Toronto

Calls for rabbit rescues multiplying like, well, rabbits since pandemic hit

While both the Ontario Humane Society and Toronto Animal Services say there's been no jump in pet surrenders since the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, one group maintains calls for its services are way up: Rabbit Rescue Inc.

'It's off the charts,' Rabbit Rescue Inc. says

Haviva Porter, executive director of Rabbit Rescue Inc., with one of her six pet rabbits, Tripawed. Her group has seen a surge in the number of abandoned pet rabbits, she says. (Submitted by Haviva Porter)

While both the Ontario Humane Society and Toronto Animal Services say there's been no jump in surrendered pets since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, one group maintains calls for its services are way up: Rabbit Rescue Inc.

And they believe it's due to restrictions brought in to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The group responds to reports of abandoned domestic rabbits, collecting the animals and delivering them to foster homes, most of which are in the GTA.

"I've been running this rescue since I started it 20 years ago and I've never seen anything like this," said Haviva Porter, the group's executive director.

"In the last month or so, it's off the charts."

Porter posts photos of bunnies available for adoption on her organization's Facebook page. (Rabbit Rescue Incorporated/Facebook)

'Dumped bunnies'

Under normal circumstances, Porter said her group would have about 30 rabbits in foster care across southern Ontario on any given day. Now, it's up to 50, and that number appears to be multiplying almost daily, she said.
Daryl Vaillancourt, head of humane programs and community outreach for the Ontario Humane Society, says the organization has kicked off a special fund to help pet owners and animal welfare agencies cover essentials during the pandemic. (Submitted by the Ontario Humane Society)

"In the last 72 hours, we've had over 10 dumped bunnies," she said. "[Ordinarily], we might have a couple a week.

"We've never seen numbers like this before." 

Unlike wild rabbits, she said, domestic rabbits cannot survive outdoors for long, and none would make it through a winter.

Porter says she's convinced the pandemic is behind the spike in people abandoning rabbits because, she says, animal shelters run by organizations like the Toronto Humane Society are closed to the public, and aren't allowing owners to come in and drop off their unwanted pets.

"So what do these owners do? These rabbits are being dumped outside," she told CBC Toronto.

"It seems to correlate perfectly with the closure of the shelters."

A rabbit being fostered by the group. (Rabbit Rescue Incorporated/Facebook)

Urgent Animal Care Fund

The Ontario Humane Society (OHS) announced on Tuesday it's establishing the Urgent Animal Care Fund — which could come in handy for Rabbit Rescue Inc.

Daryl Vaillancourt, head of community outreach for the OHS, said the fund will be used to help pet owners and animal welfare agencies make ends meet during the crisis. 

He said the idea is to continue to provide essentials during the pandemic, like veterinarian care,and food for owners who may be laid off or sick.

"Animals, just like people, need to go to the doctor, may need to go to the vet," he said. "And those are costs we have to make sure we cover as we make our way through this."

But he said the fund may well live on after the pandemic has passed.

The society won't say how much is in the fund, but it is looking for donations, Vaillancourt said.

Porter said she welcomed the news from the OHS.

"It's great to see animals aren't being forgotten in the pandemic," she said.

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at michael.smee@cbc.ca

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