WILTON MANORS, Florida (TodayNews) — Dan Trebowski was furious when he saw people in front of his home in Wilton Manors trying to capture the lion-headed rabbits that inhabited his area. He feared that domesticated rabbits, not meant to live in the open air, were being led away to their deaths.
He was relieved when he was assured that Dylan Wharfel, Tina Crossgrove and Christina Herzer were from Penny & Wild Smalls in South Florida. This is one of the groups that have begun to capture the approximately 60 to 100 rabbits inhabiting suburban Fort Lauderdale so they can be given up for adoption.
They are caught with traps, hands and sometimes nets. They are not damaged in the process.
“It is important that they are not euthanized. Clearly, this is not the right environment for them,” Trebowski said on Thursday evening. However, he is a bit disappointed that the rabbits can’t stay – his two schnauzers love to play with them. Most of them just jump right on people looking for food. “They bring a lot of joy to the neighbors.”
However, other neighbors did not react so favorably to the rescue work. Some followed the rescuers during Thursday’s work. Some threatened. The police came out and talked to people. None of these neighbors wanted to be interviewed.
Lionhead rabbits are bred to live in homes. They are no more wild animals than a pack of cocker spaniels just because they are descended from wolves. The Florida environment, in particular, is hostile to lionheads. Their thick, bushy mane and thick coat cause them to overheat in the summer. The lack of fear makes them vulnerable to predators such as cats and hawks. And they get hit by cars. They also dig holes in yards and damage outdoor wiring. One neighbor let her dog kill one.
Instead of living for the seven to nine years that they do as pets, many of the Wilton estate rabbits died in less than two years. The colony grows and survives only because the females bring several litters a year, usually two to six young.
The rabbits are the descendants of a group that the breeder illegally released into her backyard when she moved out of the area two years ago. After the Associated Press broke the news earlier this week about plans to save the rabbits by making them national celebrities, threats to shoot, poison or otherwise harm the animals surfaced online. This has forced rescue teams to step up their efforts to apprehend the animals.
“These threats are more than chit-chat,” said Worfel, whose group works with the East Coast Rabbit Rescue Service.
What the groups need most is money, houses and facilities to keep the rabbits while they are being treated for adoption. Neutering, vaccinations, and treatment for any disease typically cost rescue teams between $200 and $400 per rabbit. Food and other supplies can add another $150 to $200 per month until they are healthy enough to be housed – usually taking one to six months, sometimes longer. The rescue operation is expected to cost the groups between $20,000 and $40,000.
“Finding a place to live is very difficult. Most private emergency services in Florida don’t have shelters,” Wharfel said. And it’s likely to be an ongoing project – lifeguards can’t go on private property without permission, so it’ll probably take some time to catch them all.
Kim Renk Dryer, owner of a private rabbit shelter in Rhode Island, flew to South Florida on Thursday to help with the rescue effort. She arranged for some of the rabbits to be delivered to her home in Palm Beach County, while others were housed in a barn.
“Even in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Dryer said. She said it was clear that many of the rabbits were in poor condition and needed medical attention. Many of them have ear mites and parasites living in their intestines, making their already hard life even tougher.
“It was caused by one person,” she said, referring to the breeder who released the first ones. She doesn’t understand why she wasn’t prosecuted and why the city decided not to prosecute her.
Due to neighbor interference, Penny & Wild only caught three calves on Thursday night after catching 13 earlier, one of which gave birth to three calves overnight. Other groups also caught some.
Meanwhile, after Trebowski spoke to Penny & Wild and understood their goals, he asked how he could adopt a pair of rabbits after they were neutered and groomed.
He thinks his schnauzers would like their playmates back.