Free Bugs Bunny!

City officials may make it easier to keep rabbits as legal pets

Minneapolis rabbit owners have it rough, some say.

The city currently has strict permitting requirements for "companion rabbits": they are limited to buildings with three or fewer dwellings - and owners must get the consent of 80 percent of their neighbors. In some cases, inspections are also done.

The process is much more cumbersome than for cats and dogs, fellow companion animals whose licenses only require a fee and proof of rabies vaccination.

Lynne Torgerson has had rabbits as pets since 1993. While living in Uptown in early 2005 with her white rabbit, Cotton, 6, she said she discovered she was breaking the law by having her pet in an apartment.

"It made it a crime to have a rabbit," said Torgerson. "I became concerned because I didn't want to be committing misdemeanors."

So, she began lobbying city officials for a change.

Torgerson's moxie and help from 7th Ward City Councilmember Lisa Goodman's office has led to a Wednesday, Sept. 14 public hearing on getting rid of the permit in favor of licensure.

The hearing will be held at the Council's Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall, 350 S. 5th St., Room 317.

Not as fast as a hare: ordinance change a long time coming

Joanne Campbell, president of the Minnesota Companion Animal Society, said she's "so excited" that the city is finally considering the change in the rabbit ordinances.

Campbell said her group has been trying to find willing Minneapolis residents to speak up and demand the change, but many companion rabbit owners have been afraid - because they were harboring illegal rabbits.

(Campbell speaks only about "companion" rabbits to differentiate them from the type used for breeding, meat, fur, etc.)

She said rabbits are increasingly popular pets that can live to be more than 10 years old. She said they do best as pets if sterilized and, ironically, are great for small dwelling areas like apartments, which the city currently forbids.

The rabbit society promotes humane treatment and adoption of rabbits throughout the state. The group boasts 300 members, 40 of whom live in Minneapolis, Campbell said.

The group also focuses on rabbit education and conducts a "rabbit dating service." That service is not for breeding, but to help rabbit owners find a suitable second companion rabbit for their home.

Campbell said rabbits are the third-most-numerous animals surrendered to places such as shelters. Each year, there are 1,000 unwanted rabbits in Minnesota, and so far this year, her group has helped to adopt out 80 rabbits.

Campbell said Minneapolis must change its "cumbersome" rabbit-permitting process because it makes city residents - at least the ones who know about the strict laws - apprehensive to adopt.

Although she's since moved out of Minneapolis, Torgerson agrees that the law must be changed. "Now, people won't be committing crimes if they have a rabbit," she said. "It was the right thing to do."

Animal control perspective

Tom Doty, manager of field services for Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, said the change would mean a lot less work for his staff.

Rabbits, said Doty, are "not like chickens that can be a source of annoyance to a neighborhood."

He added that he didn't know of cities with strict permitting.

Minneapolis ferret owners may have felt the same pangs of guilt as rabbit owners - until the fall 2004, when the city made ferrets, a member of the weasel family, a legal pet and set up licensing standards.

(Although ferret fanciers are in the clear, the city still must tweak the rabies control chapter of city animal code, something that will also be discussed at the Sept. 14 hearing.)

Since the ferret "legalization," Doty reports that there has been only one owner who applied for a ferret license in 2004, with one more so far in 2005. He said because for record-keeping, rabbits are lumped in with other animals, he could not discern how many rabbits are currently permitted.

Doty admits many owners don't know they have to register their animals at all. He said people don't know they need a license for their pet unless it escapes and they receive a ticket.

Rabbit licensure could come at a cost; the permit fee is now $10; ferret licenses are $25, with half-off for sterilized pets. For rabbit owners, the peace of mind - and not having to convince their neighbors - may well be worth it.

For more information about pet licensing, visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/animal-control/PetLicenses.asp and for more information about the rabbit society, visit www.mnhouserabbit.org/.