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Hillsborough County commission moves forward with potential 'bunny ban'

The local humane society says people often drop off the animals after thinking they can no longer care for them.

TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County commissioners are again moving forward with a potential bunny ban.

The board was asked to consider enacting an ordinance to limit retail sales of rabbits. Animal advocates say rabbits don’t make good pets, and they want Hillsborough to restrict their sales.

At the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, where they support the idea, there’s no shortage of bunnies.

They’re often dropped off by people with post-holiday rabbit remorse.

“The rabbit is so cute, but then they realize that a rabbit is a very difficult pet to have. They aren’t as simple as a dog where you can cuddle. They’re not super cuddly. They don’t like to be picked up. They’re pretty messy. And people realize that later,” spokesperson Regan Blessinger said.

Proponents want an ordinance allowing pet stores to only sell shelter rabbits, not bunnies from breeders.

Commissioners have tackled this hare-y topic before. In January, they opted for an educational campaign instead, but data shows that didn’t work. Nearly seven in 10 pet retailers said sales were flat or even increased.

“I think we can pretty much say that that has failed,” Commissioner Pat Kemp said.

The ordinance would require neutering and chipping. There would also likely be exceptions for agriculture, educational use and direct person-to-person or breeder sales.

There is some concern about a potential slippery slope when it comes to such regulation.

“When you set this precedent, I need to caution that they were activists out there that don’t like things like cows,” Commissioner Joshua Wostal said. “And I wonder when that potential ordinance gets brought to us.”

Still, the majority of commissioners voted to direct staffers to come back with a proposed ordinance next month.

“Get the actual draft language. Set the hearing. Hear from the public,” Commissioner Ken Hagan said. “And there may be folks that are opposed to it, frankly.”

Hillsborough commissioners also passed a separate but related motion directing staff to give area pet stores a heads-up that this is something they are considering. That way, businesses that might be ordering inventory ahead of the holidays will have an opportunity to adjust accordingly — and prepare to make any opposing arguments.

It’s estimated that caring for shelter rabbits costs Hillsborough taxpayers about $40,000 a year.

Several other counties have adopted similar bans on rabbit sales, including Pasco County.

Hillsborough commissioners say Pasco‘s ban appears to be so successful that they would like to model their own ordinance after the one enacted there.

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