Sequim sanctuary plans for 75 Victoria rabbit additions
by MATTHEW NASH
A colony of 75 rabbits could hop the international border into Sequim this month.
Ralph and Caryl Turner, co-founders of Precious Life Animal Sanctuary, are working with animal rights advocates in Victoria, British Columbia, to bring rescued rabbits from the University of Victoria, nicknamed “Bunny U.”
The rabbit population boomed after pet owners released the animals, which destroyed athletic fields, vegetation and property. Ralph Turner said administrators decided in the spring that they were going to cull the rabbits. Activists protested, leading administrators to change their decision if sanctuaries could be found.
Campus officials have designated rabbit-free zones around the school, with feral rabbits removed through humane trapping, spaying or neutering and relocating. More than 750 rabbits have been trapped and cared for away from campus.
Last summer the rabbit population was estimated at 1,400-1,600. About 200 rabbits remain on campus and officials plan to relocate those rabbits by January.
Turner said the Victoria situation is similar to Seattle rabbits overpopulating parks. The couple took on more than 100 Seattle rabbits and built a sanctuary in January 2008.
The 0.5-acre shelter is predator-proof, with a netted ceiling, 6 feet of cyclone fencing and 2 feet of concrete underground.
The Turners think the Victoria rabbits have lost all instinctual defense mechanisms and can’t survive in the wild.
“If they got loose here, and they wouldn’t, they’d get eaten by all the birds of prey out here,” Ralph said.
“People are clueless sometimes and think animals are animals and can survive on their own,” Caryl said.
Need a vehicle
The Turners were approached in October about taking some of the Victoria rabbits.
“Right from beginning we had to level with them,” said Ralph, who is 71.
“We can take it, but our expenses almost double.”
An increased workload is another concern, as the rabbit shelter is the least accessible location on their property. Ralph said their tractor is too big and can’t maneuver well enough to bring water jugs and feed to the rabbits easily. He brings them water every other day in the summer and less in the winter when the weather makes it more prohibitive.
Donors in Victoria are working with the Turners to raise enough money to buy an ATV that can carry water and feed to the shelter. So far, they’ve raised about $2,000.
If money is not available for the vehicle, the rabbits could go to another sanctuary.
Advocates have led fundraisers and recruited Victoria businesses to donate profits for the ATV. Donations are being accepted online at www.uvicrabbitrescue.com.
Safer than sorrier
The rabbits are in a temporary shelter at the Pacific National Exhibition Fairgrounds livestock barns in Victoria, where each rabbit will be spayed or neutered and inspected for disease.
The Turners are concerned about the spread of disease in their shelter, so the new rabbits will be placed in isolation inside the shelter and will be checked again for worms or nutritional deficiencies.
“We are just making sure the basic precautions are made,” Ralph said.
“We don’t want all the hard work and money from Seattle to be wasted.”
Ralph said even if one rabbit fell ill, that could pose a big problem for the other rabbits in the facility.
Permits have been acquired from the Canadian Ministry of the Environment to transport the rabbits to Sequim. Other rabbits have been shipped to sanctuaries in Texas and Canada.
The Turners are happy that the U.S. and Canada can come together over bunnies.
“When you look at our politics today, people are so divided, but to come together over bunnies …,” Ralph said with a pause.
“There’s still a lot of conflict but last analysis is that people in Victoria came together about this.”
The couple feel the rabbits being dropped off on the campus is a sad reflection of society and the “throw away” mentality that exists today.
“One would hope the example shown by the University of Victoria as an institution of higher learning has made a positive impact on its student base that lives of any animals are worth saving when there is a means to do it,” Ralph said.
“After all, this institution is in the business of developing character in its students while teaching the principles of compassion, justice and humanity toward all life.”
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