A couple months before Easter, I had a call to investigate a report for unhealthy conditions for rabbits. There weren't many details on my call sheet. So I'm thinking someone has a couple rabbits that they area not cleaning up their cage. Then I took a second look at the call address. The location was at a 2-bit horse boarding place that we have had MANY calls out to for various neglect issues. This place continues to have on going issues that always seem to get just under the wire of being OK. If I had my way, the place would be shut down. I'm still working on that.
Anyway, back to the rabbits.
So I'm still thinking that this is going to be something simple.
I get to the boarding facility and as I am going to open the gate I run into one of the women who I investigated in the past. "B" was very friendly and helpful today, despite the fact that I almost took her three horses away from her for various reasons. I asked her if she knew where the rabbits were. Oh boy did she. We both parked out vehicles and she showed me the way to a huge tent near the barn. This tent is one of those portable tarp and pvc deals that some people use as a temporary car port. I didn't even have to get very close to see that this was much worse and a bigger problem than I had initially thought.
The front of the tent was open and I could see multiple cages in 3 rows stacked on top of each other. I immediately noticed two dead rabbits in the first cages in the middle row. "B" let me know that she had called the CP (person who had called the complaint in) and she was on her way. She was also trying to call the property owner. B said that the rabbit owner had been gone for several days now and she wasn't sure when she was returning. She said that she was told that the rabbit owner was out of town and may not return for several weeks. I asked B if she knew who was taking care of the owner’s rabbits in her absence and she said that she didn’t think that anyone had been asked and if they were they probably said no due the prior bad attitudes between rabbit owner and other boarders.
The boarding facility is a self-care facility for mostly horses. Some horse owners have a few other animals, such as chickens and ducks. According to B, the rabbit owner owns only the rabbits.
So I began to assess the rabbits in their cages. I initially counted 62 live rabbits and 5 dead rabbits in cages inside the tent. The inside of the tent smelled very strongly of urine, feces and wet feed and bedding. None of the cages appeared the have been cleaned out in several weeks or even months. Feces was built up beneath cage floors into cages from the litter pans. The floor of the tent was covered in, mud, feces, old food, water, urine and down one row the floor was 2-3 inches deep in liquid mud. Under the bottom cages the feces was several inches thick from the ground to inside the bottom of cages. Flies, bugs and small gnat like flies were everywhere, including on the live rabbits.
I found most of the water bottles were empty, many had mold growing inside, several were broken and several rabbits had no water bottles at all. Very few rabbits had food. Some that had food that was wet and appeared to have been in their feeders for a long period of time. Most of the rabbits had no food at all.
The CP arrived and I spoke with her. She said that she had been at the property yesterday and had seen the dead rabbits. She also found the rabbits without water and no food. She showed me that some of the rabbits that she did give water to, had no water as many of the water bottles were broken and leaking. She also showed me the food barrel. The large blue barrel was empty and the only other feed was in a small red coffee can that was only about ¼ full of feed. There were no other sources of feed for the rabbits. And what there was was in no way going to feed this many rabbits. The CP also said that the owner was gone possibly out of town and not returning for a few weeks. The CP also stated that the rabbit owner had disposed of several dead rabbits in the creek next to the boarding facility. She showed me where they were located. I saw about 7 dead rabbits in a pile on the bank of the creek about 50’ from the tent. None of these deceased rabbits showed signs of heavy decomposition at this time.
I called my Senior Officer 468 to advise him of the conditions and how to precede with this many rabbits in the conditions they were in. I was advised to take pictures, which I had already started to do. 460 would be sent to assist with documenting and seizing of the rabbits. 468 would have ACAs prepare an area for the rabbits to be housed and he would be advising Supervisor 473. 471 was also en route to my location to assist with the seizure. I also at this point began to place numbered cards on the live rabbits cages for ID purposes.
I was also told by another boarder that there were more dead rabbits just behind the tent. She showed me where they were located. At the north west corner of the tent there where 3 more deceased rabbits. One rabbit showed very little decomposition, one was decomposing and one was completely decomposed (hair and a few bones left).
471 arrived and I showed him the conditions that the live rabbits were in and the areas where the dead rabbits were. We also walked the creek bank from the barn to the bridge. No other dead rabbits were found. Another boarder had stated that there may have been other rabbits tossed in the creek but may have floated away by now.
460 Arrived and I showed her the live rabbits and their conditions as well as the Dead rabbits.
I filled out and posted a POST-SEIZURE NOTICE for 597.1 and 8.08.060 for the Live rabbits.
471, 460 and myself began processing and impounding the live rabbits. Using the number cards I had placed on the cages, each rabbit was ID’d by color and ear tattoo if they had one, and individually boxed for transport. Obvious injuries and signs of illness were also noted so that the Shelter Vet could be notified of their immediate need for evaluation and care.
The property owner arrived. The property owner said that he did not realize the rabbits were in such poor conditions since this is a self care boarding property and he doesn’t have contact or care for the boarders animals. I asked him when the last time he heard from the rabbit owner. He said that it was Wednesday or Thursday of last week (4 to 5 days ago) he last saw her on the property.
Once all of the live rabbits were removed and ready to transport, we documented and ID’d the dead rabbits inside the tent, near the outside corner of the tent and on the creek bank.
A Grand Total of 66 live rabbits were removed from the tent, 6 dead rabbits were removed from the tent, 2 dead rabbits were removed from the outside of the tent and 8 rabbits were removed from the creek bank.
It took all three of our dog trucks to transport all those rabbits to the shelter. The ACAs had done a awesome job setting up the stalls in the shelter's barn with cages to house the rabbits. And they had unloaded 471's truck already and were waiting to help unload 460 and my trucks.
It took us about 5 hours to load the rabbits from the scene and a couple more to unload. Then a couple hours for 460 and I to input all the rabbits into the computer and make pen cards for each one.
The vet checked the rabbits that we had alerted her to needing immediate attention first. Unfortunately about 5 rabbits needed to be PTS because they were in such poor health. Then the vet checked the rest. She determined that the rest needed basic care, good food and water and they would be fine.
We tried everything to locate the owner. Including the media. This case, as well as another ACO's case about 20-plus abandoned cats at a church, hit the news in hopes that someone would see the stories and know something more. No such luck.
Our local Rabbit Rescue FUR stepped in to help with the care, socialization, assessment and the soon to be adoption promotion for the rabbits while they were in our care at the shelter.
The rabbits would be available for adoption around Easter time, BUT it's not our policy to adopt out during Easter. For the obvious reasons. Rabbits could be adopted but wouldn't be able to go home until after Easter, and after they were spayed and neutered.
I'm very please to report that ALL the rabbits got adopted, and none have been returned.
FURR and the Shelter Staff did a fabulous job of promoting and screening the adoptions.