Nfld. & Labrador

Shadow the bunny rescued — and neutered — after escape, to owner's surprise

A St. John's family was relieved to learn their beloved rabbit was safe, but shocked to learn he had been sterilized by a rescue group.

St. John's family relieved to learn rabbit was safe but shocked to learn he had been sterilized

The Oates family was reunited with their rabbit Shadow on Tuesday. (Jill Power/CBC)

A family in St. John's has been reunited with its pet rabbit but is dismayed the volunteer animal rescue group that looked after him had him neutered without their knowledge.

Owner Christopher Oates says Shadow the bunny escaped from his enclosure in St. John's shortly after the Jan. 17 blizzard. On Tuesday, the Oates family got their pet back — after a protracted dispute with Hoppy Homes Rescue, which had neutered Shadow in the interim.

"Everyone in my house was shocked. My wife, my daughter and I, we could not believe that they'd taken that action unilaterally without consent," Oates told CBC's On The Go on Tuesday.

Hoppy Homes declined a request for an interview, but according to a written statement from the group's Judy Perry, Shadow was found Jan. 28 near Oxen Pond and Freshwater roads. The person who found him posted a picture of the rabbit on Facebook, and the following day turned Shadow over to a volunteer with the group. On Feb. 3, according to Perry's statement, the rabbit was neutered at a veterinary clinic. "Our policy is to spay or neuter animals before adopting them out in order to help reduce rabbit overpopulation. 

Oates contacted Hoppy Homes on Feb. 5 to claim Shadow after learning the group had him. An email from Hoppy Homes noted the animal had been checked by a vet and neutered "since he was spraying pretty frequently." The group also asked to see proof of ownership, and said they needed to make sure Shadow has "suitable living conditions."

"The fact that he was outdoors in the winter is concerning," concludes the email. Oates provided the group with pictures of the family with Shadow, and described his living conditions, inviting the group to inspect them.

Hoppy Homes informed Oates that the cost of Shadow's neuter, exam and medication was $335.80. "Generally in these cases if an animal is to be returned to the owner, the owner is responsibile for covering the costs of veterinary bills, boarding, food, etc." 

Shadow escaped during the blizzard that buried St. John's on Jan. 17. (Christopher Oates)

Hoppy Homes said Shadow was staying with one of their volunteers so boarding fees could be waived, but the vet bill would need to be paid, and advised it was best for Shadow to finish his medication — another two days' worth — before moving on.

Oates responded, "It is very unfortunate that you chose to neuter him, as we send him down to our friends in Mobile each summer for 3 weeks to act as a stud bunny, which is why he was not neutered in the first place." Oates said it was also unfortunate the group didn't take Shadow to the Freshwater Road Animal Hospital, which is closest to them and where he was found, and was the first place Oates looked for the bunny.

"We will of course do what we will have to do to get him back home, but this is far from the ideal situation," he wrote, and asked if there was any way for his daughter to see Shadow in the meantime.

We're just going to go home and hopefully he's the same type of bunny that we had before.- Christopher Oates

Things deteriorated between Oates and the rescue group, with Hoppy Homes telling Oates it was disappointed he began posting about the issue on social media.

"You chose to publicly degrade us on social media, rather than ask for an alternative," reads one email, which claimed Oates "did not attempt to follow any of the usual avenues one would pursue when a pet goes missing."

In the email, Hoppy Homes said, "We do not feel comfortable meeting with you in person, as there has been some threatening behaviour that is concerning," and added the group had contacted the RNC and was "waiting to hear back from them as to what our next steps should be."

Happy ending

On Monday, Hoppy Homes agreed to waive the veterinary costs and release Shadow to the Oates family with the payment of a $50 impound fee, which Oates paid.

Both sides met at RNC headquarters at a specially designated space used generally by people to conclude an online transaction with a stranger. Hoppy Homes' representative declined comment, but Oates said the family was glad to get Shadow back.

"We're just going to go home and hopefully he's the same type of bunny that we had before," Oates said.

"We'll see what the surgery has done to him, but I think we're just going to go home and give him lots of love." 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go