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Future Study of Rabbit Relinquishment

By Tasha Welch

My name is Tasha Welch, I am a 4th year BSc.H. Animal Biology student
at the University of Guelph. Over the past 3 months I have been
reviewing literature on the positive and negative implications of the
human – animal bond and discovered there is little research on rabbit
ownership and relinquishment. This lack of research, and my love for
rabbits, has inspired me to develop and conduct my own study in this

I have been working with Dr. Jason Coe at the university, with the
help of Rabbit Rescue and Campus Estates Animal Hospital, to begin a
research study on level of knowledge of rabbit ownership and if
knowledge is associated with rabbit relinquishment. This field is
scarcely studied and the number of rabbits without homes is a clear
indication of the severity of this issue.

The study has not yet been conducted. A proposal has been developed
and data collection will commence in January 2012. Results will
analyzed and presented in the form of a poster and paper in April

A Review of the Human – Animal Bond (HAB) and Future Study of Rabbit Relinquishment

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Keeping animals and developing relationships with animals is a common
trend throughout the world with cats and dogs being the most popular4.
Pets serve humans as helpers, hobbies, ornaments, status symbols and
companions4. Under the right circumstances, companion animals can
provide children, adults, ill, disabled, and elderly individuals with several
positive effects from the human – animal bond4. Under the wrong
circumstances, pets may be neglected, abused, abandoned or
surrendered and ultimately euthanized, the number one killer of
companion animals5.

History of the HAB

• Konrad Lorenz first articulated the term human – animal bond in the
mid 1950’s7
• Progress in this field can be attributed to conferences in the 1970’s and
1980’s held by veterinary leaders, university centers and other
• Curriculum regarding the human – animal bond appeared in American
veterinary schools in the 1980’s7
• The Delta Society recognized the need for research in this field in

Benefits of Pet Ownership

Psychological Benefits: reduced loneliness, love, affection, increased
self-esteem, pleasure, anti – anxiety effects, increased morale, protection
and social catalyst4
Physical Benefits: increased exercise, increased survival rates for
people who suffered myocardial infarction, reduced risk factors
associated with heart disease and improved general health4

Destruction of the HAB

Benefits of the human – animal bond may be received by both the human
and animal, but at times these relationships can have detrimental
consequences for animal4. Most negative aspects of the human – animal
bond are a result of human behaviour4. Pet owners may not have
sufficient knowledge of how to feed, train, handle and look after their
pets4. This can lead to development of behavioural problems,
malnutrition, obesity, disease and undesired traits4. In addition to poor
and inaccurate knowledge, negative human – animal bonds may be a
result of prospective pet owners unrealistic expectations of their future
pet6. These two factors are significant causes of negative human –
animal bonds that can ultimately lead to pet relinquishment6.
Sadly, destruction of the human animal bond is often inflicted upon the

Pet Relinquishment

Pet relinquishment is the unfortunate end result of broken bonds
between humans and their companion animals8 . The Humane Society
of the United States has estimated that between 8 – 10 million
companion animals are relinquished each year2. This surplus has
reached far beyond the capacities of animal shelters resulting in about
half of those animals being euthanized2. Euthanasia is the number one
killer of companion animals in the United States2. Clearly, this is a very
severe and devastating end result of human – animal bond break down.

Preventing Relinquishment

Humans have created companion animals that depend on them for food,
shelter and care therefore, we have a certain responsibility for their
welfare1. As the perpetuators of the problem, humans must devise the
solution1. Although there are areas in this field that need further
research, some data has already been collected regarding why people
relinquish their pets. The information can help uncover efficient and
humane ways to reduce pet relinquishment.
Some proposed solutions are:
1. Low cost spay neuter programs to reduce risks of overpopulation2
2. Increasing adoption rates2
3. Education programs to reduce the risk of unrealistic expectations2
4. Screening surrendered animals for use as service animals2
Studies by Frank (2004), and Fournier & Geller (2004) suggest the need
for a combination of programs for maximum effectiveness in controlling
and preventing pet relinquishment.

Rabbit Relinquishment Research

An area that has received little research to date is rabbit relinquishment.
Many rabbits are relinquished each year with little knowledge on rabbit
ownership. Information on owners knowledge and expectations will help
develop programs to support lasting relationships between rabbits and
their owners.

In January 2012 a survey of prospective rabbit owners will explore the
following study objectives:

1. Assess the level and accuracy of knowledge of rabbit ownership
2. Identify expectations of rabbit ownership and characterize whether
these expectations are realistic and compatible
3. Identify if level of knowledge and expectations contribute to risk of


1. Frank, J., 2004. An Interactive Model of Human and Companion Animal Dynamics: The Ecology of Economics of
Dog Overpopulation and the Human Costs of Addressing the Problem. Human Ecology. 32:1, 107 – 130.
2. Fournier, A. K., Geller, E. S., 2004. Behaviour Analysis of Companion – Animal Overpopulation: A
Conceptualization of the Problem and Suggestions for Intervention. Behavior and Social Issues. 13, 51 – 68.
3. Salman, M. D., New, J. G., Scarlett, J. M., Kass, P. H., Gallie, R. R., Hetts, S., 1998. Human and Animal Factors
Related to the Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats in 12 Selected Animal Shelters in the United States. Journal of
Applied Animal Welfare Science. 1:3, 207 – 226.
4. Podberscek, A. L., 2006. Positive and Negative Aspects of Our Relationship with Companion Animlas. Veterinary
Research Communications. 20:1, 21 – 27.
5. DiGiacomo, N., Arluke, A., Patronek, G., 1998. Surrendering pets to shelters: The relinquisher’s perspective.
Anthrozoos. 11:1, 41 – 51.
6. Author Unknown., 2007. How you can help assist owners in selecting the best pets for their lifestyles. Veterinary
Medicine. 678 – 679.
7. Hines, L. M., 2003. Historical Perspectives on the Human – Animal Bond. American Behavioural Scientist. 47:1, 7
– 15.
8. Sharkin, B. S., Ruff, L. A., 2011. Broken Bonds: Understanding the Experience of Pet Relinquishment. The
Psychology of the Human – Animal Bond. 275 – 287.

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