The BC SPCA seized 162 rabbits from an Abbotsford home on May 26, but the man behind the operation says the animals were not in any danger and he is fighting to get them back.
SPCA spokesperson Eileen Drever said the agency received a call from someone concerned about animals being “possibly in distress” at a home in a residential neighbourhood in central Abbotsford.
She said she couldn’t comment about the specifics of the case, but, generally, the agency visits a reported location and makes recommendations on improvements that should be made.
“If they fail to follow our recommendations, then we may have to take legal action, which could include the seizure of animals,” Drever said.
She said that, in addition to the 162 rabbits, the seizure at the Abbotsford home included 10 pigeons, two guinea pigs, a rooster and a chicken.
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Drever said she could not comment about the specific issues that led to the SPCA seizing the animals.
She said an owner can appeal the decision, but if it’s deemed that it is not in the best interest of the animals to return them, they are re-homed.
Drever said it’s also possible the SPCA could recommend that Crown counsel approve charges against the owner.
Warren Brundage, the owner of the animals that were seized, disputes that they were in danger.
“The SPCA seizes animals that they determine to be in distress, but ‘distress’ is very loosely defined,” he said.
“At the time the SPCA seized our animals, there were no animals that fit what people would consider to be distress, but that doesn’t necessarily matter to the SPCA. They define ‘distress’ on the spot, and they do it entirely subjectively.”
Brundage said he runs a rabbit refuge called Suzaku Sanctuary, and has the support of many volunteers. He said most of the animals have been abandoned on the street or have been rescued by someone else and brought to him.
He said many of the animals are injured – for example, they have been hit by cars or attacked by other rabbits – and the sanctuary nurses them back to health.
Brundage said the money for vet care and food comes mainly from his family and through his hydroponics business, as well as some donations.
He said most of the rabbits were housed in a workshop on the side of the house, and they had access to outdoor fenced-in areas.
Brundage said this location was only temporary because he has not yet had any success in finding a larger property.
He said he does not believe the SPCA process has been fair in his case.
Brundage said the SPCA previously visited the home and provided recommendations, including seeking veterinary care for a few of the animals, but their timeline was unreasonable.
“They seized them after only two weeks of investigation, and that’s unheard of … It’s normally two months, sometimes four months … We were doing out best to comply with what the SPCA wanted us to do, and they came in and seized the animals anyway,” he said.
Brundage said he believes the biggest issue the SPCA had with his refuge was that the rabbits were kept in “big colonies.” He said the agency wanted the animals in smaller groupings.
“The problem is when you take a rabbit and you change its colony – whether you put it into a new colony, downsize or increase the size of a colony – those rabbits will fight … You need to do it very gradually. What I was told was we had three days to do that, and that was a recipe for disaster.”
Brundage said he is appealing the seizure and hopes to get the rabbits back. He acknowledges that the pigeons, rooster and chicken were not permitted on the property under local bylaws.
The Fraser Valley Regional District provides animal control services for the City of Abbotsford, and their animal control bylaw does not specify the number of domestic rabbits that can be kept on a property.
A city spokesperson said the city’s bylaw team is “actively addressing” the land use and “unsightly condition” of the property.
“We are not able to disclose specific details at this time and the investigation is still underway,” she said.