Spring 2018 Campaign Update

Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.

Online sale of rabbits

Unlike these rabbits, many don’t live in a suitable environment
The online sale of pet rabbits is a huge problem and rapidly increasing. Rabbits are often sold without any accompanying care advice and without any vetting of the buyer. Rabbits are probably the most misunderstood of pets, so when people take them on without knowing how to care for them it results in neglect and suffering on  the part of the rabbit.

Pet shops in the UK are licenced by their local authorities and subject to annual inspections. They are also public places and welfare standards front of shop can be monitored by the public who can report any concerns. Pet shops should also be licensed according to the Sale of Pets 1951 legislation, and according to the Model Licence Conditions that were updated in 2013. All of this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any problems in terms of welfare, but it at least provides some protection for the animals, and some legal recourse.

This is not the case with online sales. Anyone can breed animals at home and sell them online. This activity is not licensed and there are no inspections. It is not public and there are no model conditions to be adhered to. It is mostly cash based and therefore untaxed.

Back in 2013 the RWAF discussed developing software with Hindesight, with the specific task of finding unlicensed online breeders/sellers. This software is now in use by other charities and the RWAF are very proud to have led the way here.

As you may already know from previous updates, we are very lucky to have Mark Dron in place as our Welfare Officer, who is monitoring the data provided by the software, as well as responding to other concerns that we see online.

This is a recap of what Mark has been working on during the first six months with us.


Mark Dron has been working as the RWAF Animal Welfare Officer since May 2017
The Capone Campaign is designed to identify ‘rogue’ rabbit breeders, who use internet sales platforms (such as Ebay, Gumtree, Facebook, Shpock etc), as well as Pet Fairs and Boot Fairs, to sell rabbits, often with no welfare considerations for the animals, no health checks or vaccinations and no Local Authority licensing in place for running a pet sales business. The campaign relies on software provided by Hindesight, which maintains regular surveillance on sales sites looking for key words, and is then able to identify rabbit breeding and sales across the various platforms. It links common phone numbers, user names and email addresses, to minimise the ability of these ‘rogue’ traders to hide behind multiple anonymised identities. The RWAF also relies upon information provided by concerned members of the public about the welfare of rabbits in trade, and proactive research and investigation by the dedicated Animal Welfare Officer/investigator.

A post has been funded by Pets Corner since late 2015, working eight hours per week and tasked with a duty to carry out proactive and reactive investigations, based upon data provided by Hindesight and other sources. In May 2017 a new officer was retained by the RWAF, and the campaign was able to continue with its mission to identify ‘rogue’ traders and use every avenue available to it to minimise the impact of their activities. This includes referral to Local Authority Licensing Teams regarding failure to license pet sales businesses, the Police National Wildlife Crime Unit, RSPCA Intelligence Team and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The new officer brings with him over 25 years’ experience of investigation and enforcement work, coming from service with the Police as a Wildlife Crime Officer and Team leader of proactive intelligence teams, as well as from leading intelligence and investigation teams in a variety of Local Authority and Government agencies including Trading Standards and the Financial Conduct Authority.

2017 – A timeline

May 2017: The new officer was recruited and commenced duties on or about 28/05/2017.

June 2017: Investigations started in earnest, the first enquiry stemmed from information supplied by the RWAF Senior Management regarding the activities of a former glamour model, who had taken to breeding and selling giant rabbits, online. Investigations traced this breeder to their home address, and linked them to a pedigree
puppy breeding business.

They were referred to the Local Authority regarding the operation of an unlicensed pet sales business, and HMRC’s Tax Evasion Unit in London.

June also saw a wholesale review of how we did intelligence work, and the new officer revamped referral forms and processes to bring them in to line with the National Intelligence Model (NIM). This included the creation of a bespoke 5x5x5 Intelligence Document, a S9 Witness Statement, an intelligence/enforcement referral document,
as well as the start of research regarding sourcing a Criminal Justice secure email address and Data Protection Registration.

Ongoing long-term project work was also started in June. This involved the identification of traders using Gumtree and Pets4Homes with multiple identities and believed to be operating in the South East of England and further afield.

July 2017: Work started on two Kent-based prolific traders, one dealing in rabbits and wallabies and the second ostensibly based on the Island of Sheerness. The major concern with the Sheerness trader is the well-known presence of RVHD2, rendering the uncontrolled sale of pet rabbits from that location suspect and highly

Work also started on the creation of a database of online traders, starting with those in SE England and London, and intended to develop across the UK as time allowed.  In tandem with this was the creation of a database of licensed sites, sourced from Open Source Local Authority Information and Freedom of Information requests.

August 2017: August saw the commencement of our long-term enquiry to identify one of the most prolific ‘rogue’ traders on the internet based in Halifax, who appeared to be linked to organised crime in that area. This enquiry is ongoing, and initial referrals have already been made to the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and RSPCA as well as enquiries with the relevant local authorities.

Other work in August related to the establishment of our secure CJSM (Criminal Justice) email address, which allows us to make contact with the Police and other enforcement bodies in a secure fashion, thus allowing for a free passage of intelligence information. There was also the registration of the RWAF with the Information
Commissioner for Data Protection purposes, which allows us to handle certain sensitive data.

September 2017: September saw enquiries commenced in to the activities of traders in Kent, Essex, Suffolk and Wiltshire. An urgent referral was forwarded to the Animal Welfare Officer (AWO) regarding a female breeder operating on Facebook, who appeared to be selling rabbits via that platform despite having had RVHD2 diagnosed in her animals. An urgent intelligence referral was made to Wiltshire Trading Standards and the RSPCA, once the breeder’s last known address had been identified.

Incorrect care leads to neglect and suffering
October 2017: Work began on investigations into the activities of a Leeds based trader, who has been identified as a prolific breeder and advertiser, and a further Kent-based trader, who again is a prolific advertiser and sells using her own website.

October also saw work begin on a project identifying vendors of rabbit hutches, both online and in shops, offering products claiming to be authorised and recommended by the RWAF. To date two traders have been referred to local Trading Standards teams and the Advertising Standards Authority for making misleading claims in their advertising.

November 2017: Work continued regarding online and physical sellers around the South East. This included investigations regarding an urgent RWAF Management referral, following complaints about a breeder, who had been seen selling rabbits at a Pet Fair in the Thames Valley area, and keeping them in atrocious conditions. This seller was traced to Kent, where they run a Rare Breeds Centre from a Farm, the animals there are also being kept in suspect conditions.

This trader had claimed to the organisers of the Pet Fair that she held a Pet Shop Licence; this has however been shown to be a false claim. A full referral has been made to her Local Authority, HMRC and the RSPCA. In addition to this workstream, a further enquiry has arisen from Open Source monitoring of the Facebook Rabbit
Sales account, leading to a woman in Herne Bay, Kent who is running a rabbit breeding, sales and accessories website from her home address. This individual has been referred to her Local Authority, Canterbury City Council and to HMRC.

December 2017: Following a complaint from a member of the public regarding an online seller (using Gumtree) based in Wood Green, an investigation has been launched to identify and refer the individual as a matter of urgency. In his sales photos he can be seen mistreating one of his rabbits, holding it vertically by the ears,
and the conditions in which it and other rabbits are depicted fall well short of basic Animal Welfare Standards.

Enquiries have linked this individual to the sale of chickens as well as rabbits via a second online sales platform. Once again the conditions depicted are atrocious and urgent action is needed to intervene from an animal welfare standpoint. As such this was the officer’s priority investigation for December, although initial intelligence regarding his believed location and phone number(s) has already been passed to the RSPCA and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

December has also seen the start of a work-stream to identify Romanian online traders, who are believed to be involved in the sale of pet rabbit breeds for food, anissue that has been mooted via social media for a few months, and appears to have become an issue to fuel the demand for rabbit meat amongst the Roma Gypsy
community in the UK.

In addition December has also seen the identified trader records moving north and west from the South East where resources have been concentrated for the first six months of the AWO’s tenure with the RWAF.


This report covers the period 28/05/2017 to 31/12/2017, which spans the current tenure of the Animal Welfare Officer/Investigator employed by the RWAF as part of the Capone Campaign.

The Campaign funds the officer for eight hours per week, and this has meant that prioritisation of workloads has been a major factor of the latter half of 2017’s activities.   The RWAF’s intelligence and investigation capability has had to be reviewed, and updated, making the function suitable to operate alongside and integrate with the
intelligence and investigation functions of other Animal Welfare charities and enforcement agencies. Therefore we now have Data Protection Registration, CJSM Secure Emails, and utilise National Intelligence Model referral forms, Magistrates’ Court Act compliant statements and the like.

In addition to this ongoing work, investigations have been instigated, in particular with regard to urgent cases, raised either by concerned members of the public/RWAF Management, or through issues being identified by the AWO. Six of these have been completed and referred to the appropriate local authorities, and nine intelligence referral packs have been passed to other enforcement/animal welfare agencies. In addition to this, the AWO has also fielded enquiries relating to ongoing animal welfare issues, and provided input to government animal welfare legislation consultations.

It is anticipated, now that the lion’s share of the overhaul of the administration of the function has been completed, that 2018 will see an exponential increase in investigation and intelligence work generated by the AWO.

Summer 17 Campaign Update

Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.

Rabbit Interactive CPD

Our popular ‘Rabbit Interactive’ CPD (continuing professional development), which is sponsored by Burgess Pet Care, is rolling out some ‘road shows’ later this year. There is still a huge demand for airway management and dentistry education and we are very proud to have the only Vet CPD provided by Specialists. We will be issuing vets with certificates to show they have passed the course and we hope it will give owners reassurance to see these certificates in practice and know that their vets are up to date with the best techniques.

This is in addition to the ‘rabbit friendly’ vet list which is on our website. Make sure you ask your vet if they are rabbit friendly and if they have joined the list.

Our website

Talking of our website, we have been working on a new one for a while now and by the time you get this issue of Rabbiting On the new website should be live. There are lots of sources of information out there and it can be hard to know who to believe. Our website is checked by our Education Team, headed up by Dr Richard Saunders, and thanks also to Dr Elisabetta Mancinelli and Dr Brigitte Lord for their help. So you can rest assured it is evidence based, correct and up to date. We were very honoured to have the wonderful Dr Emily Blackwell write the handling and transport sections of the new website for us. We can’t mention the website without
thanking Reena and Nitesh for their brilliance and patience. We’re pretty impressed with it, if we do say so ourselves, and hope you are too!

Lizzie’s Top Tips

Those of you who have been members for a long time might remember Lizzie Smith, who was one of the

Lizzie is delighted to be involved with the RWAF again

founding members of the then BHRA. Lizzie has recently returned from Malaysia where she set up a new campus for Newcastle University. Lizzie has a huge amount of experience with marketing and social media, and now that she is back in the UK we have been fortunate enough to benefit from her expertise with some new campaigns. The first one was our take on an Easter campaign, which involved making the reality of rabbit ownership in to 10 facts, so that owners were aware of the amount of time, expense and space involved in caring for them properly. The campaign was a great success with 2091 shares and a whopping 344,111 people reached! Huge thanks to Lizzie from us all at RWAF. We have more campaigns in the pipeline so please keep sharing and helping us to spread the right messages.

Lizzie says “I am absolutely delighted to be back working with the RWAF team again after spending time abroad. The RWAF is an organisation that is very close to my heart so I am really looking forward to helping to develop more social media campaigns and to working with you, our members, in order to help to educate more rabbit owners and to spread the word that a Hutch is Not Enough!”

The problems with ‘short-faced’ pets – it’s not just a dog problem

In recent months the issue of health problems in short-faced or brachycephalic dogs has been highlighted to the public, in the media and following high profile events like this year’s Crufts. However, now three major animal welfare charities have united to send the message that this problem is not limited to dogs alone.
International Cat Care (iCatCare), the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) and the RSPCA have come together to raise awareness that breeding cats and rabbits with exaggerated flat faces can cause health and welfare problems, as in dogs.

Photos of short-faced breeds superimposed onto ‘normal animals’ are shocking across every species

Short-faced cats like Persians can have all the same issues as dogs – breathing and dental problems, skin fold infections and also problems giving birth, to name a few. Claire Bessant, chief executive of iCatCare, said, “It is very depressing to see the life which has been deliberately dealt to some breeds of cats because of a human desire to develop a certain look. I urge cat lovers to speak out and help others to understand that this is not something we should be doing to cats, and not something we should be tolerating. One of the best and most beautifully naturally designed animals – the cat – would not normally have any of these problems; we have created them through selective breeding. We should not be encouraging people to breed these cats by calling them ‘cute’, by being amused at their facial characteristics, or by the fact that they snore – rather we need to understand that this is human intervention that is wholly detrimental to the welfare of the cats and is simply cruel. International Cat Care takes an ethical view of all cat breeds and our website (http://icatcare.org/advice/cat-breeds) outlines the problems that exist for some breeds, including very flat-faced cats in the Persians and Exotic breeds. Our stance is that we should never deliberately breed cats for any feature or characteristic that impairs their welfare.”

Sadly, rabbits have also fallen foul of the human desire for shorter, ‘cuter’ faces. Richard Saunders, head vet at the RWAF, said “Breeds like the Netherland dwarf and the popular Lionhead breed have become more and more brachycephalic. In rabbits this is disastrous. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their whole lives and must line up exactly to wear down evenly. The short face means the bottom jaw is longer than the top one, just the same as in bulldogs and pugs, and the teeth do not line up. Teeth soon overgrow, causing chronic pain, lacerated mouths, abscesses and in many cases, death. The tear duct is also distorted (as it is in brachycephalic cats) and the rabbits often have tears and even pus overflowing onto their faces. Hand in hand with the short faces come the lop ears, rather than the wild, natural upright ears. These rabbits have a high level of middle ear infections and can’t communicate with other rabbits normally, leading to behavioural problems.

“We would like to see an end to selection for “cute” faces and lop ears, and to preferentially breed rabbits with a more “wild type” face shape, which is associated with far fewer genetically induced diseases.”

RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Richards said, “Dogs who have been bred to have short, flat faces often have narrow nostrils and abnormally-developed windpipes. They can suffer severe breathing problems and many have difficulty enjoying a walk or playing. The RSPCA believes there is still much to be done to protect the future health of dogs and that all those who breed dogs should prioritise health, welfare and temperament over appearance when choosing which animals to breed. For help when choosing a dog, please use the RSPCA/AWF Puppy Contract, and if you’re worried about the health of a particular puppy, contact a vet for advice.

“We are very concerned that these issues are now being seen in other species and would urge everyone concerned, from breeders to buyers, to do what they can to reduce the demand for such extremes.”

Emma Milne, vet and long-time brachy campaigner, is a patron of the RWAF and an ambassador for iCatCare. She said, “It’s been over 100 years since the first veterinary paper on the problems of brachycephaly in dogs. We MUST learn from what we have done to these animals and stop it in other species right now. These charities are world leaders in welfare science and the fact they have united to highlight this issue speaks volumes. I hope people listen.”

Meet our Intern placement

Vikki will be working with the RWAF for three months

We are very excited to have Vikki Neville with us for three months starting in April as an intern. Vikki is a PhD student at Bristol University studying Clinical Veterinary Science, specifically focusing on animal emotions. Her work is well respected and ground breaking and we are honoured that she has chosen to spend her placement with us. Vikki has two rabbits of her own and is dedicated to improving welfare. Vikki has a lot of ideas for her time with us; one of them will involve contacting rescue centres and getting some information on relinquishment. If you do hear from Vikki we would be really grateful if you could help her.

Vikki says “I’m really excited to undertake an internship with the RWAF. I’m really passionate about rabbit welfare and hope that my work over the next three months will contribute to the RWAF’s great work in improving the lives of companion rabbits in the UK.”

Yay Richard!

Richard has made a huge contribution to improving domestic rabbit health and welfare

We wanted to take a moment to sing the praises of our resident Vet Specialist Adviser, Richard Saunders.

As many of you will know, Richard has made a huge contribution to improving domestic rabbit health and welfare in too many ways even to count.

One of Richard’s most notable achievements – so notable that it’s been recognised with nominations for both a CEVA and a Pet Plan award – is his trailblazing work to bring the RVHD2 vaccine to the UK. Richard hopped through hoops to make this happen and as a result around 70,000 rabbits have been protected against this fatal disease in the UK already. This is all thanks to Richard’s tireless efforts.

We are a small organisation and Richard’s contribution as a vastly knowledgeable and passionate vet is vital. On a day to day basis he supports vets and members with queries on difficult cases, deals with

press enquiries and checks applications for our Rabbit Friendly Vet List. He also writes and reviews articles for Rabbiting On

Richard sits on several working groups looking into long term welfare issues and his input helps shape the strategy of the RWAF. Richard is basically magnificent. We are so grateful for all his efforts and wanted to share that with all our lovely supporters.


Peppa the BBC rabbit

BBC Trust Me I’m A Vet final setup

Meet Peppa. He is a four-year-old male rabbit who was rescued by a lovely family in Bristol. You may have seen our appeal for a single rabbit via social media, and Peppa’s family answered our call! This was for a BBC programme featuring rabbits, dogs and cats, which will be aired this Summer. Peppa’s family had recently adopted him and knew that they wanted to improve his life but of course for new rabbit owners this can be a bit daunting. RWAF had the great pleasure of working with Dr
Nicola Rooney from Bristol School of Veterinary Science on this project. We started off by health checking and neutering Peppa, and letting him settle down. In the mean time we started to look for a suitable partner for him, and inevitably we ended up meeting the lovely Alice at Windwhistle Warren, who was able to pick the perfect match in the form of a young black lop, Betsy. On the day that Peppa went off to Alice to be paired up, the exciting job of transforming the housing in to something more suitable commenced. We really wanted to do a good job of this because it was such a great opportunity to get the messages and ideas out to other rabbit owners, so the cost of all of this was met by the RWF. Here are a few photos of the transformation – and you can read more about it on our website.

Planning application update

We mentioned this in the last issue, and you may have already heard, but we are delighted that the planning application for a rabbit breeding farm in Crowland,
Lincolnshire has been refused.

This was an issue that stirred the welfare community, with rescues, organisations and individuals voicing their disapproval.

The RWAF quickly invested in the advice of Savill’s planning consultants and on 17th January we raised a formal objection to South Holland District Council, challenging
specific parts of the application. We understood that we had to raise a watertight case because the application was a second attempt, with the developers having overcome the grounds on which the first was declined. We are always aware that even with moral protests being raised, cases like this often go against us because welfare arguments are not valid planning objections. Instead, we used some of our funds to employ a specialist, so that we targeted our objections on the particulars of the application. Having read the refusal letter it looks like our objection hit the spot and it’s fantastic that our voice has been heard.

This has cost us around £700 but we think it was money well spent, and it was the only way to do the objection justice.

There is already a rabbit welfare crisis in the UK and we do not need any more commercial breeders. Everyone can do their bit to help. Please remember, always adopt, don’t shop.