You've probably seen it on your Facebook feed: a video with a cute little white rabbit tucked into a wheelchair, and a family promising to love him forever. It's gone viral on social media sites, and gotten quite a bit of coverage from national and international outlets.
But the truth behind the video is hardly heartwarming.
The video, featuring a days-old white rabbit named Wheelz, was first posted to Facebook last week by Overlook Acres, a small New York farm. The video features the young rabbit scooting around in a handmade wheelchair, with a touching note about how the owners of the farm saved the little rabbit when he was found out in the cold with an injured leg.
Overlook Acres is a rabbit meat farm, and writes on Facebook that it leaves its rabbits out in the cold because it's more natural — despite the fact that today's domesticated rabbits have had much of the "wild" bred out of them. Wheelz was one of a handful of recent babies who didn't freeze to death.
"Over the past few weeks we have had about 6 litters of bunnies born," the farm wrote. "We lost many to the frigid temperatures of upstate New York."
Wheelz was found "stiff and half frozen" at just a few days old, the farm explained, then brought inside so they could attempt to revive him. When he came to, they noticed that he had trouble moving around, a sign of a possible spinal injury after being attacked by an older rabbit. While they were originally planning to put him down, they decided to give him another chance and rigged up a toy skateboard to act as a wheelchair.
While the farm assured its followers that Wheelz would not be eaten, many commenters took umbrage with the fact that the story was less heartwarming that it seemed. Many questioned whether a responsible and humane farm would leave its animals — particularly newborns — to freeze to death and be injured in harsh winter temperatures.
"Poor rabbits," one commenter wrote. "I just don't understand how people can do this. Here's me thinking you were compassionate."
Recent posts have also shown a startling lack of knowledge about rabbit care, including a photo of Wheelz in a tub of soapy water (baths can be fatal for rabbits).
In response to the criticism, Overlook Acres complained that someone must have shared the video with "farm animal rescue sites." "Don't attack me because you people don't like the fact that you are a massive minority among a majority of rational thinking individuals," the farm wrote.
But Overlook Acres has already profited off the attention it's received from its supposedly cute video — in large part from animal lovers who don't realize they're supporting less-than-ideal welfare standards by following them. The farm's Facebook page has skyrocketed to over 50,000 likes, and they've opened a Twitter and Instagram account. They also have a Kickstarter asking for people to help fund a children's book about Wheelz, and a GoFundMe asking for donations to raise and "harvest" Wheelz' surviving brothers and sisters.
The viral response has prompted many rabbit welfare groups to issue warnings to their followers about sharing the video.
"These people don't care about rabbits ... they kill them,"
Rabbitron, a group that advocates for rabbit welfare, wrote in a Facebook post. "And worse yet, they are actually asking for money though a go fund me page to get donations! While legitimate rescues struggle to get even a small donation, these rabbit killers are getting press and donations ... It doesn't make sense!"
Whatever Wheelz' future may be, one thing's clear: If you love animals, you probably don't want to share the video.
For more animal-friendly ways to help rabbits, you can make a donation to a group like Luv-N-Bunns or the House Rabbit Society, which provide homes and medical care to rabbits in need of help. You can also visit Adopt-a-Pet.com to find rabbits in need near you.