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Alberta town set to gas remaining abandoned pet rabbits

by Roslyn Cassells



February 7, 2012  Dear Mayor and Council,  I visited Canmore in the past year with family and friends and we had a lovely time.  In particular we enjoyed the wide variety of resident wildlife, the friendly people, and the spectacular views.  Your town's successful co-existence with nature was a deciding factor in our enjoyment of our visit.  I did not see an excessive population of rabbits at the time, and feel it's important for you to keep your reputation intact when it comes to best-practices of wildlife management.  Non-lethal rabbit management is currently the gold standard, and, unlike gold, it is also the most cost effective, sustainable, and spiritually and ethically acceptable to all.

I would like to commend you for accepting the offer of EARS to assist with the reduction of the resident rabbit population in Canmore.  I would further ask you to reconsider the other offers of sanctuary as preferable to killing the rabbits and destroying the good reputation of your town.  I understand from ARC that their offer is still on the table.  They are a well-funded, experienced, and reliable animal rescue outfit.  You would be remiss to neglect the opportunity for your community to take advantage of their expertise, assistance, and resources in this matter.

Regarding the requirements for sanctuary I would ask you to remove the onerous and time-consuming requirement for the sanctuaries to operate as registered not-for-profit societies.  While a group, family, or individual might eventually want to gain this status, it is clearly not a necessity as many animal rescuers and community groups I know operate outside of that category and do so very effectively.  New federal requirements for registered societies effectively muzzle them from public comment, thus diluting their message, and denying them free speech. This hinders their advocacy role.  The remainder of your criteria are well thought out and reasonable in my opinion.

I understand that you plan on killing the rabbits once EARS has reached their limit, however this is a weak, repellent, and unconsidered second step based on the experience of other jurisdictions.  One thing that has been learned about rabbit population management is that there is a necessity for ongoing maintenance programs, such as exists in Kelowna, BC, and Long Beach College, CA, among others. The Kelowna experience is mentioned in one of your council documents.  Other jurisdictions have employed trap, neuter, release or adopt programs which have effectively reduced rabbit numbers over time.

It would be much more practical to at this time suspend trapping temporarily and explore all non-lethal alternatives...and there are many!

Under the section called "Alternatives" your staff list only "Remain status quo and do not trap rabbits" as the only alternative to giving them to one particular sanctuary (which can only take a fraction of the animals at this point) and wholesale killing of the remainder of the population.

A simple google search can net you many other options, including the aforementioned and most commonly used tactic - Trap/Neuter/Release - or TNR.  This method has been used to humanely and in a non-lethal manner reduce populations of feral animals over time (cats, dogs, rabbits, and other animals).  Animal birth control is a method fast become common, particularly with deer (part of the rabbit's lagomorph family), rabbits, and other domestic, feral, and wild animals.  All of these non-lethal options are cheaper, more sustainable, and certainly more acceptable to the community than the trap and kill method you are planning to employ for the majority of the rabbits.  Best Friends in the US has some interesting longitudinal studies on the cost/benefit ratio of non-lethal animal control.

The Feral Rabbit Management Plans calls for council to "Determine effectiveness of plan in Spring Summer of 2012".  In my opinion this would be a good point to suspend trapping if sanctuary spaces are running out, and send staff back to the drawing board to better investigate "Alternatives" and providing you with a well-researched and comprehensive set of "Alternatives" to consider.

The Canmore rabbits have attracted national and international attention.  For this reason and many others it would reflect poorly upon council and the city itself if you resorted to the most cruel and brutish plan when other alternatives are available and offered at no cost to the town by groups and individuals.  To adopt "best practices" would show the world that Canmore is socially, economically, and ecologically responsible.  In this day and age the public demands no less!

To kill your famous rabbits will relegate Canmore to the category of rabbit killing capital of Canada...and like the University of Victoria, your community will become the butt of satire, editorial cartoons, scathing editorials, etc.  Then there are the letters from school children, begging you to spare the bunnies, and letters to the editor from concerned citizens from all walks of life.  I'm sure you'd rather do without all that.

While it might be legal to kill rabbits in Alberta, it is certainly not ethical.  These rabbits are the victims of human neglect.  Their lives have been placed in the balance through no fault of their own.  You have a duty to these animals, a special duty, because they cannot speak for themselves.  If they could they would surely implore you to spare their lives and those of their families.  I too implore you to have mercy on these innocent animals and all those who care for them.  We are all hoping and and praying for a peaceful outcome.

If I can be of any assistance to you in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Roslyn Cassells
founder, Action for UVic Rabbits
Canada's first elected Green - Vancouver Park Board Commissioner 1999-2002
teacher, writer, community organizer

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