prodding, mishandling, etc., the fragile life of a rabbit is reduced to a constant nightmare. Yet, when an adult who holds a position of authority demonstrates to a group of children that this is "acceptable pet care," the lesson learned is that this mistreatment is not only OK,
but correct. Consequently, the cycle continues with each successive group of children learning the same flawed lessons. They grow into adulthood holding on to the beliefs that rabbits are good pets for kids, can be indefinitely kept in cages, and require little care.

Though I have observed a variety of animals in schools, rabbits tend to be favored by most teachers—especially in classrooms with young children. This is especially ironic when one considers that rabbits are the least able to handle the rigors and stress of being a classroom pet. Rabbits need a quiet atmosphere. It is recommended that they be spayed or neutered and paired with a rabbit of the opposite sex. Most pet care experts agree that domesticated bunnies need large, indoor play areas with interactive toys, boxes to chew, and shelters to hide in—NOT kept in a cage.

Just like cats, pet rabbits can be litter box trained. Therefore, they may be given run of the house, as long as it is bunny-proofed. Usually, rabbit owners set up one or two rooms for their long-eared companions and restrict access to the rest of the house via toddler gates.

Small children and rabbits are generally not a good combination unless they are supervised. Children should never be allowed to pick up rabbits because a squirming rabbit is easily injured if it is not held properly. Furthermore, it WILL use its claws when it struggles and children can be badly hurt.  It is best that only older children and adults with experience handle pet rabbits.  Young children should be taught to be quiet, gentle, and respectful when the bunny is near. This CAN be accomplished in a home but it is impossible in a kindergarten classroom.

If you have already spoken with your son’s teacher and have not been able to achieve a positive outcome, you may decide to bring the matter up with the school’s principle. The purpose of the class rabbit is to teach proper pet care; clearly, this is not what is occurring.

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