Kathy Lucier with Oreo

Kathy Lucier with Oreo

South Surrey sanctuary a refuge for rabbits

Rabbitats keen to see more colonies relocated into safe sanctuaries.

Bunny buddies Oreo and Griffin are keeping to themselves this afternoon – their surroundings still new.

Just two weeks ago the fluffy five-year-old rabbits were abandoned outside this South Surrey rabbit sanctuary, home to 110 fellow four-legged friends. The rabbits were left in a tarp-covered cage with a well-meaning note from their owners, who said they were forced to give up their pets due to strata rules.

With a bit of coaxing, Oreo – named for his cookie-coloured coat – comes out of hiding for a visit and willingly rests in the arms of Kathy Lucier, caretaker in chief at Rabbitats Rabbit Rescue.

“I can truly say this is my happy place. They’re just such easy critters to love,” says Lucier.

Rabbitats rescues abandoned rabbits and their feral offspring while promoting an idea to control abandoned pet populations, which can rapidly multiply if left unchecked. It does not encourage animal dumping on their doorstep, as in the case of Oreo and Griffin.

Rabbitats’ goal is to see other property owners establish visually-appealing and comfortable micro-sanctuaries designed to hold small or large rabbit colonies.

Hobby farms, garden centres, farm markets, animal shelters, community centres, care homes and private citizens all have potential to host such sanctuaries, according to founder Sorelle Saidman, who helped establish the first Rabbitats sanctuary a few years ago at Richmond Auto Mall to help control its burgeoning bunny population.

Today the auto mall’s sanctuary has 80 four-legged residents – all spayed or neutered.

The South Surrey sanctuary – located at the back of a rural property not far from the U.S. border – came next. More recently, a small sanctuary of eight rabbits was established nearby at SALI’s Farm, which engages small groups of at-risk children in care-taking activities with animals. Another small group of rabbits has found sanctuary in Langley.

“We’re hoping to get more places,” said Saidman. “We want to do rabbit control. We don’t want it to escalate it to lethal control. We would like to be able to trap whole colonies, get them spayed and neutered, and then relocated to safe locations.”

Part of that challenge is winning over government – which requires rescuers to secure a permit before trapping rabbits in the wild – and convincing policy-makers that sanctuaries provide the best outcome for abandoned rabbits and their offspring.

“We would like to see municipalities sponsor sanctuaries, where we can have animal control, and if people can’t keep their pets, they can bring them into the sanctuary. Right now the shelters are not equipped to handle rabbits.”

Saidman fell into rabbit rescue in 2004 when she came upon an abandoned bunny on a Vancouver street corner.

“I knew nothing about rabbits, didn’t care much about rabbits, until I found one on the street. She came home with me, and I realized after about three days what personalities they had,” she said. “That was it. I was sucked in.”

She later helped facilitate the rescue of nearly 1,000 rabbits from the campus of University of Victoria, after the institution floated a plan to trap and euthanize its feral rabbit population.

Rabbits, she said, are more popular pets than ever, and their populations need to be controlled.

“They’ve been promoted as pets quite heavily… and the unfortunate offshoot of that is more abandoned rabbits. But (pet owners) won’t abandon them on the street if they actually have a safe place to go.”

Left in the wild, pet rabbits can face considerable hardships. They’re vulnerable as prey to other wildlife and may face serious challenges in adequately feeding and sheltering themselves.

Rabbit abandonment in public spaces has become a serious animal welfare issue, according to the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Abandoning a pet in the wild is an offence under the B.C. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and also violates animal cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada, the society says.

Some municipalities have hopped on the problem by adopting “progressive” bylaws, according to the society.

Kelowna, Victoria, Saanich and the District of North Vancouver have mandated the spay and neuter of pets sold from pet stores, while Richmond and New Westminster have banned the sale of rabbits from pet stores.

The SPCA says it supports the humane trapping, sterilizing and re-homing of rabbits, but notes on its website not all sanctuaries are well-managed.

“Any animal rescue must prepare carefully by ensuring they have animal health and welfare management plans in place and the financial resources to provide high standards of care to their animals in the long run.”

For its part, Rabbitats has built a roster of volunteers to help care for its furry guests, and has a feeding plan that gives the rabbits a healthy diet of fresh greens and vegetables, supplemented by nutritious pellets. At its South Surrey sanctuary, volunteers care for the rabbits daily, and pens are given a full cleaning each week.

And on this sunny afternoon, Lucier has bags of fresh greens for the Rabbitats residents. Most are hiding in their houses – until they spot the bags of bounty. Then the rabbits come running.

Said Lucier: “You never get bored of watching that.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Chief Constable Norm Lipinski, Surrey Police Service. (Submitted photo)
Surrey Police Service to begin public consultation late June, early July

Community input, chief constable says, ‘will occur’

Surrey RCMP reunited three stolen puppies with their mom. (RCMP handout)
Puppies stolen from South Surrey home located, reunited with mom

Surrey RCMP said they found the stolen puppies on April 16

Welcome to your park sign marks the spot where 84th Avenue will continue east from King George Boulevard 
to 140th Street as part of a $13 million road project. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Road Rage: Opposition mounts anew to Surrey’s plan for 84 Ave. at south end of Bear Creek Park

Same place, same project, same fight as Surrey prepares once again to connect 84th Avenue between King George and 140th Street in Newton

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

John Wekking, Merritt Road Report - Facebook
 Coquihalla Road Report
Wildfire sparks off Coquihalla in Merritt

The wildfire is located near the Dollarama off of Highway 5

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read