Fate of hundreds of rabbits polarizes college community
The rescue of hundreds of rabbits from the grounds of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, has all the makings of a high drama approaching its climax.
The story began 20 years ago, when a few people with pet rabbits they no longer wanted to keep began dropping them off at night in the grassy areas of the college campus. For a few years, the bunnies were looked on benevolently by university officials. But the fact that they were a popular attraction encouraged other people to dump their unwanted rabbits, too.
In 2006, when plans were being laid to develop one of the grassy areas of the campus that the rabbits called home, benevolence turned to intolerance.
“We tried educating the public about not abandoning rabbits,” said Patty Pitts, the university’s Media Relations Manager. “We’re still trying.” Pitts explained that the rabbits had begun migrating onto the playing fields. “One person stepped in a burrow and twisted an ankle,” she said. Another tripped over a rabbit and broke a hip.
The university decided that the bunnies would have to go. They put out a request for proposals, and rescue groups submitted a plan to trap, neuter and relocate the rabbits, but even as it was under review, more than 100 rabbits were caught and taken away to be killed.
One of the rescuers, Susan Vickery of the Earthanimal Humane Education and Rescue Society (EARS), won a moratorium on the killing by pledging to raise $80,000 for the rescue and continuing care of 800 rabbits. No one really believed she could do it, and the bunnies seemed to be doomed.
Three weeks later, however, Vickery had secured the funds, including a $50,000 pledge from the Fur-Bearer Defenders. The rescue could begin.
Since then Vickery has become one of the heroines of a drama that’s being reported, almost on a daily basis, in the local and national press and on blogs at home and abroad, as she commutes back and forth from the campus to her home on Saltspring Island and to the World Parrot Refuge in nearby Coombs. The refuge’s owner, Wendy Huntbatch, has made a section of the grounds available to the rabbits.
“We took 270 of them to Coombs,” said Vickery. “We particularly wanted to save the nursing mothers first.”
Then tragedy struck.