Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


UVic seeks help to rescue rabbits 

Letter 'feels like blackmail,' says foe of cull 

By Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist June 17, 2010 

The University of Victoria is looking for help from rabbit-rescue groups to reduce the number of animals killed to create rabbit-free zones. The university's rabbit management plan will not be released until the end of the month, but a letter sent to about four organizations describes plans for a rabbit-free zone outside the Ring Road and rabbit-control areas inside the Ring Road.

"The management plan will call for a significant reduction in the number of rabbits on campus in the near future," says the letter, which asks organizations if they can take rabbits to Ministry of Environment inspected and approved sanctuaries.

Humane capture and euthanization will be necessary in areas such as sports fields, where there has already been a minor cull, the letter says, but "our preference is still to integrate non-lethal methods into the mix as well, in order to achieve the overall reduction."

A previous pilot program foundered because rescue organizations were not willing to go through the process of having properties inspected and ensuring cages were built to ministry specifications.

For Susan Vickery of Common Ground, a Gulf Islands-based wildlife assistance organization, the letter puts rabbit rescue groups between a rock and a hard place. No one wants to see more than 1,200 feral rabbits killed but most rabbit rescue organizations do not have the money to care for so many animals or space to keep them, she said.

"This feels almost like blackmail," said Vickery, who suspects the cull will take place this summer. "We are not rolling in money. We are very tight with our resources, but they're putting the whole thing on us and giving us no time to do it."

One possibility is asking the university to help fund rabbit care -- possibly through public fundraising -- and to provide space for a sanctuary, she said. Janice Johnson, manager in the office of the university's vice-president of finance and operations, said the university has yet to receive a response to its letters, sent out this week. "We are hoping they will come to us with their solutions," she said.

An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 rabbits live on campus. All are released pets or their descendants, but the province classifies feral rabbits as wildlife. The rabbits have eaten trees and landscaping plants and the burrows are a hazard, especially in areas such as athletics fields. The rabbit control zone can probably support 200 to 300 rabbits and volunteers will be asked to help care for them, Johnson said.

Feeding stations will be set up and the university is hoping veterinarians will provide medical help and possibly run a trap, sterilize and release program. "One of the concepts we learned from other organizations is, if we create feeding stations, it will draw them away from some of the plants and the destruction we have been experiencing," Johnson said.

Planning for the rabbit control zone will start this fall, with the project getting underway early next year. Environment Ministry rules say the rabbits cannot be adopted out to private homes and sanctuaries have to keep them for their entire lives.

However, well-meaning people are scooping the UVic bunnies and releasing them in other green spaces in Victoria, Vickery said.

That's spreading the problem, since the rabbits have not been spayed or neutered and the former pets are being dumped in areas where they will either be eaten by other animals or are unable to find suitable food, she said. "They are domestic animals and not very well-equipped for a wild environment. I am hearing some horrible stories."

Comment: Rabbit Advocacy was one f the groups that received the letter. The University has been advised that we are working together on a formal response. They can expect to receive it on Monday, June 21st. The BC SPCA will also be meeting with the University to present its recommendations.

June 25, 2010

A source has told us that the University plans to release their report on Monday, June 28th. However, the groups that replied to UVic officials regarding the Campus Feral Rabbit Population have not received a courtesy response acknowledging receipt of correspondence. The University’s management plan calls for a significant reduction in the number of rabbits in the near future and the creation of “Rabbit-Free Zones” outside of Ring Road. Officials were interested in hearing whether we would provide MoE approved sanctuaries or if we were interested in participating in, or providing financial support to either the creation of the rabbit-free zones or the management of the rabbit control area.  A “Rabbit Control Area” phase of the project inside Ring Road is planned for early 2011. 

The Rabbit Advocacy Group responded in part:  While we believe that the University of Victoria has been remiss in dealing with its obligations in the feral/domestic rabbit abandonment in a proactive and non-lethal manner over the years, there are a number of strategies that can be incorporated in the immediate months and in a long-term management plan that would minimize the loss or life and not sacrifice the university’s reputation. To proceed now with such an unpopular kill will surely guarantee the indirect costs to far exceed the actual financial expenses.  

Additionally, ‘culling’ has never proven to be successful in the long term. It will be ongoing, and will become increasingly contentious as the animal welfare and animal rights’ movements become more widespread.  

Therefore we kindly request the decision-makers demonstrate a commitment and flexibility with regard to its plans in reducing the rabbit population. 

This is a major undertaking and will require a considerable amount of work and community support. Acquiring land for placement of the rabbits in sanctuary is currently being pursued. The required permitting process from the Ministry of Environment is already in place, with the Earth Animal Humane Education and Rescue Society (EARS) holding a 5-year permit.  

Rabbit Advocacy advised that we are willing to act in a supportive and advisory role in a number of ways, such as assessing the rabbits for placement in appropriate environments, assisting in fundraising events, providing financial support for medical needs, expanding our educational programs, and continuing with our PSAs on advocacy and animal welfare issues, such as encouraging municipalities to enact legislation banning sales of unsterilized rabbits in pet stores and other public venues.  We further added that:

Veterinarians have offered their services to provide spay and neuter at no cost to the university. It is our understanding that the veterinarian who performed the surgeries on the Long Beach City College rabbits has even contacted the university, and that Dr. Shaw is still willing to provide vasectomies for the male rabbits. We would like to see the university avail themselves of such opportunities. 

We look forward to involving ourselves in a collaborative manner with the University of Victoria and with all those working toward the common goal of achieving positive, lasting, and humane solutions for the UVic rabbits. 

Excerpts from our collective response:  (written by Susan Vickery, EARS)

Our basic supports need to be in place and up-and-running prior to the removal of any rabbits from campus.  This is not only in the necessary and best interests of the rabbits; it also protects our time, money, and emotional investment.  We appreciate the time sensitivity here.  

Generating Support: 

In this area we need the direct support of the University. Our success in bringing members of the community on-board will be greatly influenced by the media perception of our respective interests. 

In this instance, our interests must be perceived as mutual and non-polarized.  Our target audience is the middle part of the spectrum - yet undecided whether they want to participate, or not. 

If the University is not prepared to give our efforts a public nod of approval, we have little chance of moving our largest potential audience. 

Diffusion and Redirection: 

It has come to our attention, and more recently our involvement, that a number of well-meaning, but dreadfully misinformed persons have been removing numbers of rabbits off campus and releasing them in green areas around Greater Victoria, and as far away as Vancouver.  UVic rabbits are appearing in homes in Victoria, Salt Spring, Vancouver and Vernon.  Many of these “rescues” are ending up in tiny compartments with inadequate care or food.  Some are sick; some are injured; many are breeding. 

These situations concern all of us.  They are direct fallout from the killing of campus rabbits.  Some concerned and caring people are reacting with panic and rage and poor judgment. 

We need to change that.  We believe the sanctuary option will provide those members of the public with some relief and we can redirect their fears and impulses toward a positive, constructive, and humane endeavor.

Other parties have presented the Board of Governors with considerable material on the situation such as petitions and letters opposing the proposed kill. A coalition of concerned citizens routinely engage passersby in downtown Victoria in discussion about the rabbits’ plight.  Other animal advocacy groups are spreading the word in their communities.  The message: Take Action – Help Save the UVic Rabbits. 

We know that several veterinarians at the University of Victoria have refused to put down the rabbits that were recently captured. Despite Tom Smith’s claims that a local veterinarian “injected a lethal chemical into a vein in their ears” we believe this to be a complete fabrication. Those experienced with rabbits and other professionals know the difficulty in finding a ‘good’ vein, making it highly unlikely that this would be attempted.

People do care about the rabbits, although the Times Colonist has been persistent in presenting support for a ‘cull.’  An article: Ollie the Pug: UVic dog walk inspires hare-brained idea by Adrian Chamberlain, Times Colonist June 24, 2010 drew a heated response. It was supposed to be humourous but backfired. Excerpt: 

Every time Ollie nipped into the shrubbery, half a dozen frightened bunnies nipped out. I've never seen so many in my life. Ollie was like the Pied Piper in reverse, only with rabbits instead of rats.

Watching Teddy zooming along like a stealth missile gave me an idea. To solve its dire rabbit problem, UVic ought to invite all Jack Russell owners living in the Pacific Northwest to engage in a giant purge. Hundreds of these speedy terriers, bred for fox hunting, would no doubt round up these long-eared rodents in a jiffy. It would be terrific exercise for the hounds, not to mention being highly entertaining for owners and gathered spectators. It could even be a weekly event. UVic could sell beer and hot dogs to the crowd, thus raising thousands of dollars for Jack Russell Rabbit Purge Student Scholarships.

Carmina Gooch’s letter to the newspaper and Mr. Chamberlain

Re: Ollie the Pug: UVic dog walk inspires hare-brained idea 

As I read this article written under the guise of humour I thought here goes the Times Colonist once again being a mouthpiece endorsing UVic's plans to seriously reduce its rabbit population through lethal means. I don't think the editors would be so quick to publish a piece appearing to support the bullying and violence toward human beings or other vulnerable species.  

I wonder how Mr. Chamberlain would feel if it were he or his dog being attacked and everyone stood around regarding the incident as mere sport or entertainment. (end)

Coincidentally, it was reported in a June 26 article in the Statesman Journal that a Salem ‘man’ appeared in court to respond to  two charges of animal abuse and a single charge of having a dangerous dog after commanding his dog to kill a rabbit in front of four children in Woodmansee Park last month.

Furthermore, dogs are supposed to be leashed while on UVic campus.  Allowing dogs to chase rabbits is dangerous and can lead to injuries and inhumane suffering. This sort of harassment is cruel and illegal.  B.C.’s Wildlife Act stipulates under Section 78: A person commits an offence if the person causes or allows a dog to hunt or pursue (a) wildlife or an endangered species or threatened species 

UVic’s singular focus since the onset has been to conduct a mass slaughter of the rabbits. Over the years the University was presented with suggestions and offers to help. The North Henderson Residents Association, for example, suggested UVIC science or medical students design a birth control substance that could be put into the food of managed feeding stations on campus. Scientists have been developing fertility control options for wildlife for decades. The Rabbit Advocacy Group was told by the University that such a program would be too costly. Meanwhile, the rabbit population was expanding and nearby residents were becoming angry and threatening legal action. To think that the decision-makers would willingly deviate from their preferred action plan would be too optimistic. To what degree those groups and individuals are able to garner community support to achieve non-lethal and humane alternatives for the rabbits remains to be seen.  

Man’s dominion and stewardship over the animals and our planet has been that of tyrannical oppressor and destroyer. While individuals may evolve, collectively it’s a different story in moving society forward.  

Animal rights law keeps growing as more cases enter the court system. The relationship between humans and nonhuman animals is totally being rethought. Long-standing organizations like the SPCA are being challenged over animal welfare issues and their lack of progressive reforms. The status quo is unacceptable and undergoing fundamental change. If institutions and big business, for example, are perceived as being unfair or unresponsive to public concerns, it’s not uncommon for the Courts to act as agents for social reform. Lawsuits, civil disobedience, direct action – all are part of the democratic process – whether they are considered effective or not.

Temporary injunction granted to stop UVic rabbit kill

Read more on the UVic rabbits on our Pet Shops/Rabbits/Legislation page