‘Leave No Bunny Behind’: A Florida Town Works to Rescue Dozens of Rabbits

Residents of a suburb outside of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., don’t quite know what to do about their new neighbors: dozens of domesticated rabbits, and counting.

An estimated 75 rabbits have made their home on Jenada Isles, a small community of about 80 households within the suburb of Wilton Manors, after a former resident moved away a couple of years ago and left behind a pair of pet lionhead rabbits that bred. Officials and residents are weighing solutions that would spare the rabbits from getting euthanized and still keep them out of lawns, roads and the Florida heat.

One resident concerned about the rabbits’ safety showed up to a community meeting in May with three pet rabbits in a stroller, according to the city, which was unable to identify the man.

Jenada Isles is technically an island within the suburb, surrounded by canals, which has contained the rabbit colony and allowed them to multiply in a small space.

Two years ago, Courtney Turney encountered the rabbits when her 100-pound hound mix dragged her across a neighbor’s lawn. “In Florida, we don’t have bunnies, so I wasn’t expecting a bunny,” she said, but “the dog saw it and took after it — and that’s the first time I noticed them.”

Now, “there’s a lot,” said Ms. Turney, who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly three years. “They’re absolutely adorable,” she added. Rabbits are known to reproduce rapidly; female rabbits typically have between four and eight litters annually, experts say.

The rabbits dash across streets and burrow in yards. Some have eaten through wires and gotten in the way of cyclists and motorists, a spokesperson for Wilton Manors said, concerns residents have shared with the city.

This spring, plans for the rabbits’ removal became a subject debated in city forums.

At a city commission meeting in April, local leaders discussed options proposed by Gary Blocker, the chief of police in Wilton Manors. Mr. Blocker suggested the city contract a trapping service. Chris Caputo, a commissioner, said he was concerned that if the trappers “have no place to put them, either we need to find homes for them ourselves or they’re going to be euthanized.” He added, “We’re going to have residents upset about that as well.”

In a Facebook post, Mr. Caputo called the trapping effort a “Bunny Blitz.”

The possibility that the bunnies would be euthanized struck fear in some, including Alicia Griggs, who has lived on Jenada Isles for 39 years. She said on Monday that while the city had agreed instead to hire a rescue organization, “it’s been three months now and they’re still dragging their feet.”

Concerned by the rabbits’ inability to survive in rising temperatures or fend for themselves against predators, Ms. Griggs started a fundraiser and began coordinating with local rescues.

“I’m trying to help get something accomplished before they die,” said Ms. Griggs, who took in four rabbits to foster on Sunday evening. To stop the breeding, all of the rabbits must be caught. They need health assessments, to be spayed or neutered and to be fostered until they can be adopted, said Ms. Griggs, who said she never imagined she would learn this much about rabbits.

Central to the chaos is that no local rescue organization is large enough to capture and house all of the rabbits from the island, said Dylan Warfel, a board member at Penny and Wild Smalls of South Florida, a rabbit and guinea pig rescue that has begun efforts to rescue the animals with the hope that funding from the city will eventually come through.

While some neighbors argue that the presence of the rabbits is a delight and they should simply be left alone, “they’re not wild animals,” Ms. Warfel said. “They’re supposed to be in the pet trade. They shouldn’t be outside in the first place.” Many of the rabbits are sick or in pain from ear mites, she said, adding, “They need to be moved now, not in two months.”

As one city leader put it at the April commission meeting: “It’s a problem because the rabbits are proliferating: The longer we wait, the more there are.”

In Florida, where it is a misdemeanor to neglect a pet, some residents said they hoped to see the city hold their former neighbor accountable for the island’s current predicament. A spokesperson for the city said in an email that “there has been no proof of criminal activity associated with this issue, and we will continue to assess whether criminal activity is associated with these circumstances.”

In an emailed statement, Mr. Blocker, the police chief, said, “The safety of this rabbit population is of utmost importance to the city.”

“Any decision to involve ourselves will be certain to see these rabbits placed into the hands of people with a passion to provide the necessary care and love for these rabbits,” he added.

On Friday, Mr. Blocker emailed a status update to the residents of Jenada Isles that said discussions with a rescue organization would continue and that next steps included identifying prospective funding and receiving approval from Wilton Manors and a written agreement for the services provided.

“If anyone has interest in fostering rabbits, please let us know and we will place you on a list,” he wrote.

“I don’t think it’s a simple solution,” said Ms. Turney, because “you can leave no bunny behind.” She said that what unites the community is “that nobody wants the bunnies harmed.”

“I am guilty of feeding the bunnies,” she said, “which is not illegal, I learned.”

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