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Online breeders could be behind increase in abandoned rabbits, said Richmond-based rescue

‘Oops litters’ are a major source of online bunnies.

B.C.’s Invasive Species Action Month may be drawing to a close, but there appears no end in sight to our most adorable dilemma – the Richmond rabbits.

The bun-invasion is a long-standing problem, and a deeper dive into the rabbit hole has revealed that online sellers on sites such as Kijiji and Craigslist might be part of the problem.

Rabbitats picked up Coburn, a brown lop-eared rabbit, on a rainy day in March. An online post indicated that another Coburn-lookalike was picked up the day before. Over the next two days, four others with a striking resemblance were found in the same area in Minoru Park.

“There have been a lot of 'breed' bunnies (like lops and lionheads) being abandoned recently and they're probably either accidental litters or intentional from backyard breeders,” said Sorelle Saidman, founder of Rabbitats.

‘Oops litters’, as Saidman calls them, are very common. Rabbits are often mis-sexed, and when they are raised together, ‘oops litters’ happen.

“Rabbits, they have a way of getting together,” she said.

The city imposed a ban on pet shop sales of rabbits in 2010, but there is nothing stopping people from selling them online.

These online sites allow some people to find new homes for ‘oops litters’ and other rabbits for a small adoption fee, but others have more sinister motivations.

“I think during COVID as well, they realized that they could have an ‘oops litter’ and sell them for 20 bucks, 40 bucks,” said Saidman. The rise in demand for pets during the pandemic could have contributed to increase in 'oops litters'.

Meanwhile, there are breeders who breed and sell unspayed/ unneutered babies regularly on Kijiji and Craigslist to make a quick buck. Unsold babies that grow up and become harder to sell are dumped in the wild, Saidman said.

Reconsidering the law

The online seller boom happened when the pet store ban came into place, and it soon became the main source of pet rabbits in Richmond, Saidman told a parks, recreation and cultural services committee meeting earlier this year.

Further restrictions to sellers and breeders are necessary, said Saidman, but there is also provincial hurdle to the bunny business.

Under the Wildlife Act, all rabbits are considered wildlife. This means they cannot be picked up and rehomed without a permit.

“We started doing this at UVic in 2010, and it was just ridiculous the paperwork we had to go through to get the permit,” Saidman said.

Although the law has since changed to remove the requirement for sanctuaries, a permit is still needed to put rabbits up for adoption.

Overwhelmed rescues

Coburn’s situation is not unique. In fact, Rabbitats is seeing a drastic increase in abandoned pet rabbits over the last few months.

According to a survey they conducted, the main reasons people surrender their rabbits include: ‘oops litters’, allergies, the lack of time and resources to take care of them, and people being unable to find places to live that allow pets.

“The SPCA runs shelters, and they’re not, as a rule, taking rabbits. And when they are, they have a big waiting list. So, a lot of the city shelters won’t take rabbits. And then, the rescues are completely full… and their capacities aren’t very high. That’s another issue,” Saidman explained.

The long wait times and inability to find new homes for rabbits could be why people chose to abandon them, but the rescue organizations have their hands tied.

Compounded with the rising number of abandoned pets is the spring baby boom. Although Richmond rabbits have litters year-round, the current weather provide better conditions for baby bunnies to thrive.

Rabbitats has had to take in several litters of baby rabbits, which puts extra pressure on the rescue.

“We have to pay for the spays and neuters, and we have to find space for them. And that’s a huge influx, all at once,” said Saidman.

As the local rabbit saga continues, the Richmond-based rescue is desperately in need of an extra pair of hands.

“We’re at our limit now… We need coordinators, we need staff… And of course donation. But the labour shortage is really the issue,” said Saidman.

But until the city looks further into the issue, it will remain legal to buy and sell rabbits online.

“While legal to sell pet rabbits and many other animals online, we encourage people to consider adopting and rehoming from the BCSPCA rather than purchase from web-based market sites where seller practices can be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the animals,” said City spokesperson, Clay Adams.