WOODLAND HILLS (CNS) – A Woodland Hills pop-up that offers customers the chance to enjoy beverages in the company of domestic rabbits is drawing criticism from Los Angeles’ rabbit rescue community, which accuses the owner of disregarding the animals’ welfare.
Located at 22030 Ventura Blvd., the Bunny Cafe is operated by Kevin Grushkovski, the 23-year-old founder and owner of JoyGrab, which develops unique and interactive customer experiences nationwide.
According to its website, the cafe “offers a unique way to relax and de-stress. Petting and interacting with animals has been shown to have a calming effect on people and can lower cortisol levels (the hormone responsible for stress) in the body. Being surrounded by the peaceful, playful energy of bunnies can create a sense of joy and tranquility.
“… the Bunny Cafe also works with local rabbit shelters to help find bunnies-loving forever homes. By working with these organizations, the cafe not only gives guests the opportunity to spend time with bunnies but also helps to raise awareness about rabbit adoption and the importance of proper care for these often misunderstood animals.”
However, local rabbit rescue organizations dispute the business’ positive effect on the animals. They say rabbits are prey animals and suffer when they’re forced to be around a large number of strangers and other rabbits with whom they’re not bonded.
Some of L.A.’s major rabbit rescues have organized ongoing street protests in front of the business. The Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation, a chapter of the worldwide House Rabbit Society, says it received multiple complaints about Bunny Cafe — including a lack of places for rabbits to hide from the constant activity, no hay visible in the rabbit pen, rabbits sitting on a floor with urine and feces, and patrons feeding rabbits an unmoderated amount of carrots, which is harmful to their health.
The foundation says some of those conditions have since improved because the business is under pressure to change or shut down, but “it doesn’t alter the fact that the Bunny Cafe’s exploitation of the rabbits for monetary gain and that the rabbits are stressed and exposed to health risks.”
LA Rabbit Foundation continues to hold the protests, along with BunnyLuv and Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue. Bunny World Foundation — Los Angeles’s most active rabbit rescue group — has also complained to city officials about Bunny Cafe, calling it an “inhumane petting zoo.”
Grushkovski called the concerns “overgeneralizing.”
“I think it’s one of those things where people just need to come and see. You really need to come and see how the rabbits are responding,” he told City News Service.
“They all have hideaway boxes (to hide in if they get scared). I can tell you that they’re rarely in there. They enjoy the interaction.
“If we do see a bunny is stressed out, we’ll move them from the environment.”
Grushkovski says he adopts the rabbits from city shelters, primarily from the LAAS’ East Valley and West Valley shelters, and that all are spayed and neutered. He currently has eight bunnies that stay in private enclosures at the cafe, where they are cared for by a staff of about six or seven workers.
LA Rabbit Foundation says shelter officials “lack the resources to oversee what is happening inside the cafe.” They’re calling for the business to be shut down.
But Grushkovski said he has a permit from LAAS to conduct his business, and insisted that LAAS officials found no problems when they inspected Bunny Cafe.
An LAAS official said the department has looked into the rescue groups’ complaints, and the investigation is ongoing.
“The Department of Animal Services has investigated and inspected the location known as the Bunny Cafe,” District Supervisor Lorna Esparza said.
“… The Pet Shop ordinances allow for inspection and we are monitoring the situation at the cafe. We will investigate any allegation based upon witness observation.”
Grushkovski told CNS that 10 bunnies have been adopted to the public so far, with the adoption fee set at $85.
He added that he has a vetting process in place to ensure that new owners are educated in bunny safety, including making sure the rabbits will have access to proper housing, equipment and food.
“We’re aware that most of these people are new bunny owners,” he said.
The Bunny Cafe opened in April, and is booking appointments for the public through Aug. 31, at $25 for one hour and $44 for two hours.
“I’m a person with a lot of ideas. I had this idea for a long, long time,” Grushkovski told CNS, admitting that a similar business with the same name in Vancouver was somewhat of an inspiration. “I wanted my first idea to be something that would make a change, and something that would get people out of the house.”
“We and the protesters have the same ultimate goal. We want to find bunnies homes.”
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