Victoria B.C. rabbits find shelter at Gig Harbor


by Associated Press

Posted on September 9, 2010 at 11:03 AM

TACOMA, Wash. - For years, Kathleen Terrio has greeted and fed the feral rabbits that populate the University of Victoria, where she works as an English teacher.

She was aghast when she learned this year of the Canadian university's plans to kill hundreds of rabbits, which administrators deemed a hazard on the Vancouver Island campus. She joined a volunteer group committed to saving the rabbits. Twice, she stood in front of traps placed on the campus to prevent capture of the rabbits.

On Wednesday, the day after arriving at a Gig Harbor-area sanctuary to conclude the first leg of the journey to the rabbits' new home, she reflected on the story's unlikely happy ending.

"They're in paradise here," Terrio said before feeding carrots to rabbits eagerly grouped around her on Rabbit Haven's wooded property. "This is an amazing sanctuary."

Terrio and Laura-Leah Shaw, another volunteer, arrived on the peninsula with the first carload of 39 rabbits Tuesday night. Shaw headed back Wednesday. Terrio will stay until Sunday to care for the rabbits. Two more carloads totalling about 100 rabbits will arrive within the next week or so before the entire group is picked up and driven to the Wild Rose Rescue Ranch in East Texas.

The volunteers got permission from the Canadian government to transport up to 1,000 rabbits to the United States, but it remains to be seen how many more will make the trip. Other Canadian sanctuaries have made arrangements to relocate rabbits from the campus.

Sue Brennan, Rabbit Haven's founder, started the no-kill shelter three decades ago after a chance encounter. She was at the mall when she came across two soldiers with a rabbit they discovered at barracks on Fort Lewis.

She said they were trying to sell rabbit feet for $5 apiece. She approached and told them she would buy the rabbit -- with all feet attached -- for $5. "It just became more and more apparent there was no champion for these guys," she said.

Brennan has made room to squeeze the furry Canadian refugees with the 70 rabbits already housed in a barn and pens on the 11-acre property. The two groups of rabbits are separated.

European rabbits are not native to Vancouver Island, and they apparently took up residence on campus starting in the mid-1980s when owners abandoned them.

Their population exploded. In May, the university trapped and put down 104 rabbits. The following month, it released a management plan that called for trapping and killing more than 800 rabbits in a proposed "rabbit-free zone" and reducing the population to 50 in each of four rabbit control zones.

As the volunteer group was forming, an activist from Vancouver secured a court injunction in July to stop the university. British Columbia's highest court overturned the decision in an Aug. 30 ruling, saying the activist didn't have standing to bring the suit.

However, public and media attention prompted the university to change course, and it said it would give sanctuaries the 400 to 500 rabbits it plans to trap this month.

At Rabbit Haven west of Gig Harbor, rabbits are rabbits, regardless of their Canadian or European lineage.

"We're just happy to be able to do our part," Brennan said.