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Rescued rabbits will rock on after a rough start in life

New Westminster Animal Shelter caring for large number of rabbits

Axl Rose, Stevie Nicks and Joan Jett are on the road to recovery – but some of their friends didn’t fare as well.

The trio are among nine rabbits who currently call the New Westminster Animal Shelter home. The surge in rabbits at the shelter comes after seven babies and adults were recently rescued in Queensborough.

“It all started off with a person finding a little baby rabbit in Queensborough, very early in January. The baby was being chased by a cat. This Good Samaritan scooped up the rabbit, brought her home under her jacket, kept her for a night, and then we got her at the shelter,” said Margie Fox, an animal services officer. “She said, ‘I’m pretty sure I saw another rabbit or two.’”

Sure enough, when Fox visited the area where the rabbit was found, she spotted three or four more rabbits. She recruited some assistance from volunteers from rabbit rescues.

“As you can imagine, it can be difficult to catch rabbits,” she said. “Luckily, some very kind-hearted people gave up a few hours and came with me to round up – I think we rescued another six that day.”

Sadly, one of the rabbits was in critical condition and had to be euthanized by a veterinarian, and another was found dead in a field. The others were taken to the shelter in Queensborough.

“We lost one of the babies overnight,” Fox said. “They were all very thin and malnourished.”

In the subsequent days, the shelter received reports of more rabbit sightings, and ended up scooping up two more babies.

“We have a total of seven rabbits from that group that survived,” Fox said. “They are doing well, and they are all listed for adoption on our PetFinder website.”

Investigation underway

Given the circumstances under which they were found, staff considered what to name the rabbits that would be up for adoption – ultimately setting on “girl-power” names of women in rock (a.k.a. Stevie Nicks, Sass Jordan, Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, Siouxsie Sioux), and Axl Rose for the lone male, who was the last baby to be caught.

“They have all been to the vet to be examined, to receive their vaccines because there is a fatal rabbit disease that’s been in the area for the last few years. They are all gaining weight very well,” Fox said. “It definitely looked like they were not well cared for. I can’t go into too much detail because we do have an open investigation. They weren’t dumped. They were from close by. We are just investigating to the lack of care.”

While it’s not unusual to see rabbits in some neighbourhoods in the Lower Mainland, Fox said New West is fortunate in that it doesn’t have the rabbit overpopulation issues that exist in some communities, such as Richmond.

“Those are all domestic rabbits in Richmond,” she explained. “If we hadn’t rescued these guys – that is basically how these problems start. They are basically left to be out loose and they are procreating, as we all know rabbits can do prolifically, and they just keep procreating and procreating and procreating.”

New Westminster Animal Control wants residents to contact the shelter if they see rabbits in the wild.

“Different cities do have different protocols when it comes to stray rabbits,” Fox said. “In New Westminster, because we know we don’t have that same issue, we don’t want it to become that issue.”

Last week, the City of New Westminster put out a call on social media for alfalfa hay to feed the rabbits and some toilet paper rolls in which the hay could be stuffed for fun eating. While those needs have been filled by kindhearted community members, donations are always welcome.

“We actually are really good for hay and toilet paper rolls now, but of course they will continue to go through them. We had a good amount of food donated,” Fox said. “Honestly, veterinary care is expensive. One of the rabbits had an infected and broken toenail that had to be removed. The vet bills definitely add up. Everybody will be spayed and Axl will be neutered, and they will get their microchips as well.”

Good homes needed

Adoptions are pending for two of the babies, and shelter staff hope the adoptions go through, as adult rabbits typically stay at the shelter for a long time because of a lack of interest.

“We have a resident pair that were here before these guys. They came in babies but have stayed here because the interest is so low. That is Cedric and Cecilia,” Fox said. “They are a pair that has been here for a long time.”

Fox said rabbits are domesticated animals that deserve to live in homes where they’re loved and safe.

“Rabbits deserve to be pets just like cats and dogs, included in the family, kept inside, safe from predators, safe from disease. Not freezing cold. Not filthy,” Fox said. “Rabbits like to live inside and like to be with people and family. They shouldn’t be left outside to fend for themselves because they can’t – they’re prey. They are domestic animals, and they rely on us humans. We are the ones who brought them into our lives, bred them, bought them, whatever, and we should honour our commitment to them.”

Fox said rabbits typically live in big groups, and the shelter tries to adopt them in pairs if possible.

“They are very social,” she said. “It can be very hard to introduce them later in life to a new bunny. They can be very territorial, but if they have been raised together, like Cedric and Cecilia – they are a brother and sister pair, you see them cuddling, you see them grooming each other, you see them chasing each other around playing. They are very similar to cats.”

Aside from the large group of rabbits, two cats at the shelter aren’t quite ready for adoption and a dog, Benji, who has been at the shelter for more than a year has “higher needs” and is looking for the right home. It’s also caring for a pregnant rat and another rat that recently gave birth, so those animals will soon be up for adoption.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus