Visitors to Vermont’s Facebook group for lost and found animals will find a slew of photos of cats or dogs — and even the occasional photo of a horse.
But for Avery Erdogan, who rescues small exotic animals, the messages that stand out are stray bunnies. The photo usually shows a bright color against a backdrop of sidewalk or greenery, often with the creature alone and as if stuck in place.
For Erdogan, the founder and director of Burlington-based Safe Haven Critter Rescue, the frequency of these stray rabbit Facebook posts signaled not only that there seemed to be a stray rabbit population in the state, but also that no one didn’t seem to tackle the problem. .
So she took over, tracking down sightings of stray rabbits as part of her efforts to help save them.
“There are lots of data on stray cats and dogs,” Erdogan said, “but not so much on rabbits.”
Erdogan is not the only one noticing the trend. The Humane Society of Chittenden County has received a growing number of calls from the public about the stray rabbit population around Burlington and Winooski, according to Erin Alamed, director of the shelter and volunteer with the Humane Society of Chittenden County, which also hosts dogs, cats and other pets.
Disposals of owners have been frequent in Alamed’s eight years with the organization, but the issue of stray rabbits appears to be fairly new. And since the gestation period for rabbits is only about 30 days, unspayed rabbits are able to reproduce quickly, which could quickly worsen Vermont’s stray rabbit problem.
“It can multiply and spiral out of control very quickly if left unchecked,” Alamed said.
According to Erdogan’s tally, at least 46 stray rabbits have already been counted in Vermont this year, nearly half of them in Burlington.
She tracks stray rabbit sightings with the help of people who know her on Facebook and other online forums. For each sighting, she records the date and location, a description of the rabbit, whether it is a new sighting or a repeat, from whom she had discovered the rabbit, a photograph, and any superfluous details.
In many cases, she tries to trap the rabbit to save it. She first rescued stray rabbits in May 2021, she said, but only heard of others this year when she started spotting more posts online.
This year, Erdogan’s organization successfully rescued and found homes for three bunnies abandoned by their owners and a stray rabbit that escaped onto Hyde Street in Burlington with another rabbit. The second rabbit, who had a facial injury, could not be caught, but the first stray – whose name is Mochi – was adopted on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Humane Society currently houses 10 rabbits in its foster network — which is the maximum number of rabbits the organization allows — and seven rabbits at the shelter, which is overcapacity, Alamed said.
Although rabbits are often seen throughout Vermont, domesticated rabbits should not be left in the wild or they will eventually have a “brutal death”, Erdogan said.
Stray domesticated rabbits lack the same kind of survival instincts as their wild counterparts and are unable to camouflage themselves, allowing predators such as small foxes or birds to eat them, Erdogan said. Stray rabbits can also be run over by cars – which Erdogan says happened at least once, in mid-April this year.
Mochi, for example, drank and urinated excessively – drinking more than four cups a day despite weighing less than three pounds. Erdogan said the vet believed he ate something poisonous while outside. He recovered while staying in Erdogan’s house.
It cost Safe Haven Critter Rescue $500 to sterilize and perform blood tests on Mochi, not including the cost of food, toys and other items, Erdogan said.
And despite help from Green Mountain Animal Defenders and the Shelburne Veterinary Hospital, Erdogan says the cost of rescuing rabbits is significant even without injuries, with neutering costing $250 per rabbit.
Due to the cost, it’s likely that many stray rabbits in Burlington and Vermont didn’t have the procedure, she said.
“When you take in a (stray) rabbit, you don’t know if you are taking in one or you are about to have 13,” Erdogan said.
“It’s not ideal”
At the Humane Society, rabbits are more difficult to adopt because they require “much more work to care for than a dog or a cat” and can live at least eight to 10 years – much longer than people realize. think, said Alamed. .
Rabbits stay at the Humane Society for an average of six weeks before being adopted, compared to three to four weeks for cats and dogs, Alamed said.
With so many rabbits abandoned or found straying, the animal rescue organization has been trying to find creative solutions to motivate individuals to adopt the rabbits, including providing adopters with all the necessary resources and supplies they need to care. of their rabbit. .
Despite this prompting, Alamed said the rescue organization was struggling to house all the rabbits that needed homes. The Humane Society uses not only the adoption floor – which ideally houses four rabbits but can accommodate up to six – but also a temporary space downstairs to house a few more.
“It’s not ideal,” Alamed said. “But because of the problem we are facing, we made a room that is usually reserved for cats or dogs, a space for rabbits. It’s like exchanging one problem for another problem.
As a small and new organization, Erdogan has felt the burden of tracking down and trying to rescue, neuter and neuter stray rabbits in Burlington and throughout Vermont. She tried to seek help from the Burlington Police Animal Control Division and contacted the Vermont State Police, but the two agencies referred her to the other, she said. declared. (Vermont State Police referred comments to Burlington Police, who did not respond to a request from VTDigger.)
“I tried to involve other organizations or other groups to target the problem, because it is much bigger than what we can solve on our own,” Erdogan said.
Already overwhelmed by too many surrenders from rabbit owners and calls from stray rabbits, the Humane Society said it had neither the capacity nor the personnel to trap the rabbits as well. And Erdogan and Alamed both said it was difficult to tackle the problem of stray rabbits while taking ownership disposals into account.
“It’s a bit of a juggling act trying to please everyone and also trying to, you know, fix the situation that we already have in hand,” Alamed said.
Educating others about the responsibility of caring for a rabbit is integral to reducing and best dealing with the stray rabbit population and owner abandonment, Alamed said.
Erdogan said that although she thinks the stray rabbit population in Vermont is a problem, she is struggling to move forward without adequate help.
“I’m reaching a point of exhaustion,” Erdogan said. “Because I personally need a break, but I still want to raise awareness and see what the community can do together for this.”