This was originally printed in a newsletter for a regional rabbit club. The author decided they would prefer not to have their name posted publicly on the blog. (Note: Due to technical difficulties, this was originally posted with a chunk of the article missing . . . it has been corrected now to include the full text.)
Behind the coops...
OL Director and ARBA Judge
I just got home from an animal “abuse” case. This is the second trial I have sat in on just this year. I am sharing this information not only to try to help breeders from falling into the traps certain activists have laid, but also to help you to see how animal extremists’ minds work. I am a Veterinary Technician and have been a tech at a shelter for 5 years.
I will say that most animal control and rescues have the best of intentions. Often they have no farm experience and little or no training in livestock or rabbits. They rely on the expertise that Hollywood has given them and the pristine conditions in Disneyland movies.
The first case involved a small farm outside of Seattle. A farmer/rabbit breeder was accused of neglect. The whole farm had animals seized (I think the number was 132 animals; most of which were rabbits and poultry, with a handful of large animals). The most concerning part was that it was all done with a complete lack of due process.
The charges were dropped, but the damage had already been done. Most of the animals had been adopted out soon after they were seized. A few of the animals were eventually offered back to the owners for the adoption fee. However, even valuable rare livestock had all been sterilized shortly after seizure.
The Animal Control (AC) Officer didn’t like the fact the rabbits were in stacked cages (with trays) and stated that they were overcrowded, although a witness who checked out the situation reported that the cage sizes appeared to exceed Animal Welfare Act requirements for the size and number of rabbits, and the feed and water amounts the owner demonstrated were typical of standard rabbit care.
For example, probably the most "crowded" cage was a small or medium breed doe and six 3-week-old kits in a 24" x 36.5" cage. The fact that some of the rabbits did not have food in front of them was considered "starving" them (they were fed a heaping cup of standard rabbit pellets per day for dwarf to medium sized breeds not in production, along with hay--only the does with litters were free-fed). The animal control officers and prosecutors cited the fact that there was "only enough food on the premises for a few days" as evidence of neglect. For example, the owner only purchased 100 lbs. of commercial rabbit pellets at a time, and the animal control officer considered this insufficient for a small herd of rabbits, even though they lived near a feed store and bought more as needed.
Those are only a few of the rabbit specific examples of “why” the farmer's animals were seized. There were many other things that the Animal Control cited that would make you go wha....????
The next case I sat in on went to trial. Two extremely elderly horses were seized for being “dehydrated” and chronically “starved”. The officer who initiated the case was acting out of jurisdiction due to a personal connection with the reporting party, who contacted her privately. The horses had normal bloodwork at the time of surrender, but 5 weeks later were far thinner and had more abnormal bloodwork than when they left the owner's house. The evidence from after the horses had been out of her hands all that time was used to convict the owner. Both horses died in the rescue's care: one was euthanized because of colic and the other was euthanized due to an infection contracted many months later, that the rescue opted not to treat. The prosecutor told the jury that the horses were "doing just fine now," despite the fact that they were actually dead.
The veterinarian who acted as expert witness for the prosecution is a known animal rights activist who was employed by the rescue, had connections with the reporting party, and derived a substantial portion of her income caring for horses she diagnosed as neglected and in need of rehab at her "Equine Stewardship" facility. This veterinarian testified in court that the ideal way to feed a horse is to free-feed grain so that it never has an empty dish, and that these two approximately 900-lb. horses should each be getting upwards of 40 lbs. per day of feed in addition to pasture. She also made some very strange statements implying that the fact the horses didn't walk right up to a stranger and put their head into the halters without a food bribe showed neglect, and the fact that they were cooperative and allowed themselves to be examined once they were caught proved that they were in terrible condition.
In another case, some random visitors went into the rabbitry of a well known and reputable breeder. They then posted pictures of this rabbitry online, calling it a "rabbit mill."
All it takes is an invite onto your property. There is something called "Plain View Doctrine". This means that an officer of the law does not need probable cause for anything that is in plain sight. Anything they can see from a place they are invited or authorized to be can be the probable cause for a seizure without a warrant, or probable cause to get a warrant, depending on your local laws. If anyone sees “abuse,” animals can be seized and cruelty charges pressed (remember stacked cages have been called abuse; having wire floors in rabbit cages or not having water/food 24/7 could be called abuse).
The last one is the most worrisome because it is close to home. 22 rabbits were stolen from the Portland Meat Collective. The Portland Meat Collective offers classes on learning to butcher and preparing various livestock meat. These 22 rabbits showed up at a Rabbit Advocates (RA) house. After some struggle, the RA gave all but one rabbit back to the Portland Meat Collective. The RA finally gave this one rabbit back after much turmoil.
There are at least two more cases in the horizon just in the Pacific Northwest.
You ask, “Aren’t there laws to protect us breeders?”. Check the local laws in your area. In one case I am aware of, the AC/police were out of their jurisdiction. In some states, the laws are so vague and all-encompassing that virtually anything can be interpreted as abuse.
Laws or no laws, it is best to cover yourself. A lot of the times, the people that can seize animals get paid by the number of animals they find that are “abused” through grants, sob stories and general media. The rescues are motivated to “find” as many abuse cases they can. For example, the director of one WA humane society/animal control agency was quoted in a news article as saying that they were going to focus on abuse cases instead of things like dealing with stray dogs because barking dogs and picking up strays was not lucrative enough--they made far more money searching out abuse cases.
Do you think it still can’t happen to you? This is just one example on the internet:
The Legal disclaimer for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF),
“This guide is for your entertainment, information, and general interest only. It is not meant to encourage the activities described within. We're just writing this for the heck of it. We would never dream of encouraging someone to use the proven-effective methods presented within to free innocent beings from the depths of hell, or to destroy the tools used to torture, mutilate, and murder them. We'd much prefer you sit at home watching TV and remain apathetic”.
They go on and give detailed instructions on how to succeed at taking down breeders.
While ALF is extremely radical, they have put the ideas in people's heads of how to do undercover surveillance. People can be several states away, yet can “eyewitness” your place or barn, using online and other resources to make a convincing anonymous report about a location they have never even visited.
Several states and organizations have offered substantial monetary rewards for anyone who can provide information instrumental in taking down breeders and animal owners accused of neglect or of being a "mill." Does this scare you? It should.
In California, a rabbit rescue is monitoring the fairs and harassing 4-H members for not keeping food in front of the rabbit(s) 24 hours a day-- in one particular case they were upset because the rabbits had pellets but did not have 24/7 access to hay.
These are things to think about.
- You need to educate yourselves. Know the laws in your area.
- Try to stay under the wire. I.E Don’t advertise your address or phone number in connection with having rabbits.
* Don’t get in over your head. Ask for help if needed, but be very cautious about who you ask. Several people have been raided after reaching out to rescues or other groups for help placing or caring for their animals. *
- Don’t list your physical address or land line phone # on the internet, business card or sign.
- Face book is the internet--be aware of privacy settings and check them often, as well as realizing that even your "friends only" posts are still on the internet and not 100% safe.
- Craigslist is the internet.
- In the shelter I was involved in, there were several volunteers constantly searching the internet and craigslist for animals that came from the shelter. If you think that doesn’t happen, you should think again. There are entire online communities dedicated just to targeting breeders who advertise on Craigslist.
*Never have strangers in your barn or on your land. *
- Google your name and see what other folks can see about you. Does that worry you?
- Friends of friends of friends could accidentally get information into the wrong hands.
Just do a search for various rabbit shelters across the country and you will see how much hatred and animosity of breeding most of them foster. Bunny World Foundation (BWF) feels this way,
“Since domestic rabbits are not the product of natural selection, but rather of human interference by means of breeding programs, and the product is a human-dependent animal that needs protection, it is therefore a human responsibility that these animals be cared for in a manner appropriate to their needs” and also “BWF does NOT support breeders. BWF would like to quote PET PARDONS view on "breeding"
...If you really want to know why so many pets end up on death row then it is really very simple & here it is:
Breeders & Puppy Mills
Despite the massive overpopulation of pets in America the breeders and the puppy mills churn out pets 24 hours a day to make a buck, or in many cases, a lot of bucks. The way to shut down the breeders and the puppy mills is simple, just Adopt from your local Shelter or Rescue instead of buying from a pet store or breeder.”
I have dealt first hand with a Rabbit Advocates (RA) person many years ago. She told me that I was the reason why she had to rescue rabbits and I should be ashamed of myself for being a breeder.
Right now the RA has a very extensive care sheet on how to care for rabbits on the internet. This pamphlet can be found at most feed stores. They offer at their meetings to groom or do nail trims. While this information is mostly true and educating pet owners, it is also teaching people that don’t know any better that rabbits must have food in front of them at all times and that breeders are bad. Every breeder is a hoarder, and has unkept cages with wire floors. In many cases wire flooring, in of itself, is considered harmful/abusive.
I say fight fire with fire. Educate anyone that will listen. Be an advocate at your fair, church, any youth program, feed store or any other venue you can think of. Keep yourself and your rabbitry safe.
I want to end by saying I am not a lawyer, nor am I giving legal advice. I just believe in being proactive in keeping our hobby alive.
***Note from Washington Animal Watch: For those who aren't familiar with animal husbandry for these species, the specifics mentioned here that were judged by authorities and activists to be "abuse" are standard husbandry practices, widely accepted as appropriate for these species based on both practical experience and clinical research.
Some breeders and animal owners feel it is best not to have strangers on their property, while others do it with certain precautions or freely allow it without concern. This is a choice that is up to the individual. WAW's position is that the decision whether to have strangers come to a person's home or not should be left up to each person and should not be dictated by law.