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Over 100 rabbits taken from California ‘backyard hoarding situation’ — and the number could grow

In World
February 29, 2024

A few months ago, Joe Torcello noticed a rabbit in the alley next to his house.

Torcello said that he waved to the rabbit and passed by but that the next day, it was gone. He said it continued like that for months, with the rabbit showing up “on and off, sneaking in through under my fence.”

Then, he noticed a bunny when he was cleaning the backyard. A few days later, a skunk appeared in his garage before a rabbit jumped on it and the two animals started to play together.

A couple of days after that, a completely different rabbit was in his backyard.

“It was just getting weirder and weirder,” Torcello said, before he realized the rabbits had “procreated very quickly” over a few months.

Over 100 rabbits were taken from Torcello’s Southern California backyard in what the Bunny World Foundation, or BWF, has called a “hoarding situation” that unraveled last week.

On Feb. 20, the Los Angeles Animal Services Department reached out to BWF seeking help rescuing a “large number of rabbits” that were found in the backyard of a home in the Granada Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, according to a news release shared by Lejla Hadzimuratovic, BWF’s president and founder.

Torcello said it took a few months for him to finally call for help with his rabbit problem.

Seeing a bunch of bunnies “bolting out at me” from his tortoise’s burrow in the backyard prompted the call. He said he tried to block the bunnies in so they weren’t running around in the alley before help could come.

When BWF got to the scene Saturday, the team found “a massive backyard rabbit hoarding disaster with babies, nursing mothers, juveniles, and adult rabbits running across several yards, exposed to the elements and unprotected from predators,” the news release said.

bunnies rabbit abuse animal pet (Courtesy Bunny World Foundation)

bunnies rabbit abuse animal pet (Courtesy Bunny World Foundation)

That first day, BWF trapped and determined the sexes of 50 rabbits, the release said, and took them to the West Valley Animal Shelter, where they found most, “if not all,” of the female rabbits were pregnant.

The rabbits were also “severely matted due to long-haired breeds,” the BWF release said, adding that the mats can be painful to the animals.

The shelter processed the rabbits, with the BWF placing the babies in temporary foster care and the adults in six shelters throughout the city, the group said.

That wasn’t the end of it.

Just three days after BWF first responded to the Granada Hills home, the Animal Services Department called the nonprofit organization again, requesting help to trap and sex an additional 30 rabbits found on the property, according to the release.

Hadzimuratovic said more than 100 have been trapped already.

It remains unclear how many rabbits were left behind at the house that will eventually make their way to the Animal Services Department, thanks in part to underground burrows they dug. BWF said it could take weeks to fully resolve the issue, as “multiple litters” quickly hid beneath the home during the trapping process.

Hadzimuratovic estimated it might take months to catch them all.

Torcello has been trying to trap more rabbits that pop up on his property in the meantime. On Wednesday, he said, he trapped two.

Also Wednesday, BWF took 10 rabbits to Dr. Gayle Roberts at Northwood Animal Hospital. Roberts said she examined all 10 but “only got to four surgery-wise.”

Roberts said she was able to spay four of the rabbits, three of which were pregnant, resulting in the loss of 20 bunnies.

On Thursday, more rabbits will be taken to a different veterinarian in Orange County to be “fixed,” Hadzimuratovic said.

BWF said it has no idea how many of the pregnant female rabbits might give birth before they are scheduled to be spayed.

The organization estimated the number of rabbits in the incident could grow to more than 300.

In total, as of Wednesday, Hadzimuratovic said, there were 48 pregnant females, including the four Roberts spayed Wednesday. She said she is “not sure how many pregnancies will be realized tomorrow.”

Hadzimuratovic called it “a race against time.”

“It’s bad enough to find homes for 100 rabbits. We cannot find good homes for 500 of them,” she said.

Hadzimuratovic said BWF placed nine bunnies in foster care Wednesday, noting that there are “more in need.” She said it is “actively seeking” fosters for the bunnies.

She said that the organization is working with five city shelters to assist with the crisis and that it will take the most matted bunnies Thursday to be shaved while under anesthesia.

The Animal Services Department did not immediately reply to a request for additional information.

“What a nightmare! I am extremely distraught having to witness yet another horrible backyard catastrophe,” Hadzimuratovic said in the news release. “This was your typical situation where things got out of hand due to ignorance of rabbits’ gestation period, which is 28 days.”

Hadzimuratovic noted that it takes only two unfixed rabbits “to create a tragedy of mass proportions” and impose a “hefty financial burden” on Los Angeles rescue organizations working with limited resources.

The “poor souls” will need lots of care before they can trust humans, in addition to medical procedures like spaying-neutering, vaccinations, deworming and grooming before they can be put up for adoption, Hadzimuratovic added.

Torcello admitted he enjoyed his backyard full of bunnies until he found more of them popping up every day.

He described the situation as being “like an explosion” and said he eventually found himself asking, “Where did that one come from?”

However, he also misses them.

“These rabbits are gone, and it’s like the loneliest place in the world right now,” Torcello said.

He won’t be without his pals for long, though: He’s adopting the original rabbit, as well as four others, “just because they need homes.” He plans to make them indoor pets.

“I fell in love with her,” he said of the original rabbit, whom he is calling Belzer, after the comedian Richard Belzer.

Torcello also acknowledged his mistake. “Don’t hang on to them and think you’re going to do a favor for them,” he said. “Get help right away, because unless you know what you’re doing … no way.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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