This is a community dedicated to the rescue of over 1,000 rabbits that one woman was trying to take care of. See the article below for a full explination.
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Rabbits. White ones. Brown ones. Black ones. Cute ones. Cuddly ones. By the dozens, the hundreds. At least 1,000, maybe more.
Listening to the biological arithmetic scares Rebecca Preston, so she covers her ears when someone estimates the enormous number of rabbits being removed from the large back yard of a home in southeast Reno.
It might be approaching 2,000. But that's just a guess. The population is growing quickly. It will continue until Preston and her seven-person crew can get things under control, hopefully sometime this weekend.
Rabbits are rabbits, and they're doing what rabbits do. Reproducing, rapidly. The problem is, as fast as old rabbits are rescued, or maybe even faster, new ones are born.
"Somebody should do the math," said Preston, a leader of the Utah-based animal rescue group that's working frantically to save the expanding hoard of bunnies. "I get panic attacks when I think about how many new ones there are being born."
From 25 to 50 a day. But that's also just a guess.
"If we don't stop this, we're going to have 4,000 bunnies," said David Phelps, a manager in the Kanab, Utah, headquarters of Best Friends Animal Society. "We can't tell them to stop."
They've tried. But the rabbits aren't listening. They're too busy coupling.
"Every time the girls see them doing their thing, they say 'Stop bunnies! Stop!'" said Preston, smiling as she describes how Best Friends workers urge the rabbits to restrain themselves. "But they don't stop."
So the rescuers go about rescuing the ever increasing number of bunnies. It's the second largest operation in the 14-year history of the society, which has about 300,000 members worldwide. The group's largest rescue was of approximately 7,000 animals along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
Cost estimates of the bunny rescue range from $500,000 to $1 million.
"Even though bunnies are pretty small, 1,000 is pretty big," Michael Mountain, co-founder and president of the society, said of the rabbit transfer.
Males. Females. Adults. Babies. Newborns that are less than 2 inches long. Truckloads of rabbits are being transported from the one-acre property on Rewana Way owned by Jackie Decker, where bunnies have been living, eating, multiplying and dying for 28 years, to a Lemmon Valley ranch leased by the society as a sort of bunny sanctuary.
On the ride from Rewana to the ranch, more rabbits appear.
"We loaded 178," Mountain said of one shipment. "Three hours later, there were 187 when we unloaded the truck."
But the 65 acre ranch, if the society's plan works, is where all the reproducing will cease.
Rabbits started arriving Tuesday at the ranch, owned by an Air Force pilot serving in Iraq. Once there, the bunnies are separated, boys in one group and girls in another, then placed in a series of 80 cages, each 10 feet by 10 feet, 10 rabbits to a cage.
Most importantly, the bunnies are being spayed and neutered as quickly as possible in part of the unoccupied ranch house that's been turned into a rabbit hospital with operating tables and a recovery room.
"It's pretty amazing," said Karl Hill, a veterinarian from Santa Barbara, Calif., who is assisting the society. "They don't say 'breeding like rabbits' for nothing. There is a reason we have that saying."
Hill needs help.
"Can you put that in big bold letters?" asked Nina Nash, a veterinary technician with the society. "We need more vets!"
But that's not all.
The society is seeking people willing to adopt bunnies, most of which, according to Preston, have spent their lives outside.
"They aren't pet bunnies," Preston said. "They are domestic bunnies. They are outdoor domestic bunnies."
Finding a home
Although the society operates a 30,000-acre animal sanctuary in Utah, where everything from horses to pigs to peacocks live, Preston doesn't want to take the rabbits back to Kanab.
"We want to find homes for them," she said.
They've outgrown their old one on Decker's land.
"I wouldn't be letting them go if I wasn't in bad health," Decker said. "For 28 years, I rescued rabbits. I've been opening my gate, trying to save their lives."
In 2002, Washoe County animal control officers removed more than 500 rabbits from Decker's property, then killed most of the bunnies.
"We were stuck with a bunch of rabbits that were not healthy," said Cindy Sabatoni, animal control director. "The majority had to be (destroyed)."
Later, animal control sought to return to the property, but couldn't after losing a court case to Decker, Sabatoni said.
But animal control did frequent the neighborhood.
"On and off, yes," Sabatoni said. "Mostly picking up dead rabbits in the street."
County animal control laws regulate the numbers of dogs and cats people are allowed to keep, Sabatoni said, but there are no rules about rabbits. Keeping too many can lead to trouble.
"There are more of these cases that crop up all over the country," Mountain said. "Many of them turn out to be real horror stories. You can find hundreds of cats in somebody's basement."
Decker contacted Best Friends Animal Society about a year ago when the her bunny population reached 800.
There was a communication problem.
"She said she was ill and needed help with her rabbits," said Debby Widolf, the society's bunny manager. "At the time, I misunderstood and thought she said 80 rabbits."
Widolf gave Decker some numbers to call and organizations to contact. Two months ago, Decker telephoned Widolf again.
"She called and said, 'We talked before and I have 800 to 1,000 rabbits,'" Widolf said. "She said she was ill and was desperate for help."
The society came to the rescue. Rabbits were everywhere. They'd dug scores of burrows in the dirt behind Decker's house. They were living under trailers and other structures on the property.
"I was speechless," Widolf said. "My jaw dropped. I could hardly talk. We considered it a desperate situation."
The society's attorney, Russ Mead, the ranch in Lemmon Valley and reached an agreement with Decker for transfer of the rabbits.
"It seems to be going pretty good," Decker said. "Their plan is to let them live. They are very special animals." http://news.rgj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060325/NEWS/603250323/1002
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