Vancouver-area auto mall wants to deport its colonies of abandoned pet rabbits

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

If you're shopping for a new car at the Richmond Auto Mall, in suburban Vancouver, the little bunnies lolling on the dealerships' lawns are a cute and surprising diversion.

But for the sprawling car-shopping emporium they're a growing nuisance.

The auto mall somehow has become one of those dumping grounds for unwanted pet rabbits.

"We see it on a regular basis, people pulling up to the curb, opening the door and letting them go," mall general manager Gail Terry told CTV News.

It's estimated there are hundreds of abandoned bunnies hopping across the property. Every day, employees say, slow-moving rabbits are struck by vehicles.

Mall management wants to trap the rabbits and move them to a local rescue sanctuary but the provincial government won't approve the application unless they're deported from Canada.

Terry told CTV News the province wants the rabbits either taken across the border to Washington state or culled. In British Columbia, it's illegal to trap and possess rabbits without a permit but it's legal to trap and kill them.

"There are sanctuaries that are local, but the provincial government at this point in time does not want to provide permission for that," Terry said. "They'd rather us round them up and kill them."

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Culling is out, she said, so the mall is considering Precious Life Animal Sanctuary in Washington. The sanctuary took a colony of feral rabbits rescued from the University of Victoria campus two years ago. The mall is looking for donations to help raise the $60,000 needed for the program.

But shipping the rabbits across the border may not end the problem, as the Victoria Times Colonist reported last summer.

Hundreds of the University of Victoria bunnies were moved to U.S. sanctuaries but financial support for their new homes dwindled and operators said they did not receive the help they expected.

"We are spending our mortgage money on these rabbits," Georgeanne Lenham of the Wild Rose Rescue Ranch in Texas, where about 300 University of Victoria bunnies are housed, told the Times Colonist.

The Precious Life Sanctuary took about 50 University of Victoria rabbits. Owner Ralph Turner said they eat about $40 worth of rabbit food pellets each week but donations have been scanty.

"Once the excitement of the rescue is over, that is it," he said. "The sanctuary is pretty much on its own."

Rabbit-rescue groups admit it's hard to raise money once the issue moves out of the news spotlight.

But the Richmond and University of Victoria bunnies might not envy their brethren from Canmore, Alta. The Rocky Mountain tourist town, an hour's drive from Calgary on the eastern edge of Banff National Park, has begun trapping and killing its feral rabbits after running out of sanctuary space for them, The Canadian Press reported.

The trapping began in mid-October, Canmore spokeswoman Sally Caudill told CP, adding she doesn't know how many have been killed.

"They are being humanely euthanized," said Caudill. "I don't actually know what that process is. I know that we have a machine that the trapper has purchased from an SPCA or a humane society ... that puts them to sleep."

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Canmore made international headlines last year for its plan to trap and kill its feral rabbits. At the time, the B.C.-based Earth Animal Rescue Society stepped up and found sanctuary for 213 of them, CP reported.

But the group has been unable to find sanctuary space this year.

"I'm not very happy about it and I don't think there is anybody who works at the town that is either," said Earth Animal Rescue Society's Susan Vickery. "But the truth is, unless another organization steps forward to provide sanctuary for these animals, there is no home for them."