Rescues struggling to house rejected rabbits as feral bunny boom spreads across Metro Vancouver

Some rabbit rescues in Metro Vancouver say they’re at capacity as shelters grapple with the fallout from pandemic pet purchases.

That’s caused a consequent explosion in the feral rabbit population, operators say, with many owners simply releasing their pets into the wild after finding they no longer have time to care for them.

The bunny boom is also affecting shelters themselves as they try to expand to cope with demand, with some falling foul of municipal regulations as a result.

One long-running shelter, run by Vancouver Rabbit Rescue and Advocacy (VRRA), is now at risk of being shut down unless its operations are brought into compliance.

According to the City of Vancouver, the operation on 28th Avenue is in contravention of three bylaws, including having structures in the backyard without permits and exceeding the number of animals permitted in a residential property.

Founder Olga Betts, who says VRRA has been taking in rabbits since 2003, says the Vancouver shelter is actually part of her property, with pens in her laundry room and back lawn.

In an email to CBC, Betts conceded that her shelter did violate bylaws but the city has “excused” these violations in the past.

“We’ve been here for 20 years and we don’t bother anybody… the rabbits are very quiet,” said Betts, whose organization cares for more than 150 rabbits at two shelters in Metro Vancouver.

A light brown rabbit sticks its nose between the bars of its cage
A bunny at the VRRA’s Vancouver Rabbit Rescue and Advocacy. Founder Olga Betts believes more and more rabbits are being released into the wild as shelters reach capacity and people have less time to care for pets as pandemic restrictions ease. (Justine Beaulieu-Poudrier/CBC)

The city’s letter to Betts, dated March 31, states she has 60 days to bring her operations into compliance or to remove all unauthorized alterations. Betts says she is confident she can work with the city to keep the shelter afloat.

Meanwhile, she says she has a waitlist of owners at her Vancouver location who want to give up their pet rabbits.

“It’s very sad. We want to take them all in,” Betts said, but added there are limits to what any operation can handle.

“If a rescue takes everything in, the ones you already have start to suffer because you can’t give them enough time, attention and care.”

The Early Edition9:08Vancouver rabbit shelter at risk of shutting down

As groups warn about the growing number of rabbits in the Lower Mainland, one Vancouver shelter helping house rabbits has been told it is violating municipal bylaws. The CBC’s Laurence Watt visits the shelter to find out more.

Feral rabbit boom

Betts says the challenge of finding shelter space for rabbits is tied to the wider problem of booming feral rabbit populations across the Lower Mainland.

“In Richmond there’s lots of rabbits running around, they’ve been there for years. But [in] Vancouver it’s been unusual to find them… dotted all over the city,” she said.

“I think it has to do with people putting COVID-acquired pets out now the children are back in school and parents are working.”

On April 5, the City of Vancouver issued a statement acknowledging a rabbit colony at Jericho Beach, attributing its origins to domestic pets that had either escaped their homes or had been abandoned by their owners.

A man stands on a lawn and leans over to take a photo of two rabbits standing near his feet.
Feral rabbits near Jericho Beach in Vancouver, pictured in April 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Rabbitats Rescue Society says it has long been calling on municipalities to take control of the overpopulation issue.

Founder Sorelle Saidman suggested cities develop a “strategic plan” to deal with the boom, as action could lead to more rabbits causing damage to parks, structures and wildlife.

Saidman says her organization is trying to raise funds for a larger sanctuary space to help address the issue.

“We have to find locations for these rabbits,” Saidman told CBC’s On The Coast. “We have to develop some sanctuary space so that these rabbits can be trapped, sterilized and relocated to… comfortable sanctuaries.”

Two rabbits sit in a bin full of grass
Bunnies at the VRRA Vancouver shelter. (Justine Beaulieu-Poudrier/CBC)

Meanwhile, VRRA volunteers are asking prospective pet owners to think carefully and do some research before deciding to adopt a rabbit.

“They are the type of animal that really likes to have it on their terms,” ​​said VRRA volunteer and rabbit owner Sara Holt.

“You can’t assume [rabbits] are like a cat and a dog. They’re different.”

On The Coast7:06There are too many bunnies on the loose around the Lower Mainland

Rabbitats Rescue Society founder Sorelle Saidman speaks with Gloria Macarenko about the need to control the bunny population — especially since the Easter holiday is likely to introduce more bunnies into the region.

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