CAMDEN, Maine — Pets shouldn’t be on the menu, Wendy Andresen believes.
The owner of a beloved pet rabbit, Andresen and her husband Ray demonstrated with placards that read “Save the Bunnies” on Saturday on the sidewalk outside Long Grain, a Camden restaurant that features rabbit among the food it serves. Their friend, Merrill Tucker, who has two pet rabbits, joined them.
“I have a pet bunny who’s the light of our lives,” Andresen said Monday. “He sleeps in bed with me and covers my face with kisses. He’s a member of the family,” she said.
The Andresens, who moved to Camden six years ago, enjoyed dining at Long Grain, a restaurant that features Thai and other Asian fare. Much of the food is vegetarian, which suits Andresen, because she describes herself as “almost vegan,” making exceptions occasionally for cheese.
But when she learned Long Grain served a dish featuring rabbit meat, she spoke with the owners, Ravin Nakjaroen and Paula Palakawong, about her opposition.
“It was one of our favorite restaurants,” Andresen said. “We have nothing against the owners of the restaurant or the restaurant itself.”
She then made a second entreaty to the owners, which led them to lodge a complaint against her, Andresen said. Officers came to her house and issued her a warning about harassing Nakjaroen and Palakawong. Andresen said she will not contact the owners again.
Nakjaroen said Tuesday that he lodged a complaint with police after Andresen twice came into the restaurant and walked into the private part of the building to talk to him and Palakawong about her concerns.
Camden Police Chief Randy Gagne said Tuesday that both Andresens were warned in writing by police to not to enter Long Grain or have any contact with the owners.
Nakjaroen was perplexed by Andresen’s concern. Rabbit is not a staple on the menu, he said.
“I do that occasionally as a special,” Nakjaroen said. “We had it last week. It’s a once-in-a-while thing.” The rabbits are raised and prepared by local businesses, which he declined to name.
“I consider it a gourmet food,” he said.
Though other restaurants in Camden serve rabbit or have served it, Andresen said the protest focused on Long Grain and not the others because “we don’t go to those other restaurants.” Still, she has contacted the owners of other restaurants in town to urge them not to serve rabbit.
“It’s just so sensitive to me,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of rabbits over the last several years.” Her rabbit roams free in the house and is trained to use a litter box, she said.
“They’re so social and smart and funny,” she said.
In Marshfield, Rebecca McKenna also is fond of rabbits. But she said she and her husband raise them, along with chickens, for the family’s dinners. The meat looks like “a cross between chicken and pork,” she said, but tastes like turkey. It’s lean and healthful, she said.
The McKennas raise their rabbits so they are giving birth in the warmer months, “growing them on an as-needed basis,” she said.
The males are best killed and butchered at no older than four months and, after being dressed, can provide about 4 pounds of meat, bones included. The does can be kept until 8 months, and dress out at 7 to 8 pounds.
“They sit nicely in the crock pot,” McKenna said. Some of the larger rabbits she will bake and the leftover meat provides a second meal as a stew.
Her 9- and 11-year-old children don’t mind seeing the cute bunnies, or kits, then eating them, she said.
“I grew up on a farm, so this is no big deal for me,” McKenna said.
The rabbits are kept warm, clean and fed in the barn in the winter, and often left to graze on the lawn in the warmer months, she said.
But for Andresen, rabbits are pets. As such, they are the third most popular “furry” pets in the U.S., she said, with some 4 million rabbits kept in households. Serving the critters as food is as horrifying to her as serving cats or dogs would be to others, she said.
An online petition she launched at ipetition.com calling for people generally to “stop eating rabbits” bears 141 names as of Tuesday evening.
Andresen calls attention to the comments of one petitioner, Katie Hansberry, who is the Maine state director of the Humane Society of the United States:
“Rabbits are a cherished part of millions of Americans’ families. However, a large number of these intelligent, social animals are also raised in crowded wire enclosures where they suffer prior to being slaughtered in often shocking ways due to a lack of protections.
“Only a small fraction of U.S. rabbit producers are federally inspected,” Hansberry’s comments continued. “USDA certification is currently on a voluntary basis, and the USDA interprets the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to exempt rabbits from its protections. As a result, rabbits lack federal protection from even the worst slaughter abuses. Make a choice for compassion, and leave rabbit meat off your plate.”
Andresen said raising her voice against eating rabbits was one step she felt she had to take, even though restaurants serve the meat of other animals.
Asked if she will again demonstrate outside Long Grain, Andresen said, “I should hope it wouldn’t come to that.”