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ATTITUDES / AURORA MACKEY

Keeping World Safe for the Easter Bunny

April 15, 1993|AURORA MACKEY | Aurora Mackey is a Times staff writer

It's a delicate matter, this Easter Bunny business.

Oh, I know. You think it's a long way off and you don't have to think about it yet. That you still have plenty of time to come up with an answer to all your kids' questions.

Like, how does the Easter Bunny know that you recently moved?

Or how does the Easter Bunny get admitted to security-gated apartments, especially since he can't reach the intercom button?

Or why do we celebrate Easter, anyway? Wasn't it because the bunny was crucified or something like that?

But really, these are not the most pressing issues. At least, not as far as Roberta Battaglia is concerned. And this is a woman who's an authority on the subject.

What Battaglia would like parents to tell their kids right now is the real, honest-to-God truth about the Easter Bunny. Even though she knows a lot of them won't want to hear it.

She wants them to hear about how the Easter Bunny is left in hot cars parked at shopping centers and can die sooner than you can say, "Thank you for shopping at K mart."

About how he'll gorge himself on forbidden foods and suffer an awful death.

About dogs and cats whose mouths water at the thought of him.

And that, yes, dear children, he can be killed with kindness.

"It just breaks my heart to see what happens to Easter bunnies," Battaglia said, shaking her head slowly.

"You get wives buying them for their husbands, boyfriends getting them for their girlfriends, parents getting them for their kids--and then they take this defenseless little baby home and they kill it out of ignorance.

"They just don't think. They just don't know. And all I want to do is speak for the rabbits, because the rabbits can't speak for themselves.

"So will you please let me speak for the rabbits?"

*

Across the Ventura river, where it runs just a few blocks from Highway 33 in Oakview, Rocky the rabbit dog paces in front of a 6-foot-high white picket fence as visitors approach.

Battaglia's 3-year-old Labrador retriever clearly sees nothing unusual in the sight: A mother is holding a cardboard box with her teen-age daughter; both push open the gate and head a short way down Battaglia's dirt driveway.

Rocky gives them a perfunctory sniff and wags his tail. Welcome, he seems to say, to Roberta's Rabbit Ranch.

"Please, I'm sorry, I get so many people," Battaglia says to them. "Tell me again who you are?"

The mother jogs her memory. Remember, she was the one who bought a biting bunny at a pet store for her daughter and now they don't want it anymore? They want a new one?

Ah, yes, Battaglia says. Right this way.

Suddenly, the rabbit in the mother's box jumps out and makes a dash for it. Rocky takes off after it. Seconds later, the dog returns victorious, the rabbit frightened but unharmed in his mouth.

"Good dog," Battaglia says.

The mother and daughter turn a corner and are immediately faced with a dilemma. Before them are hundreds of rabbits in wire cages atop 4-foot stilts. There are at least 12 different breeds, all of them with different personality traits.

Battaglia gives information to customers freely: The large rex rabbits have the sweetest disposition, and the smaller dwarf rabbits are the poorest choice for young children. But her advice is often ignored.

"I tell people so many things they don't listen to," Battaglia said earlier, before the mother and daughter arrived.

"I tell them, 'Please don't feed your bunnies anything but rabbit pellets,' but then they go and feed them Easter candy and chocolate chip cookies and vegetables no wild rabbit would ever have, and the bunnies die.

"I tell them a cat can pick up a 10-pound rabbit and haul it over a fence, no problem, and that dogs love to eat them. Then I get phone calls like, 'I left my bunny outside and when I came home it was gone. Do you have any idea where it might be?'

"I tell them this is just a baby and it shouldn't be handled too much, and then they let their 3-year-old squeeze its tiny body and it dies.

"I tell them to take it straight home, and then they stop at the shopping center on the way and roll up all the windows so no one will steal it--and when they come back the bunny's dead."

She sighed. "Every year about now it starts happening. And it just breaks my heart."

*

The mother and daughter finally hold up their choice. Battaglia urges them to stick to rabbit pellets and hands them an information packet.

Among the papers is a flyer about something called the RSG--Rabbit Support Group--which meets the third Sunday of every month in Casitas Springs.

The group answers questions, Battaglia says, and helps members learn more about their pets.

Which instantly reminds me of the one question Battaglia hasn't answered yet.

How does the Easter Bunny get into those security apartment buildings, anyway?

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