Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Exotic pet breeder probed over animal welfare

April 17, 2001 Nicholas Read, Vancouver Sun

The SPCA is conducting an investigation into allegations that animals were found dead and dying on a farm belonging to a well- known exotic animal breeder in Maple Ridge.

SPCA staff were called out to the property of Silvia Rutledge over the weekend when a caretaker said she found a number of animals either already dead, sick, badly emaciated or suffering from inadequate care.

Ruth Pare, a Maple Ridge veterinary technician, was asked by Rutledge to feed and water the animals on the property while Rutledge went to Alberta to an exotic-animal auction. Rutledge is due back from Alberta today and was not available for comment.

When Pare got to the Rutledge property, she called the SPCA to report that she had found a dog convulsing, several dead rabbits and guinea pigs that other dogs brought out of bushes and from a fire pit, two calves and a horse that were seriously emaciated, and a number of ducks and chickens crammed so tightly into cages that they could not sit down without sitting on each other.

Pare said there was filth everywhere, and that many of the animals were not given proper or adequate food.

The SPCA visited the property on Saturday, and will visit it again today. Pare said the constable on duty talked about seizing some of the animals, but in the end none was taken.

SPCA manager of field operations Shawn Eccles said no one from the SPCA had been able to get in touch with Rutledge either, but that staff would interview her in person when she returned. He said they will want to ensure that she follows recommendations made to her by veterinarians.

After Pare made her complaint, Rutledge's ex-husband, Clark, visited the property and padlocked it. He was not available for comment either.

Rutledge is well known in Maple Ridge for running a number of petting zoos and for being an outspoken opponent of a proposed bylaw that would restrict the buying and selling of exotic animals in the community. As the owner of Do-Little Farms, which breeds and keeps a number of exotic animals, Rutledge has appealed to Maple Ridge council on several occasions to scrap the proposed bylaw. Council is currently reviewing the bylaw, which was proposed in 1998 following a public outcry against a locally held animal auction that Rutledge organized, and the use of exotic animals in circuses.

At the auction, a Japanese macaque (a type of monkey) was advertised by the auctioneer as "the closest thing you'll find to a human today."

Earlier this year, Maple Ridge joined 18 other B.C. communities in banning the use of exotic animals in public performances.

Among the exotic species Rutledge keeps are llamas, sugar gliders (marsupials that look like flying squirrels), reindeer, a South American raccoon, a lemur, African hedgehogs and North Dakota black- tailed prairie dogs. The number of animals she has at any given time varies, Pare says, but she has owned as many as 200 at one time.

In a letter to the Maple Ridge News, Rutledge said exotic animals "bring revenue to the community and joy to the lives of its citizens. If proper care is given to these animals, I fail to see the down side."

There are no federal laws in Canada governing the trade or care of exotic animals. However, the Township of Langley puts restrictions on their sale, and North Vancouver forbids the commercial sale of all reptiles and amphibians.

How the SPCA handles this case will be watched closely in Maple Ridge after council decided last week to review the SPCA's performance in the community following complaints about how its shelter was run.

Former volunteer Brigitta MacMillan presented a list of complaints to council against the shelter that included:

- Staff who are unpleasant to volunteers and the public;
- A lack of leadership in solving the problem of pet overpopulation;
- Failure to enforce animal cruelty bylaws;
- Skewed euthanasia statistics;
- Overcharging the district for the destruction of dead animals.

Maple Ridge Mayor Al Hogarth said after the presentation that he was "a little surprised and shocked," and that council would discuss the issue.

According to SPCA figures, in 2000, the Maple Ridge shelter killed 151 dogs and 139 cats either because of a lack of space, or medical or behavioural reasons or at an owner's request. Coquitlam and North Vancouver District are also reviewing their contracts with the SPCA following similar complaints made about shelters in those cities.

April 17/01 Letters editor, Vancouver Sun

Thanks to Nicholas Read and the Sun for exposing the dirty underside of the "cute" petting zoo business. Ruth Pare is a brave woman who did the right thing by phoning the SPCA and AAS when she saw the deplorable conditions animal were being kept in at Silvia Rutledge's "facility". Where there is use of animals there will be abuse of animals, because keeping animals they way they deserve, and the paying public believes they are kept, impinges on the bottom line. Everyone who has ever hired a petting zoo, or paid to pet the animals, should go to where they are kept and see for themselves the cruelty their money is supporting.

Animal Advocates Society went. Ruth Pare did not trust the SPCA to act on behalf of these animals (she was right in this), and we video-taped what we saw: thin animals standing in mud, and their own manure, creatures in dirty, dark cages and pens, rabbits in a stifling trailer, many rodents in more trailers in dark, dirty cages, and the saddest of all, bins full of little ducklings kept in the dark.

There were no fields at Rutledge's, no place for these trapped creatures to run and play or live in any way a normal, healthy life. Just the misery of dirty, dark cages in between "cute" appearances at her petting zoo gigs in malls and at fairs.

Why is Rutledge still in business? She has been complained about for years to the SPCA. There is a lot of questioning of the SPCA, most recently in Maple Ridge itself. It's this pressure that is the best hope for all suffering animals.

Judy Stone, President, 
Animal Advocates Society of BC

Transcript of Hand-Written Statement by Ruth Pare (posted June 29th on the AAS’s WatchDog)
May 7/01

Statement of Ruth Pare regarding the conditions found at the rental farm of Sylvia Rutledge called Do-Little Farm.

I was asked by Sylvia to look after the animals while she was in Alberta at an auction. The dates I was asked to feed and water the animals was from Friday afternoon, Apr. 13th/01 to Sunday evening or Monday morning as her ex-husband Clark was to stay at the farm Thurs evening and Fri morning and he and their two teenage daughters would tend to the animals those days.

I went to the farm Wed evening Apr.11th at which time Sylvia showed me briefly where the animals were and told me what to feed them. She said to feed morning and evening and don’t worry about cleaning them as they would be fine except for the cow and possibly the two calves. She also said she would leave written instructions on the cages.

I noted at the time the cages and the pens were extremely dirty and the small animals in the house and in the semi-trailer were the worst. The baby ducklings and the chicks were in a cardboard box and in a dog crate in the upstairs bathroom. Sylvia said they had been in the bathtub but she was either going to take them back to the auction or put them outside when she got back.

When I arrived on Friday at 3:00 pm I had my 19 year old daughter with me as she was going to help me feed and water the animals. At that time we found two dead guinea pigs in the pen in the carport. Also there was one dead rabbit in the small utility trailer and two rabbits with green crusty noses and one sick rabbit in a messy box. The ducklings and the chicks were not in the bathroom so I thought Sylvia had taken them to the auction with her. I found them approximately ½ hour later in the semi-trailer in 5 gallon aquariums – 6 to 8 ducks per tank and all of the chicks in one tank. There was one dish in each tank – empty and the bedding was completely soaked. The other small animals in the cages and tanks on the shelves had no water left in any of the water bottles or dishes. Some had no food dishes at all and I assumed the food was just dumped into the bedding material, which was full of food debris and feces and urine. Having bred and kept rodents and birds myself in the past I know how dirty the cages get in one day and this was much more than one days dirt.

The cages and tanks were in exactly the same conditions as when I was there on Wednesday evening. The birds in the cages in the house and the sugar gliders and tortoise housing was littered several inches deep with dried orange peels and rotten and dried fruit debris, and fruit flies. The litter in the cat boxes was caked solid and stuck to the bottom with no clean litter left for the 3 adult cats and 4 kittens. The two tortoises were in a 5 gallon tank with an empty dish, two dried orange peels and a bit of mud. There was a dead guinea pig in a plastic bag by the door inside the kitchen. The four dogs in the sunroom were in dirty conditions but had food and water.

My daughter and I were there until approximately 7:30 pm just feeding and watering. I cleaned some of the cages (the ones inside the house first). Sylvia had said I was welcome to stay there overnight but I found I could not sleep in the house in that condition. I returned at 7:00 Sat morning and found another dead rabbit and another sick one. The 3 dogs in the semi-trailer were let out first, and when I went into the house to let the four dogs out of the sunroom I found one of them in convulsions and the room was covered in feces, vomit water and spilled food. That’s when I called the SPCA, as I had no other contact numbers to call.

There was no cel phone# left for Sylvia, no vet# and no # for Clark Rutledge. I had wrapped the sick dog in a clean blanket and put her in my vehicle but couldn’t stop the seizures and wasn’t sure what was wrong. The officer from the SPCA arrived at approx 10:30 after a second phone call from me at about 8:30am a call from them to me at about 9:15. He checked the animals in the garage, house and semi-trailer and then called the shelter to report and ask for an inspector to come out and he also suggested that the Surrey large animal inspector come out and bring a veterinarian. He said the two calves were emaciated and the one large horse was emaciated. He also said he was taking the dog to the vet as I was unable to.

I then had to leave the property, as I had to look after a friend’s store for the day. I made arrangements for my daughter to go to the farm and wait for the Surrey inspector to arrive, which she did. When the inspector from Surrey arrived, she showed them the conditions of the animals inside and outside including the dead rabbit and the sick rabbit, which they took to the vet. She said they told her she could leave and they would look after things there. They phoned me twice to tell me what was happening and ask questions. The woman SPCA person told me the rabbit died on the way to the vet and that I was to continue with the responsibilities of the care until Sylvia returned at which time they would talk to her. They said they had no authority to remove any dead animals and had decided not to seize the two calves or the one horse at this time.

I returned to the farm Saturday at 5:30 pm and continued to clean cages, and pens and feed and water. At this time there was another dead rabbit and I took a half burned chick carcass from one of the dogs, also a dead guinea pig from another dog. Also found a dead guinea pig in a plastic bag in the kitchen by the door that had been there on Wed evening when Sylvia had me come to the house. At that time and on Fri I thought it was cat food in the bag as it was beside the bag of dog food. I was at the farm until 10:30 pm Sat. I returned on Sunday morning at 7:30 to continue with cleaning, feeding etc.

Sylvia’s ex husband arrived at approx. 10 am to see what was happening as Sylvia had called him from Alberta. I told him what I had found and showed him the filthy pens and the fact there was no proper food for the calves, the pig, or the llamas, or the chicks and ducklings. He said it was nothing to do with him, as he didn’t live there. However before he left he did say he would buy whatever food I said the calves and the pig needed and that he would take over the care on Monday. I said I would make sure everyone had food and water Sunday nite. I left to go get some dinner about 4:00 and when I returned at approx 6 pm there was a new padlock on the gate and I could not get in. I called the SPCA and let them know I had no access and they said don’t worry they would get in if they needed to. Before I left Sunday I dug out the two fire piles in the yard and in the one behind the semi-trailer I found several burned carcasses of guinea pigs and chicks, which I put in a bag on top of a blue barrel by the trailer. The dead guinea pigs and the dead rabbit I put in a plastic bag in an old washing machine tub by the door to the house – in the carport.

Ruth Pare

Some of the photos taken by AAS in April, 2001 at the Do-Little Farm Petting Zoo

Do-little ducks 1.JPG (19572 bytes)     Do-little horse 2.jpg (34411 bytes)

A bin of ducklings with 1/2" of dirty water and no light or air.     Horses live in foot-destroying mud

Do-little llamas.jpg (34617 bytes)   Do-little charred remains.jpg (37987 bytes)

             Llamas                                                 Remains of a burnt animal

 do-little chicks.jpg (27381 bytes)   do-little bunnies.jpg (34605 bytes)

                      Chicks in bins                             Over 50 rabbits kept in a trailer in the sun

April 18, 2001 By Karin Mark, Maple Ridge News

An outspoken Maple Ridge exotic animal breeder is being investigated by the SPCA after allegations that her animals live have been inadequately cared for. Silvia Rutledge, who runs a petting zoo and breeds animals under the name Do-Little Farms, is best known for her vocal opposition to Maple Ridge’s new exotic animal bylaw.

Adopted in February, the bylaw bans events that include wild or exotic animals and reptiles. One of Rutledge’s criticisms was that the bylaw assumed all exotic animal owners neglected their pets’ needs. Now she is being accused of doing just that, after leaving her animals in the care of local veterinary technician Ruth Pare while she was away at an exotic animal auction in Alberta.

Rutledge could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Pare, who has 20 years experience working with exotic and domestic animals of all sizes, told The News Tuesday that many of the dozens of animals of Rutledge’s property were living in deplorable conditions. Pare said she saw ducklings crammed into spaces so small they couldn’t sit down, animals living in cramped, filthy cages and emaciated livestock with no bedding material and, in some cases, without appropriate food. On her first visit Friday evening, Pare said she found a dead rabbit and two dead guinea pig fetuses. When she returned early Saturday morning, she said she found another rabbit dead, another one dying and a dog in convulsions. The sun room where the dog and three others were kept was covered in vomit and feces, she said.

Pare said she called the SPCA because she had no other contact numbers. When a representative arrived at 10 a.m., “he was horrified, to tell the truth.” The SPCA staffer arranged for the dog and dying rabbit to be sent to a veterinarian. A veterinarian visit was also scheduled for that day, said Shawn Eccles, an SPCA manager of operations. Eccles said that while the vet found some of the animals were thin, none were in distress. Legislation that governs the SPCA forbids the seizure of animals unless they are clearly sick, suffering, abused, neglected or deprived of food, water or shelter, he said. However, the vet did make recommendations to improve the conditions, he said. Pare said she spent several hours at the house Saturday and Sunday cleaning up, making the animals more comfortable and ensuring they had water and adequate food.

After finding a dead guinea pig and chick body in two of the dogs’ mouths, she said she covered up two fire pits in which she saw fur, feathers and animal bodies. Rutledge keeps llamas, horses, cattle, a donkey, pot-bellied pig, goats, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats and all manner of small rodents and exotics, including parrots and sugar gliders (a type of marsupial). Pare said many of the small caged animals were stacked floor to ceiling at the back of a semi-trailer that was two-thirds full of dirty cages. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re extremely inappropriately caged,” Pare said. “The animals in the house are probably the best cared for but they’re still filthy, the cages haven’t been cleaned in weeks and the litter boxes.” Pare said she has been on good terms with Rutledge, but has always had concerns about how she cared for her animals. But she was unprepared for what she saw on the weekend. “It was disgusting but it’s not necessary, because there are better facilities that could be used, but it just takes time,” Pare said. “I’m sure it’s just a matter of she doesn’t have time, but my thought is you shouldn’t have them if you don’t have the time. If you have them, you make time.”

Eccles said SPCA representatives were prevented from entering the property on Tuesday by a locked gate, but were attempting to interview Pare and Rutledge. Eccles said the results of those interviews — and the post-mortem on the rabbit that later died — will help the SPCA decide if a search warrant should be obtained, if charges of animal cruelty should be laid, or if any other action should be taken.

June 26/03 News Item: SPCA seized 130 animals from a hobby farm in Maple Ridge. A reindeer, a pot bellied pig, a chinchilla, ducks, rabbits etc were removed from Do-Little Petting Zoo farm.

July 12, 2003 By Michael Hall, Maple Ridge News

Silvia Rutledge got all but one of her animals back. However, the SPCA will proceed with animal cruelty charges against her. She could face a maximum penalty of up to six months imprisonment, a $2,000 fine and be prohibited from owning animals. Eileen Drever, a senior animal protection officer for the SPCA, expects charges to be presented to Crown Counsel in the next few weeks.

SPCA officials inspected Do-Little Farms, a hobby farm and petting zoo, on 248 Street on Thursday. SPCA constables seized 130 animals from the farm on July 26, including many ducks and rabbits, three lemurs, a reindeer and a pot-bellied pig.

According to SPCA, the 17-year-old pot-bellied pig, Mooch (Vietnamese for Number 1), was underweight. So was a pregnant adult rabbit, which gave birth to five bunnies the day she was seized. All of them died.

Following a complaint, the SPCA removed the animals because of poor husbandry and lack of adequate shelter. Most did not have shelter. Some were kept in crowded pens. Some were living in feces. Many did not have access to fresh water. The reindeer had to have three and a half inches cut from its overgrown hooves.

All of the animals — including goats, dogs, ponies, donkeys, chinchillas, guinea pigs and a parakeet — will be returned to Rutledge but the reindeer. “The reindeer won’t be released at this point,” Drever said. “It’s still being monitored.” It’s putting weight on slowly, she added, and being monitored by a veterinarian.

Rutledge, a Maple Ridge municipal employee, agreed to pay close to $5,000 in boarding costs and veterinarian and transit fees to get her animals back. She was to collect them yesterday (Friday). As part of the conditions to have them returned, Rutledge had to improve her farm to meet SPCA standards. Rutledge, her daughters and friends spent the past two weeks cleaning up the farm, building and erecting shelters, pens and fencing for the animals.

Most of the materials were donated, while volunteers helped do the work. “I’ve had some awesome support from the community,” Rutledge said. “I think people realize I love these animals.” She had a “meltdown” when they were taken away. “I’m still in a bit of shock.”

Rutledge was given the chance to pick up the animals herself to save money. She was to pay $2,500 of the fees for her animals on Friday. Deductions will be made from her paycheques in subsequent weeks to pay off the remainder.

“I can’t wait to see my kids,” Rutledge said of her animals. Especially Mooch. “They [SPCA officers] decided he’s very lonely and needed to be back with his companions,” said Rutledge, who owns another pot-bellied pig. Most of the animals are pets. Some travel with the petting zoo. Rutledge planned to have a party Friday for the friends and family who helped her. “It’s going to be an awesome day,” she said.

Drever said Rutledge has improved her farm a great deal. Still, “We are going to closely monitor her animal husbandry practices.”

Comment:  Before moving to Maple Ridge, about five years ago, Ms Rutledge lived in Whonnock.  The exact dates are unknown but a neighbour in Whonnock reported her to the SPCA many times over a six to seven year period and said that other area residents also did during that time.  Nothing was done to stop her.

Numerous letters expressing outrage that Silvia Rutledge got her animals back were sent to the BC SPCA.  Craig Daniell, Acting Chief Executive Officer had this to say:

Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the legislation we use to seize animals in the first place, owners of seized animals are permitted to claim return of the said animals. What is required of the owners is to pay any costs of the seizure and be able to show that they have made attempts to improve the conditions that the animals were living under.

A legal opinion from a BC law firm read in part that there is “no express provision in the Act which specifically states” the above.  It went on to say that “in order for the SPCA to keep an animal in its custody permanently it should apply to the Supreme Court.”  It appears that this legislation is open to interpretation and needs amending.  

March 17, 2011 Silvia Rutledge responded to a Craigslist posting advertising some rescued Flemish Giants needing homes. Ms. Rutledge said she can take up to ten rabbits and is in the process of moving to Mission. Everybody has to be extremely careful when rehoming animals. Many times those who neglect or abuse animals reply to postings, whether online, in newspapers, or elsewhere. Needless to say, these rabbits will not be going to Ms. Rutledge.

Rescuing Flopsy 

In October of 1994 we were invited to a customer appreciation day picnic that was being held in the Fraser Valley.  Among the "entertainment" was a petting zoo, with the usual assortment of goats, ducks, and rabbits.   Kids were invited into the pen to play with the animals, but this was no fun for the frightened little rabbits.  They kept running off and trying to hide, except for one that didn’t seem quite right.  I asked the woman, whom it turns out was Silvia Rutledge, if something was wrong, and she said she didn’t think so.  She said if I was interested in buying her I could have her for $10.00.  We couldn’t bear to leave this little lop-eared bunny behind, so that’s how we ended up with our Flopsy.

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