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Animal advocates trapping rabbits

Veterinarian Joseph Martinez slept on a mattress on the floor of his tiny Richmond clinic Sunday night to give post-op care to 10 rabbits that had been spayed or neutered in a 15-hour marathon the day before.

The 10 animals are some of the 40 rabbits Martinez spayed or neutered last weekend with the help of volunteer technicians at his Little Paws Animal Clinic.

The rabbits are transplants from the University of Victoria, where a remarkable rescue operation is underway to trap, spay or neuter and relocate 1,400 rabbits.

Martinez said he was happy to volunteer his time helping the rescue effort. So far he’s received no payment for his work, but the Burnaby-based animal-rights group Fur-Bearer Defenders is expected to cover some of the costs through its spay and neuter fund. “I obviously love animals, they are my passion,” said Martinez. “I have no family so they are my family.”

Dr. Joseph Martinez tends to one of the rabbits. Photograph by: Chung Chow, Richmond News

Dr. Joseph Martinez tends to one of the rabbits. Photograph by: Chung Chow, Richmond News

UVic has a long history of wild rabbits, and this year proposed trapping and euthanizing the free-range bunnies. Last spring more than 100 rabbits were euthanized, which angered animal rights groups who protested a cull. In response, the provincial Ministry of Environment recently granted a trapping permit to the ad hoc group TRACS for Texas-bound Bunnies, whose members include Dunbar realtor Laura-Leah Shaw, West End rabbit rescue volunteer Sorelle Saidman and Downtown Vancouver resident Drina Read. The provincial government considers rabbits “wildlife,” so a special permit was needed to trap, transport and spay or neuter the rabbits. Martinez is the only Metro Vancouver veterinarian named in that government permit.

Of the 1,400 rabbits, 400 will remain on Vancouver Island at a rabbit sanctuary, while TRACS is relocating 1,000 to the Wild Rose Rescue Ranch in Texas. Shaw was key in securing the permit from the Ministry of Environment and after a search for a sanctuary large enough to take 1,000 rabbits, the volunteers discovered the Wild Rose Rescue Ranch. On Wednesday, Shaw dropped several dozen rabbits off at a sanctuary in Washington State, where they’ll remain until volunteers from Wild Rose pick them up by truck and transport them to Texas. Reached by cellphone, Shaw was preparing to leave Washington for a return trip to Victoria, where she planned to pick up dozens more of the rabbits headed for Little Paws in Richmond and eventually Texas.

Shaw said while she volunteers her time for many causes, this is the first time she’s been involved with a rabbit rescue.

“And I’ve discovered they’re amazing little creatures,” said Shaw, the Green Party of B.C.’s candidate for Vancouver-Quilchena.

Shaw said she had no choice but to get involved with the rabbit rescue efforts at UVIC after hearing trapping would be done during breeding season.

“That would leave all of those babies to starve,” said Shaw. “The university has all of these rabbits but no spay or neuter program, so their answer was to kill them. That just seemed wrong to me.”

Shaw said at this point she and most of the volunteers involved in the rescue effort are paying for travel costs, housing and rabbit food and are scrambling to raise the money needed to complete the rescue effort.

“We’re desperate for donations,” she said.

For more information, see tracs-bc.ca.

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