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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Our Long-Eared House Guest

We recently brought a temporary resident into our home, and his name is Astro!

Astro is a foster bunny from the Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society, an organization that Michelle and I have been involved with since its inception. Besides giving MCRS monetary support, Michelle and I have both volunteered our time — Michelle was the past editor of its newsletter, I served on its Board of Directors, and Astro is just the most recent of the many rabbits we've fostered.

We've chosen to support MCRS for a number of reasons. It's a small, local organization, entirely run by volunteers, and we have personally seen (and benefitted from) its success and effectiveness. We know that our support makes a meaningful difference, whether it's giving money that helps MCRS promote its educational mission and so improve the lives of pets and their owners, or giving a rabbit a second chance by providing a temporary home before adoption (there's only so much room in the Twin Cities' animal shelters, and MCRS serves as an "overflow" outlet for the crunch times when more rabbits are surrendered or confiscated by animal control authorities than there is space). Animal welfare is important to me because I believe we are stewards of our world and the living creatures within it; I think we have a moral responsibility to care humanely for the animals domesticated by our ancestors over the past thousands of years — animals that are now dependent upon us.

I especially admire MCRS because of its pragmatism. One of the most innovative and successful programs it has worked on is a partnership with PETCO. At an increasing number of PETCO stores in the Twin Cities — seven of them now, including the one here in Maplewood — adoptable rabbits are featured in the store, and cared for by both PETCO employees and MCRS volunteers. Near the rabbits are educational materials about rabbits as pets. Special "adoption day" events are also held in the stores, when more adoptable rabbits are brought to the store and lots of volunteers are on hand to educate and answer questions. In fact, Astro is staying with us as a break after spending a month in the Roseville PETCO store.

Some animal advocates see corporations like PETCO as the enemy, because of policies that activists would like to see stopped (such as buying from rabbit breeders to sell to the public, thus encouraging overpopulation; rabbits are the #3 animal surrendered to shelters after dogs and cats). While some activists shunned PETCO, MCRS recognized an opportunity.

The reality is that keeping rabbits for sale is a lot of work, responsibility, and expense for a pet store, and not really profitable in itself. The rabbits are perceived as a service to pet shoppers, as an attraction (isn't it fun to go into a pet store and see cute furry animals?), and as a way to land the real business, which is the pet food, supplies, etc. MCRS found that PETCO was delighted to stop selling rabbits, and instead to feature adoptable rabbits, to utilize the knowledge and time of MCRS volunteers in caring for the animals, and to benefit from the good public relations exposure. In fact, the PETCO Foundation (a charitable foundation funded by the corporation) has now become an important donor to MCRS. They are directly aware of the good that comes of this program, which is also becoming a model for similar programs elsewhere in the country. The president of MCRS has been a featured speaker at national conventions, to talk about how this program works so others can emulate it.

I've been wanting to write about MCRS, not just as an aspect of my biography for this campaign website, but because I think it illustrates some important principles that guide my view of politics as well. There's a purist way of thinking that says people who don't live up to your criteria (whether that be political ideology, or "litmus test" issues, or whatever) should be shunned and rejected and locked out. In contrast, it seems to me that it's terribly important to engage with the people that are sometimes labeled "the enemy" by partisans and activists. Too much devotion to abstract principles can prevent parties from agreeing on a common course of action that might actually benefit both of them. The fact is that different individuals and organizations often have principles and goals that we might say are competing, but not actually contradictory.

By engaging with an organization that has a different set of priorities, and finding a practical course of action that serves them both, MCRS and PETCO have both come out winners — as have the rabbits, the new rabbit owners (who have been educated to ensure that they're more happy with their new pets), and even the local animal shelters (since those educated pet adopters are less likely to surrender their animals).

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about rabbits as pets, please visit the Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society website at mn.companionrabbit.org. You can see a list of some of the currently adoptable Twin Cities rabbits in the care of MCRS at Petfinder — and for that matter, if you're interested in any kind of pet, Petfinder is a wonderful resource for finding animals of all species that need homes. And if you visit the PETCO up by the Maplewood Mall, be sure to see the adoptable bunnies in person!


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