RABBITATS FOR HUMANITY
Large numbers of homeless feral/domestic rabbits can be safely, securely and happily housed in natural ‘rabbitats’ built in conjunction with animal shelters, pet rescues, institutions, ‘green’ businesses or on private land under the care of responsible citizens.
Cities contend with abandoned pets and their feral offspring while rural areas deal with unscrupulous breeders who routinely release their unwanted ‘stock’. The non-native domestic rabbits soon become a problem for municipalities, businesses and neighbourhoods forced to deal with environmentally destructive natural behaviour like chewing and burrowing.
It’s a tragedy for the loose bunnies as they will most likely be killed by predators, parasites, sport hunters or trappers hired for ‘pest control’.
Rabbitats Canada can help build affordable colony housing emulating their natural environments for anywhere from four to 40 to 400 sterilized rabbits and educate new rabbit guardians on low maintenance and sustainable care. Controlled rabbit populations can replace feral colonies.
Small garden rabbitats will add the benefit of being able to interact with the rabbits in their natural environment in a manner far less stressful for the rabbits.
The ‘rabbitats’ can even be integrated into programs and institutions to provide therapy, relaxation or education.
Sustainable support is anticipated from affected governments, institutions, businesses and communities, sponsors and foundations, and private citizens sponsoring and/or housing ‘rabbitats’.
The past decade has seen a number of rabbit ‘situations’ in the news in B.C. aside from the recent situation at the University of Victoria, including thousands of rabbits shot for destroying produce on farms in Richmond, the removal of hundreds from the University of Victoria Hospital and an initiative to save rabbits in Kelowna that saw an area rescue instead of a pest control company awarded the contract to deal with their feral rabbit problem.
The Richmond Auto Mall is addressing an large influx of rabbits on their property and growing numbers of feral colonies in Richmond’s Minoru Park and Vancouver’s Jericho Beach will soon be major issues. Small pockets of feral rabbits are found in almost every area of the province.
Even in snowy Alberta, the town of Canmore announced its intent to eliminate a long-standing feral colony and has been seeking proposals from rescues and pest control for their removal amid much controversy.
South of the border, areas in Seattle and a campus in Long Beach, California are among many others dealing with high-profile feral colony problems.
The rabbit rescue community is currently based on the well-organized and heavily-promoted House Rabbit Society, an organization that strongly endorses rabbits as house pets and does not sanction rabbits being housed outdoors. While house rabbits are showered with attention, outdoor rabbits are falling through the cracks.
Local rescues are currently overwhelmed and rarely have room for surrendered pets adding to the problem of abandoned rabbits, and it becomes self-perpetuating.
This proposal deals with volume rescues and containment and seeks to drastically expand rabbit rescue numbers across the board.
Rabbitats are enclosures designed to be escape proof, predator-proof, visually pleasing, gently interactive, at least partly sustainable and relatively low maintenance. The designs depend on the land dimensions and layout, the area predators, the natural vegetation, the materials available and the budget.
They are constructed to keep the rabbits in and the predators out. They can be portable/easily dismantled or permanent structures. Rabbitats can be fenced outdoor pastures, smaller stockade-style enclosures or an indoor/outdoor combination of fencing and sheds.
The size can range from 50 square feet to an acre. In some cases ground wire and netting will be incorporated to fully encapsulate the rabbitat, in other cases a solid predator-proof privacy fence is adequate to prevent stalking by ‘sight’ predators and to discourage random human interference.
WHAT WE DO
Identify and target ‘problem’ areas with overpopulations of feral or pet rabbits.
- Promote the idea of Rabbitats and build a base of potential hosts.
- Help potential hosts decide on whether a rabbitat is a good fit and if so, how many rabbits are sustainable.
- Educate and supervise the Rabbitat hosts.
- Advise on interactive and sustainable designs.
- Advise on proper containment including escape-proofing and predator-proofing.
- Consult with experts in landscaping, fencing, nutrition, health and colony behavior.
- Advise individuals on the laws in their communities.
- Work with local governments when necessary.
- Advise on reducing maintenance and long term costs.
- Research and solicit donated/low cost sterilization and other vet care.
- Solicit deals or donations of fencing, ground wire and other building materials, food, etc.
- Organize volunteer labor pools to construct or help construct the Rabbitats as required.
- Draw up and execute a Rabbitat contract requiring hosts to check in regularly on a website forum, inform the Rabbitats organization of rabbit illnesses or deaths and surrender rabbits to the organization or sources approved by the organization at the time of the surrender in the event they can no longer care for them.
- Encourage and advise municipal animal control and other shelters
- Provide the best design for the area and resources.
- Educate the communities re: rabbit abandonment prevention.
BENEFITS TO MUNICIPALITIES
o Reducing feral populations in a humane manner makes for good community relations
o Rabbitats vs extermination is far less of a strain on administration staff (especially if the alternative is fighting lawsuits and protests).
o Similar budgets to extermination make rabbitats a viable alternative.
o Reducing and controlling the numbers will mean reduced damage costs.
BENEFITS TO SHELTERS
o Shelters that agree to expand facilities can house more rabbits,
o Rabbitats require less maintenance. Cleaning individual cages or pens is tedious and time consuming, feeding multiple rabbits at once is far preferable.
o The natural setting is more of an attraction for potential adopters and volunteers.
o A larger, more natural area means healthier rabbits. Exercise is paramount, shelter rabbits are often obese and flaccid.
o Shy, aggressive or ‘plain jane’ bunnies deemed unadoptable and left to languish in cages for months (if not years) can live out their lives in comfort. The shelter can kindly keep families and warrens together.
o Housing colony rabbits can makes adoption issues like splitting a bonded pair far easier.
o Exercise, ventilation and socialization makes for healthier rabbits requiring less vet care
BENEFITS TO INSTITUTIONS
o Rabbitats can be integrated into programs and institutions (especially those trying to control feral populations on their grounds) to provide warm and fuzzy therapy, relaxation and education.
- o A small garden Rabbitat will add the benefit of being able to interact with the rabbits in their natural environment, which is also less stressful for the rabbits.
- o Supervised rabbitat programs can be safe educational tools for children.
BENEFITS TO PRIVATE GUARDIANS
Rabbitats will appeal to:
o Pet lovers who enjoy multiple pets
o Animal lovers who enjoy interacting in natural environments
o People wanting to do less maintenance than caged pets.
o Families with young children (a demographic that doesn’t qualify for house rabbit adoptions)
o People with allergies, or sharing housing with people with allergies
o Hobby farms (no kill)
o Vegetarians, Vegans, Animal Rights/Welfare Activists
o Retired people
ADOPTIONS AND COLONY LIVING
The organizers’ goal is to save large numbers of rabbits. With the overwhelming numbers of homeless, abandoned and/or feral rabbits needing places to go, Rabbitats prefers ‘bulk rescue’ and colony living — and so do the rabbits.
While rabbits are friendly, smart, reactive and funny and actually do very well in a home with frequent one-on-one interactions with humans, there are too many bunnies and too few homes, so the next choice is taking a page from their natural state.
Rabbits live in warrens with large families for the most part happily co-existing.
Rabbits relocated to a new area at the same time will almost immediately settle into a colony and establish a warren. While some initial supervision is required to pick out any bullies or bullied rabbits, they usually all get along as long as they arrive together.
Introducing new rabbits must be done with caution, and it’s preferred that groups be introduced and not individuals with initial separation using temporary fencing and setting up a second warren with initial supervision.
Rabbits can usually be taken from the colony and adopted out with no ill effects. Colony rabbits usually have several friends and do rarely suffer the same depression seen with the loss of a mate in a bonded pair.
Rabbits need to be trapped in the fall or winter when there are fewer births, the numbers are low and the food is scarce. Trapping should be scheduled to wrap by the end of January to avoid unwanted births or pregnant does, although the end of February is more realistic.
“Havahart” live traps baited with fruit and vegetables is the standard trapping method. The traps need to be baited with the food and left in the area for several days prior to being armed so the rabbits become comfortable with their presence.
NOTES AND CONSIDERATIONS:
– The feral rabbits are considered wildlife and fall under the Ministry of the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and thus require permits to possess, but we are hoping that the escape proof standard designs and low numbers will ‘rubber stamp’ this step in the future.
– All permitted rabbits must be sterilized in B.C.. For non-ministry rabbits (recently abandoned or escaped rabbits, families born in captivity, etc), it’s possible to see only the males neutered with the females remaining intact, but this is not advised.
– The province is adamantly against trap, neuter and release programs for rabbits.
– The organizers’ goal is to save large numbers of rabbits. We don’t expect a 0% mortality rate. A 95% success rate is realistic given the perils of trapping, transport, surgery, predator protection and health maintenance and treatment. Some populations are being controlled and not owned.
The story of the rabbits removed from the Victoria General Hospital grounds in Victoria, BC, a decade ago ended badly when two different women started large sanctuaries to take on their care, but both eventually became overwhelmed or had life changes and were forced to abandon the rabbits, who were subsequently euthanized or confined to shelters. This proposal seeks to minimize the risk and potential damage caused by sanctuaries overstepping their resources or abilities or faced with changing circumstances. Contingency plans and advance funding to support the rabbits for life is one option, but the emphasis is on distributing smaller numbers of rabbits to a greater number of rescue situations.
LONG TERM SOLUTIONS
Rabbitats wants to rescue the rabbits but we also seek to stop the flow.
– We are lobbying for controls on all rabbit ‘sales’, not just pet stores. Rabbitats believes first and foremost that all animals should be ‘adopted’ and not ‘sold’ and that all transactions involving live animals need to come with screening, education and accountability.
– Rabbitats would like to see a free and easy registry system with all animal guardians required to register and track their charges from the breeder to the animal’s death.
– We encourage mandatory education for rabbit guardians, sellers and re-homers. Young rabbits when not sterilized can go through a period of unruliness lasting several months. A guardian not realizing their little pet will again be sweet and friendly can end up dumping the bunny in a park.
– We are encouraging low-cost spay/neuter clinics and programs for rabbits.
– We want diligent ‘pet dumping’ laws, surveillance, reporting options, enforcement and heavy fines.
– Rabbitats recognizes that laws and education alone will not keep people from abandoning their rabbits in some manner, be it turning them loose in a vacant lot or rehoming the pet to an inappropriate situation or leaving them to languish or even starve in cages in their homes when they no longer have the ability or desire to care for them, thus we encourage city shelters to accept owner surrenders (most currently do not) and be given more resources to do so.
– Rabbitats also encourages rescues and shelters to create supportive climates for people seeking to relinquish their pets.
– We endorse outdoor homes, especially those with the capacity to house groups or colonies of rabbits: The prominent House Rabbit Society ably promotes rabbits as house pets for interactive enjoyment and the rabbits’ safety, all addressed in the rabbitat designs. While indoors is preferred, we support safe and enriched outdoor ‘rabbitats’, enabling fans of nature, wildlife, animals and/or gardening enjoy their company in a natural environment.