CAMPAIGN UPDATE Autumn 2019

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

Eravac – clearing up the confusion

We wanted to clear up any confusion over the efficacy of Eravac:

Hipra are awaiting the publication of results which prove a 12 month duration of immunity for Eravac

The effectiveness of the vaccine was compared with that of a placebo (dummy) vaccine in three laboratory studies involving 301 rabbits. After vaccination the rabbits were artificially infected with Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease type 2 virus. The studies showed the vaccine to be effective in reducing death. In one study all Eravac vaccinated rabbits survived compared with a 37% survival rate in the group that received the placebo vaccine. In the second study survival of Eravac vaccinated rabbits was 93% compared with 50% for rabbits given placebo. In the third study all Eravac vaccinated rabbits survived compared with less than 70% of the rabbits in the control group, when rabbits were artificially infected with Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease type 2 virus nine months after vaccination.

Secondly, it is important to realise that no vaccine offers 100% protection, and that sensible bio-security measures should also be employed, especially after cases of RVHD2 have been suspected or confirmed in an area, and sadly some of those unprotected rabbits will succumb to the disease, even with a protective dose. We also understand from Hipra that they are awaiting the publication of results which prove a 12 month duration of immunity.

Neutering advice

We have recently updated our neutering advice on our website
Photo credit A Cummings

We have also updated the neutering advice on our website: “Male rabbits can be castrated at any age. If you have taken on young rabbits, it’s best to have them castrated as soon as their testicles descend (10–12 weeks) although take advice from your own vet – some may prefer you to wait a little longer.

“The operation is fairly straightforward and recovery time is quite quick, provided there are no complications. Some vets perform rabbit castrations via the scrotum and some via the abdomen.

“If you have a young male rabbit castrated within a few days of his testicles descending into the scrotum, he won’t have the chance to become fertile and he can remain with a female littermate or companion. If castrated any older, be careful. Male rabbits aren’t sterile immediately after castration (mature sperm may have already left the testicles, and can live a surprisingly long time!). Whilst 90% of sperm die off very quickly, and while the chances of him getting an unspayed sexually mature female pregnant decline dramatically after castration, a period of up to 6 weeks is recommended to be completely safe, although shorter periods may be OK, and obviously allow bonding earlier.

“For females, the spay is a more major operation. Her uterus and ovaries have to be removed via an incision in her abdomen. Females are sterile as soon as they have been spayed, but if they have a male companion, you need to check he is gentle with her until the healing process is well underway. If you think he might mount your female rabbit, keep them apart for a few days, where they can see and smell each other through wire mesh. Does can be spayed from a similar age, but the uterus is very small at this point, and an age of 16-20 weeks is generally preferred. Spaying a rabbit over approximately 9 months can be more challenging due to the amount of fat which surrounds the uterus and its blood supply, and so not leaving it too late is best for her. Waiting till the classic 6 months risks her becoming pregnant, and at least 1 unwanted litter. The physical size of the rabbit is not usually a surgical challenge, but rabbits under 1kg become progressively more difficult to intubate, and so this weight is a useful cut off to await before surgery, where possible (i.e. some rabbits will be barely 1kg at adulthood, in which case there is little to be gained by waiting past 20 weeks)”. Our essentials feature on page 37 focuses on neutering rabbits.

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2

Sensible biosecurity measures should be employed
Photo credit R Sibbald

On the ever topical subject of RVHD2, we are frequently asked about the four month quarantine period that seems to be accepted. This advice did not come from the RWAF but in response to the questions regarding it we have released the following statement. It is not possible for the RWAF to issue blanket advice that covers all situations here as a lot will depend on the biosecurity and vaccination status of individual rescue centres for example. It is up to the rabbit owners to discuss this and agree what is best for them with their own vet. Sensible biosecurity measures should be employed

“Here at the RWAF we are getting a lot of questions about the survival of RVHD1 and 2 in the rabbit and the environment. There are a number of questions to answer, and the conditions in the wild vary, well, wildly. And also it’s good to have some safety margin, but it’s unhelpful to add a safety margin on top of an existing one, at each stage the issue is discussed!

“It’s very important to note that this is one of the few conditions in domestic pets where we have a large reservoir of infection in the wild, maintaining the disease and keeping it in play. This can make the idea of achieving “herd immunity” near impossible, and muddies the waters regarding whether an infection is a new outbreak from the same wild source, or re-infection in a group not given sufficient time for the virus to die away.

“This reference is interesting re survival in the wild population: https:// onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eva.12195, and contains some data relevant to our UK population, including that:

• The virus can survive for nine days in flies
• That whilst theoretically, rabbits who have survived infection can continue to spread it beyond the immediate period (i.e. that at times of stress they can start to shed virus again), in practice they could not make this happen
• The virus spreads at a minimum speed of 15 – 60km/week (too fast to simply be from rabbit to rabbit)
• It can cross 20 – 100km of water via birds or insects
• It can survive over the summer months before flaring up again (note that these are Australian summer months, and therefore much hotter and drier than the UK)
• Viable virus can persist for some months in tissues within a cool burrow (McColl et al. 2002; Henning et al. 2005).

“Another paper is probably the most useful: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ epidemiology-and-infection/article/survival-of-rabbithaemorrhagic-disease-virus-rhdv-in-the-environment /0736D6857EE8B52C073F75989514CDD5.

The results of this study suggest that RVHD in animal tissues such as rabbit carcasses can survive for at least 3 months in the field, while virus exposed directly to environmental conditions, such as dried excreted virus, is viable for a period of less than one month. Survival of RVHD in the tissues of dead animals could, therefore, provide a persistent reservoir of virus, which could initiate new outbreaks of disease after extended delays.

“Another study showed that while viral antigen could be detected for at least 30 days post death in a decomposing liver, infectious RVHD virus survived for only 20 to 26 days (McColl, K; Morrissy, C; Collins, B; and Westbury, H. (2002), Persistence of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease virus in decomposing rabbit carcasses. Australian Veterinary Journal, 80: 298-299. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-0813.2002.tb10848.x).

“The eight month (225 days) figure reflects the longest it is possible for the virus to survive under optimal conditions i.e. held at 4C in a viral nutrient broth. This is a theoretical situation, but the experiment was stopped at 225 days, and so this longevity could be even longer in this situation (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease: an investigation of some properties of the virus and evaluation of an inactivated vaccine (Smid et al Veterinary Microbiology, 26 (1991) 77-85).

“A four month figure has been proposed in the UK and is widely used, probably consisting of three months plus a month for the delay from infection to death, and a safety margin on top”.

Animal Welfare Officer Update January 2019 to June 2019

The last six months have been particularly busy, with a marked increase in complaints and concerns being passed by members of the public to RWAF HQ. These have predominantly been directed to the email address info@rabbitwelfare.co.uk and have related to issues involving not only breeders, but rabbits intended for food and rabbits used in entertainment.

This work has added to the self-generated and referred work on breeder and seller identification that has stemmed from the HINDESIGHT software project.

Given the scale of the issue across the country, reactive work has by necessity had to come to the fore, with proactive work being logistically more problematic, unless issues are identified in areas local to the AWO’s home base. A number of breeders and online traders have been referred to their local authorities and to the tax authorities in this period, as well as further work to identify a geographical pattern for breeders, based on stated and identified locations.
A particular case study in this period involved an individual identified in the Midlands, who is breeding and trading on a massive scale from her home address, she uses Facebook and other platforms to advertise, and breeds and keeps her rabbits in ‘accommodation’ at the rear of her address. The trader has allegedly sold sick rabbits on to members of the public, and reacted in a hostile manner when challenged about this; this information came in the form of a complaint from a concerned buyer, but also was one of those rare occasions when intelligence passed from the public, dovetailed with a proactive enquiry that was already underway into the trader based on her online trading footprint.

She has no license from the local authority to act as a seller of pet animals, so has been referred to them for action, nor does she appear to be declaring her not inconsiderable earnings to HMRC; she has been referred to the relevant authorities on both issues.

HMRC recently undertook a huge non-compliance operation on ‘rogue’ dog breeders who were evading tax on their sizeable earnings, so it is hoped that by consistent reporting and accurate estimation earnings and tax evaded we can start to make them pay attention to the murky world of rabbit breeding.

I have also dealt with two recent complaints involving individuals using pet rabbits for entertainment businesses, an activity which is covered by recent animal welfare legislation; one of the businesses was found to be licensed but there were sufficient concerns about welfare to warrant a referral to the licensing authority but the second had no such license so has been referred to their local authority for further action.

A final recent issue that arose was a little unusual, and involved a concerned member of the public referring a restaurant in SE England that was apparently offering rabbit dishes on the menu, and allowing customers to bring animals with them for slaughter on-site to be consumed in the restaurant. This is obviously of serious concern and the intelligence has been passed to the local environmental health food team for their urgent action.

With regard to breeders and online sellers, the RWAF advise the public that they acquire their rabbits from reputable rescues (adopt don’t shop!).

Sales through online platforms resulting in cash transactions and no receipts mean no recourse in the event of a problem and almost pure profit for unscrupulous traders.

You may remember that I was investigating reports of a beggar on Leicester Square in Central London, who rather than using the traditional dog to attract passers-by, is using rabbits in shopping baskets to entice the crowds and make his money. This is one of my ongoing enquiries and I am hoping to enlist the help of contacts from the local Police Station to identify him and take appropriate action if he can be found.

Additionally, I have identified a trader involved in online fraud involving the sale of ‘status’ and ‘in-demand’ puppies and monkeys, which do not exist and appear to have led to the loss of considerable sums by unsuspecting members of the public, this is another rare incidence where my suspicions and enquiries were borne out by a contact to the Dogs Trust by the National Fraud Investigation Bureau indicating that they were looking at the same individuals linked to the fraud from a different angle.

As an aside, and in a marked deviation from the world of rabbits, during my enquiries I have also identified an international seller of counterfeit watches, the modus operandi and location for which has been passed to the local police and international intellectual property protection bodies.

Statistics for six month period – Winter 2018 to Spring 2019

In the last six months I have looked at the following:

• Eight non-rabbit online traders linked to sales of puppies and monkeys, who are in fact the same fraudulent enterprise

• 271 rabbit breeders located all over the UK, but in the main in England and Wales; of these I have started formal investigations into 11 traders of which four have been completed and referred to the relevant tax and local/international authorities, and seven remain ongoing.

Summary

This has been a very busy six months, and even as I type a further two reactive complaints have arrived today from Head Office; there is no indication that the pace of complaints will slow down, and even where it does as I identify and pursue online traders with the help of the HIDNESIGHT software, new ones crop up on an almost daily basis to take their place.

Whilst these issues are by no means restricted to the rabbit trade, my investigations have shown that the problem in that area remains huge, and whilst the rewards to be made from breeding and online sales remain relatively high, with low outlay and upkeep and even lower chances of sanctions from the austerity-hit authorities, the problem is only likely to become worse.

Mark Dron, RWAF Animal Welfare Officer

Campaign Update Summer 2019

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

Animal Welfare Officer Update July 2018 to January 2019

Following on from the Spring 2018 decision by Pets Corner to finance the Animal Welfare Officer (AWO) initiative for another year, this has been a very busy six months.

Given the scale of the issue across the country, reactive work has come to the fore, with proactive work being logistically more problematic, unless issues are identified in areas local to the AWO’s home base.

This has been a busy period with a steady input of reactive work to keep me occupied, some from concerned RWAF members and staff and some from members of the public, but as ever the lion’s share of the raw data has come from the Hindesight net monitoring software, which provides me with details of prolific advertisers and breeders using an array of internet sales platforms. As with any investigation utilising raw data, many of these fall at the early stages, but some are capable of being developed in to actionable intelligence referrals for enforcement authorities.

I have also been involved in contributing to various UK Government consultations regarding animal welfare, and completed a useful course relating to animal viruses with a view to better understanding the risks posed by RVHD2 etc. in the rabbit breeding community.

Much has been achieved in the last 12 months by the Animal Welfare Officer

In my last report I summarised enquiries relating to an individual based in London, who is known to the RWAF and other rabbit welfare groups for some pretty strange ideas about how to raise and care for rabbits. This individual has been using a website and PayPal to raise money using tactics and ‘borrowed’ slogans and phrases that might convince those prepared to donate that they were making a contribution to bona-fide rabbit charities, while this individual had been barred by the Charity Commission back in the early 2000s. The issue has worsened in the last few months and after further enquiries based on new intelligence, a full fraud crime complaint has been completed and passed the individual’s local Police Service via the Action Fraud route, for their action.

A number of breeders and online traders have been successfully referred to their local authorities and to the tax authorities in this period, as well as further work to identify a geographical pattern for breeders, based on stated and identified locations.

A particular case study in this period involved an individual identified in a small riverside town in Essex, who is breeding and trading on a massive scale from her home address. She uses Facebook and other platforms to advertise, and breeds and keeps her rabbits in a converted outbuilding at the rear of her terraced home. She has diversified from breeding and selling rabbits to also selling accessories ranging from feed to straw and toys. Having been identified and visited to confirm the information, it was clear that her set-up was both professional and sizeable, bringing in estimated revenues that would certainly put her on the radar of HMRC.

Sadly, when she was reported to the local authority they stated that they had visited her and since she was only selling rabbits bred from her own pets as a ‘hobby’, she was not covered by pet shop licensing legislation, and they therefore declined to take the matter any further.

As such, following the guidelines of the Capone Campaign she was referred to the Tax Authorities and it will be for her to indicate how her ‘hobby’ income impacts on what she declares on her tax returns.

I also identified an individual in rural Kent who claims to be a hobby breeder, yet has a massive web presence as a breeder and seller not only of rabbits but also hutches, food, toys and other rabbit accessories, on a scale that has led to her having to open her own premises on a trading estate to sell and display her stock.

This is clearly more than a hobby, and a matter that has been referred to the trader’s local authority regarding her lack of a pet shop licence as well as to HMRC regarding her income.

Many rabbits are placed on the market already ill

In August, I received anonymous intelligence that a premises near Peterborough was involved in breeding rabbits for online and pet shop sale, in atrocious conditions, many of which had died of disease and starvation, and were being placed on the market in a diseased state. The informant was very worried that they and their partner might be identifiable from the intelligence, since they were very close to the people involved. This fact led to them only providing skeletal intelligence of a building description and a rough village location, with one extra piece of information leading to a cul-de-sac. After several hours of street view mapping analysis, I was able to provide local authorities with two potential locations, supported by the very brief intelligence provided, and a request that they follow up the matter through their wildlife crime partnerships.

RWAF advise the public that they only purchase their rabbits and other animals from reputable rescue centres. Sales through online platforms resulting in cash transactions and no receipts mean no recourse for in the event of a problem and almost pure profit for unscrupulous traders.

Other unusual issues reported or identified in this period have been reports of a beggar in Leicester Square, Central London, who rather than using the traditional dog to attract passers-by, is using rabbits in shopping baskets to entice the crowds and make his money. This is being looked at with contacts from the local Police Station.

Additionally, I have identified seven traders involved in the online trade of illicit items ranging from products derived from endangered species to counterfeit software, toys and DVDs. These traders have all been referred to the appropriate enforcement agencies, as has a suspected drug factory identified during a rural observation visit in Kent.

One final point of interest was my ongoing work relating to a ‘homeopathic’ rabbit remedy manufacturer and seller, reported by head office. Having confirmed that medicinal claims were being made particularly in relation to RVHD2, this individual was traced to a business premises and has been referred to the Veterinary Medicines enforcement organisation for further action.

Mark Dron – Animal Welfare Officer

Campaign Update Spring 2019

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

In the news

Richard, our Expert Vet, has been busy putting together articles for the Mail on Sunday Healthy Pet Magazine, and also for Pet Plan’s journal. On top of this we did an interview for The Times about our Capone Campaign and the huge effect that this is now having, with many other organisations using the software that we commissioned. The tool has really taken on a life of it’s own under the guidance of Keith Hinde and Tech4pets, and we are thrilled with the results it is achieving. Follow Tech4pets on Facebook for more information.

Click the link below to view the Times article in full

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Capone Campaign

Speaking of which, Mark, our Welfare Officer, has been working hard and has this update for us:

“Since June 2018 I have examined over 1,500 advertisements and advertisers across the UK. Of those where I have identified people selling and advertising more than once a month, I have carried forward 261 traders/advertisers for further examination and enquiries.

“Many of these are untraceable, but I have fully researched 22 and referred seven of those to local authorities and the RSPCA, with a further nine referred to other interested agencies.

“In this period (June to December 2018), I have had two responses; one council is still making enquiries and the second refused to investigate, stating that it was not within their remit and that they could not see that the breeder was committing any offences. Sadly this is a common response from many councils whose licensing teams are stretched to the limit under austerity measures, and therefore apply their resources to what is perceived to be higher-risk licensing problems. This means that they often devote little or no resource to animal welfare licensing.

“In addition I have identified a further three traders engaged in the sale of counterfeit goods. These have been referred to the local authority Trading Standards Departments. Also three traders engaged in the apparent sale of goods derived from endangered species; these have been referred to the appropriate Police units”.

Some casework examples from the second half of 2018 have been:

1 Report of factory breeding in awful conditions in Rutland at an unspecified location. A potential location was identified and passed to the RSPCA for further action.

2 Ongoing and lengthy enquiry to identify and locate a prolific seller in Kent using numerous platforms. At the time of writing we are anticipating a referral.

3 Complaints relating to sales of homeopathic remedies for RVHD2 by an online seller. The trader has been referred to DEFRA Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

4 Complaint about a local trader in Manchester selling an ill rabbit and refusing to acknowledge the buyer’s concerns. Enquiries linked him to numerous sites and many different types of animals being bred and sold. This has been referred to the local authority and RSPCA.

5 Reports of a beggar on Leicester Square using rabbits to entice the public (October 2018 ongoing).

Mark’s point about councils not investigating due to lack of resources highlights the nature of the battle we are fighting, but makes us even more determined to keep on trying because we need to do everything we can to prevent the suffering caused by unlicensed and casual breeders. The Capone campaign was so-called because the famous gangster was brought to justice not for his obvious crimes, but for secondary offences. Finding evidence of the sale of counterfeit goods is an example of this approach – anything to hinder these unscrupulous traders.

Take care

Anybody following any of the rabbit rescue groups on Social Media will probably have seen many rescues in the UK step in to help out a ‘rescue’ that had been keeping rabbits in absolutely atrocious conditions. We don’t know the history of the so-called rescue, or the person involved, but the rabbits are now safe with genuine rescues and are getting the best care possible. It is terrifying to think that someone calling themselves a rescue could behave in this way, and that the animals in their care could be so neglected. This serves as a warning to all of us that we need to do our homework when deciding to support a rescue financially, or to anyone surrendering a rabbit to a rescue for whatever reason. Please ask questions; any genuine rescue will be happy to answer them for you, and always ask around. Has anyone you trust seen or been inside? Do they give good advice? Does their website give information about the people in charge? Be wary of any organisation that does not give the names and experience of the people that run it, because this suggests that they may have something to hide.

Please take the time to do some research before you hand over any money, sign any petition and especially if you are trying to rehome rabbits.

It’s a shame that we have to be so careful because there are so many good rescues doing great work – please don’t stop supporting genuine rescues, but be sure to do your homework.

Winter Rescue

Although the RWAF is not a rescue, at times we are made aware of situations that we cannot ignore. Last month we were involved in a case where a large commercial breeding facility was closed. We worked closely with all involved and were able to get the remaining 37 rabbits to safety. They were mainly mums and babies.

As always a successful rescue relies on teamwork, so a huge thanks goes to the brilliant team at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Hospital for Small Animals exotics team. Special thanks going to vets Jenna Richardson and Kevin Eatwell for allowing us to fill their wards and for health checking all the rabbits and starting them off on a vaccination and neutering programme.

Huge thanks also to the incredible volunteers we rallied locally to offer short-term foster homes to acclimatise the rabbits to love and comfort, and to the rescues that have offered them spaces, in particular our friends at Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care who took a whopping 13 rabbits for us.

The RWAF are funding all the health checking, treatments, vaccinating and neutering cost of all the rabbits, which we expect to run in to several thousands of pounds.

Very sadly it was not good news for all of the rabbits that we managed to rescue, because some of the health problems were just too severe. However, they were given the very best chance possible and decisions were not made lightly. This is the hard side of rescue and something we are pleased we do not have to face every day, unlike the many rabbits rescues, for whom it is part of their day to day lives.

The lucky rabbits that were placed with rescue centres are doing well and several have already been adopted. We hope to bring you some happy ending stories next time.

We have just had our first invoice for the vet fees so far and it was £2,478.80, so the funds raised before Christmas online are a huge help towards this.

New website for pet owners

In November, as part of our role in the Pet Advertising Advisory Committee, we were one of a number of the UK’s leading animal welfare organisations, veterinary and industry bodies who have come together to launch a website to help guide the general public in what to look for when acquiring a new pet. More information is featured in Round Up on page 32. Visit the website at: howtobuyapet.org.uk

Webinar on RVHD2

We were pleased to work with Hipra, the manufacturer of Eravac, one of the RVHD2 vaccines on the market, to put this excellent webinar together. You need to create an account to view it, but you do not need to be a vet professional. Our thanks to Hipra for this. Go to: hipra.vbms-training.co.uk

Don’t wait, vaccinate

Pets Corner are displaying our vaccination poster

We were really pleased that Pets Corner and Nottcutts Garden centres agreed to display our new ‘Don’t wait, vaccinate’ poster in their stores. This will help us raise awareness of the need to vaccinate all pet rabbits. Our sincere thanks to them for working with us on this vital issue.

Rabbit-Friendly Vet list

The list now stands at 130 rabbit-friendly vet practices in the UK.

A reminder that this list is available on our website to anyone looking for a rabbit-savvy vet. To be included vet practices need to be a member of the RWAF and to have completed a comprehensive questionnaire that is reviewed by our RWAF veterinary adviser Richard Saunders.

Coming next issue

Coming next issue

The summer 2019 Rabbiting On will include features on:
• Bladder stones and sludge – Veterinary surgeon, Nathalie Wissink-Argilaga looks at what causes rabbits to develop bladder stones and sludge, the signs and treatments.
• What does poisonous mean for rabbits? – Veterinary surgeon, Guen Bradbury explains how rabbits naturally avoid poisonous plants.
• Physiotherapy – Veterinary physiotherapist, Gill Griffiths describes how and why physio is used to treat rabbits.
• How to nebulise your rabbit – Registered Veterinary Nurse, Rachel Sibbald guides us through the process.
And much more…Don’t miss out! Ensure that your subscription is up-to-date so you can receive the issue hot off the press in May 2019.

RWAF FOCUS – WHO IS WHO AT THE RWAF?

Ros has always had rescue rabbits

Ros Lamb – Director

Ros is the RWAF’s Fundraising Officer. She keeps in touch with the agencies that provide fundraising platforms and is always on the lookout for more. She contacts donors, where we have contact details for them, to thank them for donating. We can do that being a small organisation, unlike larger bodies that receive so many donations and cannot pass on personal thank you messages. She also oversees our annual
online auction.

Ros also mans the RWAF Helpline three days per week – if you phone us on Monday, Tuesday or Friday, it’s Ros you’ll speak to. And she answers most of the RWAF’s incoming mails. If you write to us at info@rabbitwelfare.co.uk or hq@rabbitwelfare.co.uk it’s Ros who will respond. This means a lot of contact with members of the rabbit-owning public, vets, boarding owners, rescues and so on.

She was one of the team who helped create our new website which of course is an ongoing project. She coordinates with Outreach Officer Hilary Luckett to identify rescues for our Sponsor a Rescue scheme.

Ros didn’t have rabbits as a child although there were always family pets – dogs, budgies, tortoises, parrots, fish – and when she became an adult she became a horse owner. She had four horses over the next 31 years and they all had a home for life with her. Rabbits came into her life in early 1998 and over those years she has always had a pair of neutered, bonded rabbits. A pair is as many as she has space and finances to look after properly, but when she wins the Lottery…! All of them have been rescues – of course! Some adopted from rescue centres, some privately rescued. This doesn’t amount to a lot of rabbits, but it does mean many, many years’ learning which is still going on, and happily they have all lived long lives. She became a RWAF member in the same year she adopted her first rabbit, although in those days it was called the British Houserabbit Association.

Ros was a teacher in secondary schools and further education from 1975 until she retired in 2008, and soon after that she was invited to join the RWAF management.

Campaign Update Winter 2018

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

Richard’s new qualification

As if Richard Saunders was not already fantastic enough, he has added another qualification to his name. He now has the European College of Zoological Medicine, Diploma Specialist in Zoo Health Management to add to his accolades. This gives him more letters after his name, and he is now on the Scientific Committee for EBVS.

RVHD2 HIPRA webinar

Richard has recorded a webinar with HIPRA, who are the manufacturer of Eravac, on the ever-popular subject of RVHD2. As soon as it is available we will share the link to it on social media, so keep your eyes peeled.

Vet list

We now have over 110 rabbit friendly vets on the rabbit friendly vet list! This is free to access to anyone via our website. Due to huge demand we have had to close applications for the rest of 2018, because we have such a backlog to get through, but we will be opening it up again in the New Year. This is great news as it shows that practices are keen to be considered rabbit savvy, and realise the rising status of rabbits in the UK. Anyone who is looking for a rabbit savvy vet can find our list here: https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/rabbit-friendly-vets/rabbit-friendly-vet-list/

Save the dates

We are finalising the conference dates for 2019 so you might like to save these dates:
1st June– Non clinical day (owners, rescue workers) in Birmingham.
1st June– Clinical͚Rabbit Essentials͛ day, in Birmingham. This is for vets and vet nurses. It is lecture based and will cover subjects that we think are essential for every small animal practice.
22nd June– Advanced Rabbit Practice, at The Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead. Lecture based, but covering more advanced rabbit care and investigation using the fantastic team at the RVC.
23rd June– Rabbit Interactive Roadshow – 2 x 3-hour workshops covering dentistry and airway management, also at the RVC, with the fabulous Craig Hunt. Small group so be sure to book early.
1st December– Rabbit Interactive Roadshow – 2 x 3-hour workshops covering dentistry and airway management, in Newcastle Upon Tyne, using the awesome Kevin Eatwell. Small group so book early to grab a place.
Full details will follow shortly. Please keep an eye on our website, and social media, or sign up to our First Alert service.  You will be able to book via our shop website shortly.

Consultations and new legislation

Despite the amount of work and debate that Brexit has generated, there is still some progress with animal welfare legislation. There have been consultations for the UK for animal sentience and for Scotland with regards to breeding and licencing. This is obviously an area we are very keen on, given our Capone Campaign work, and something we can respond to with a lot of confidence. There have also been consultations on licencing of pet shops, riding schools etc., and on the 1st October 2018 the English government launched new regulations for the sale of puppies in the UK. This is great news, and we will be looking into the possibility of this legislation applying to rabbits also.

BBC Radio Shropshire – The rabbit and guinea pig debate

BBC Radio Shropshire phoned the helpline in October after an on air discussion between listeners who were discussing keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together, which caused some contention. We were invited on the next day to put the record straight, which is exactly what Richard did!

For interest, this is our official stance:

We are often asked about keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together. This is not advisable for the following reasons: ͞Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacterial infection of the upper respiratory tract of a number of species, including dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs, related to B pertussis, which causes whooping cough in humans. It is often described as commensal in rabbits (i.e. found in this species without causing harm), however, it can be a primary disease-causing organism, and can complicate other infections such as Pasteurella. It can, though, be fatal in guinea pigs, and so keeping them in the same airspace as rabbits is not advised.
͞Rabbits and guinea pigs have different dietary requirements, particularly guinea pigs’ need for Vitamin C. ͞Rabbits and guinea pigs are not the same species, and cannot respond appropriately to one another’s behaviours. This may result in inadequate social behaviours, up to and including severe bullying. ͞
The main reason these species used to be kept together was for companionship without the risk of pregnancy. With improvements in anaesthetic safety and more widespread neutering of both species, this is less of a problem now. Whilst we would not recommend putting them together in the first place in this day and age, we would not advocate splitting up a stable sole rabbit:sole guinea pig pairing͟.

Please share our new vaccination poster

New vaccination poster

 

We are still hearing of owners who do not know about RVHD2 and the need for a second vaccine. Feedback suggested that our vaccination poster did not get the message across so we have a new vaccination poster which we hope will be more effective. If you are on social media please share. You can find it on our own social media pages and website. Just to clarify, this is our advice on vaccinations: ͞You will need to give your rabbits two vaccines every year to protect them. The most common are Nobivac (protects against myxomatosis and RVHD1) and Filavac (protects against RVHD1&2), or Eravac (protects against RVHD2)͟.

A full size version of the poster is on our Campaign page, under Resources

Latest on RVHD2

In addition to the confusion over the vaccines there seem to be rumours surfacing about more diseases. Just to put the record straight we have released this statement:

͞”Here at the RWAF we are aware of 3 significant fatal viral diseases of rabbits in the UK. ͞

Myxomatosis (covered by the vaccine Nobivac Myxo-RHD); Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 1 (covered by Nobivac Myxo-RHD), and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (covered by the vaccines Filavac KC and V, or Eravac).

͞We are not aware of any further versions of RVHD present in the UK, although the variant K5 has been discovered in Asia and Australasia. ͞

We are not aware of any viral infections that are acutely fatal to rabbits and rodents recently arriving in the UK. ͞

If anyone has documentary evidence of any exotic diseases arriving in the UK in future please inform us and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)͟.

A number of causes are being explored to explain the sudden deaths of numerous hares-(R Hale)

Myxomatosis in hares

Just as we were going to press there was an article in the news about a hare being diagnosed with myxomatosis in the UK.

Here at the RWAF we have been asked, over the past week or so, about myxomatosis in native wild brown hares in the UK. It’s important to be aware that this information is subject to change as the investigating continues, but is correct at time of posting.

Sporadic cases have been reported in the past, of suspected or confirmed myxomatosis in hares, including one which was written up in the veterinary press in 2014. However, this appears to be different in that multiple cases, from a wide geographical spread, are being reported to Dr Diana Bell, University of East Anglia and, whilst some have obvious external symptoms of myxomatosis, other dead hares look fine/in good condition or are seen dying with unusual neurological symptoms including an inability to move and seizures. A number of possible causes are being explored, including a change in virulence of myxomatosis virus, infection with Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RVHD2), or European Brown Hare Syndrome, individually or as co-infections, and it’s possible that other factors are involved.

What would really help the ongoing study into the large scale deaths of this iconic species would be for any members of the public finding a dead or ill hare to contact Dr Bell on: d.bell@uea.ac.uk. Please try and keep the body refrigerated whilst contacting Diana to arrange for a full post-mortem analysis.

Richard filming for our You Tube channel

Filming for RWAF YouTube channel

 

We are aware that our YouTube channel is in need of more content so we have recently spent the day with the lovely people at Vets4Pets Emmerson Green, Bristol, to film standard procedures and best practice. We hope that this will be accessible and useful to a wide range of people. Huge thanks to Sylvie Bolioli for giving up her time to do this

Watch this space for more videos in 2019

for us. We hope to have a lot of content for vets and owners in 2019. Again, watch this space for an update.

New RWAF Team member!

 

Baby Eden looks set to follow in her mums footsteps-(E Boyd)

We are excited to announce the newest member of the RWAF Team – please welcome baby Eden. Emma (Boyd) gave birth to gorgeous little Eden on 15th September. It will be no surprise to read that Eden is already a rabbit fan and has a good collection of rabbit themed clothes and toys. Emma is on maternity leave until the New Year but she will soon be back in the swing of things and working alongside Rae to organise the CPD for 2019. If Eden is anything like her amazing mum then animal welfare is going to have a fantastic new advocate.

Campaign Update Autumn 2018

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

The Capone Campaign

For those of you that may be reading this for the first time, a quick reminder about our Capone Campaign.

Mark Dron has been working on several
investigations for the Capone Campaign

The online sale of pet rabbits is a huge problem and rapidly increasing. Rabbits are 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 often results in neglect and suffering on the part of the rabbit. On top of this, because there is no vetting of the buyer, it is known that rabbits are bought not as pets but as live food or for use in animal training.

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 for concerned parties such as the RWAF.

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.

The Campaign – its aims

1 The RWAF and Pets Corner, using software developed by Hindesight, want to identify people who appear to be operating at home as pet shops and to capture their online activity.

2 To highlight these sellers to their Local Authorities and state that they be licenced and inspected as pet shops. We have guidance from DEFRA to support this.

3 To report these sellers to HMRC to ensure that they are paying the correct tax.

4 To ask that the classified sites register these sellers as commercial and not private accounts.

5 To keep a log of the reactions of every Local Authority and use this to report to the Minister for Animal Welfare at the end of the trial period to highlight where the legislation is not working and needs to be improved.

6 To lobby for improved legislation where the need is identified.

Outcomes hoped for

1 Identify unlicensed sellers, which are most likely going to be backyard breeders where welfare standards are poor.

2 Make local authorities aware of the problems that unlicensed sellers cause.

3 Make it more difficult for these sellers to operate so that it is less appealing and less rewarding.

4 Uncover poor welfare standards that can then be reported to the RSPCA and action taken.

5 A log of responses and actions taken, or lack of, amongst Local Authorities.

6 A sound basis for lobbying for better welfare or resources in Local Authorities.

We are now starting our third year of this campaign, and Mark Dron has been with us for just over 12 months. Because of his background in the Police force Mark has widened his role to include offences that breach trading standards, as well as welfare, he will explain more about this in his update below.

Mark is keeping very busy using the data supplied by Hindesight and also complaints we get from supporters. We are delighted that Pets Corner have agreed to fund Mark’s position for another 12 months. Mark is a huge asset to the RWAF and continues to push for better standards and welfare. Our thanks to Pets Corner for their support that has made this position possible.

Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund – Animal Welfare Officer Update April to June 2018

“In the last month we have established that Pets Corner have agreed to finance the Animal Welfare Officer

Credit: E Boyd The online sale of rabbits is a massive welfare concern

initiative for another year; my thanks to Pets Corner for their commitment to assisting with the growing effort to control unregulated internet sales of pet animals.

“This has been a busy few months with plenty of reactive and proactive work to keep me occupied. As a result of the complaints received, I have investigated and referred an active online trader based in Manchester to Salford City Council’s Environmental Health licensing team; this individual appears to have sold at least two rabbits for cash that subsequently very quickly succumbed to Myxomatosis. When challenged by the buyer, the seller denied all knowledge of the rabbits or the sale or indeed of any health issues amongst his animals.

“My investigations have linked this seller to sales of rabbits of all types as well as guinea pigs and a diverse array of birds including budgies and chickens, across a wide range of sales platforms.

Credit: C Speight Rabbits that are bought without correct advice often suffer neglect

“As well as being a very sad story since one of the newly purchased rabbits had died as a result of the infection, this is also a stark example of the perils of buying animals online for cash, from individuals who on occasions place profit before animal welfare. Sales through online platforms resulting in cash transactions and no receipts, mean no recourse for you in the event of a problem and almost pure profit for unscrupulous traders. The individual has been identified and referred to the City Council, HMRC and the RSPCA for further investigation and where necessary enforcement action.

“I have also been involved in an enquiry relating to an alleged ‘vaccine’ for myxomatosis and RHD-2; this is apparently a homeopathic remedy that can also be used in different variants to treat canine, horse and feline ailments.

“As per guidance published by the RWAF’s veterinary specialist on Twitter, there is no substitute for the genuine and approved vaccine. Homeopathic ‘vaccines’ are untested and are unlikely to provide the protection for your animals that the genuine veterinary medicines can.

“The ‘vaccine’ is being investigated and the seller(s) will be referred to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) for further enquiries.

“Aside from these two major work-streams, I have also been maintaining my watch on internet sales platforms, building up a picture of the size and scale of online sales, helped by Hindesight’s sales monitoring software and the use of open source research tools”.

Mark Dron

Summer 18 Campaign update

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

Rabbits sold online via classified ads in the what they did UK: when, why, and how many?

What they did

Vikki completed an internship with the RWAF

When Vikki Neville started her internship at the RWAF, the team were keen to investigate the problem of rabbit rehoming. Elaine Line and Keith Hinde had been collecting data on rabbits advertised via online classified websites for some time, which not only allowed them to count the number of rabbits rehomed online but also gave them the opportunity to look at the reasons why people were doing so. They trawled through the data, picking out the reasons the owner gave for rehoming their rabbit, and then looked for trends in the data that might hint at the real reasons for rehoming. They’ve just published their findings in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science – a peer-reviewed journal co-sponsored by the Animals & Society Institute (ASI) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

How many rabbits were advertised online?

They found that 7,315 different adult rabbits were advertised on the website Preloved in 2016 alone. The average age of these rabbits was 14 months, and most were less than two years old. The average lifespan of a companion rabbit is four to thirteen years (depending on size), so these rabbits were very much in the first flush of youth.

What reasons did people give for selling their rabbit?

The main reason people gave for giving up their rabbit was that they didn’t have enough time to care for the rabbit (21%), closely followed by issues with housing such as moving home (16%) and a change of circumstances (14%). In 10% of cases, the caregiver said that their child was no longer interested in the rabbit.

What does the data suggest is the real cause of rehoming?

When they looked at the number of rabbits advertised for free in each season, they noticed a significant spike in the number of rabbits advertised during the winter. There are several possible reasons for this. Firstly, most companion rabbits are housed outdoors, so in winter when the weather is cold and rainy, cleaning is likely to become an extra onerous task for most caregivers. Inclement winter weather could also influence how often caregivers interact with their rabbit; perhaps caregivers had great fun sitting in the garden with the rabbit in summer, but not so much in winter. It’s also possible that interest in the rabbit wanes after Christmas when children receive toys that they find more interesting than the rabbit.

Were there any findings that aren’t depressing?

Yes! They found that the total number of rabbits advertised online had decreased over the last few years. In September 2013, a voluntary scheme was launched in which advertisements on several UK classified websites, including those investigated in this study, which contravened the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) Minimum Standards were removed from the websites. So, it seems like this scheme has worked to reduce the number of advertisements. Of course, it’s possible that people are rehoming their rabbits through other websites that aren’t regulated or via other means.

Conclusions

It seems like many people don’t know what they’re getting in to when they purchase a rabbit. That’s why the findings suggest that education is key. Giving potential caregivers information about the lifespan of rabbits and their substantial husbandry requirements, especially in winter, might deter the purchase of rabbits by caregivers unable or unwilling to care for them in the long-term. Working to prevent the impulse purchase of rabbits could also be useful in reducing the number of rabbits rehomed. Implementing legislation and shifting human behaviour is a slow process, but highlighting the problem rabbits face in an academic journal is an important first step towards getting people to pay attention to the issues.

RWAF note: It was a pleasure to have Vikki as an intern and we are delighted that her time with us was so useful. We wish her luck for the future and we know that she is going to have a brilliant future ahead of her.
Ref: Neville, V., Hinde, K., Line., Elaine., Todd, R., Saunders, R, A. (2018). Rabbit relinquishment through online classified advertisements in the United Kingdom: when, why, and how many? Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

Time flies: are you taking the time to protect your rabbits from flystrike?

 

Flystrike is often a rapidly fatal disease, caused by flies, notably ‘Green Bottles’, laying eggs on damp areas of a rabbit’s skin and fur. When these eggs hatch, the maggots can eat the flesh of the rabbit causing severe pain, tissue damage and infections, and many affected rabbits will go on to die. You probably know that flies and their maggots are more normally associated with things that are already dead, and they are commonly to be found around our dustbins. However, if pet rabbits are not kept in clean conditions, or are unable to keep themselves clean, they too can be affected by flystrike. When it occurs, it is a serious welfare concern. Fortunately however, it can be prevented.

Researchers at the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) based at the University of Liverpool have been investigating what puts rabbits at risk of flystrike. SAVSNET collects data from veterinary practices and labs across the UK to help further understand the diseases of our pet animals. SAVSNET worked with 389 veterinary practices right across the UK to collect information from over 30,000 rabbit consultations, identifying 205 rabbits that had been diagnosed with flystrike. It is well known that the flies that cause flystrike

are present at certain times of the year. SAVSNET has, for the first time, described the effect of seasonality on flystrike occurrence in rabbits. The research team found that flystrike was first recorded in the month of April, and almost 70% of cases occurred between June and August. In addition, for every 1°C rise in the average temperature, the risk of flystrike increased by 33%. Rabbits who were aged five years or more were almost four times as likely to have flystrike than younger rabbits, and unneutered does were over three times more likely to be affected than does that had been neutered.

Rachel Turner, a veterinary student who carried out the work as part of her veterinary undergraduate course said, “As well as confirming the seasonality of the disease and other risks, we can now use these results to warn owners when to check their rabbits for any signs of flystrike and treat their rabbits to prevent it.”

With 45% of the affected rabbits from the SAVSNET study either dying or being put to sleep, these risks are important for owners to keep in mind. There is lots of information available about measures to prevent flystrike, such as keeping rabbits and their environment clean, making sure rabbits do not become overweight (which reduces their ability to groom themselves), and most importantly, taking the time to check rabbits frequently for signs of dirty fur or flystrike. In addition, preventive treatments aimed at deterring flies from rabbit accommodation can be obtained from veterinary practices. If owners have any concerns, they are strongly advised to take their rabbit to see their vet immediately.

SAVSNET collects data from veterinary practices and laboratories so that researchers can help improve understanding about what makes pets ill. Find our more information at www.liverpool.ac.uk/savsnet and on Facebook and Twitter @savsnet.

Richard scoops prestigious award for dedication to rabbits

Richard with his CEVA award

We are sure you will all join in saying huge congratulations to Richard. As our Specialist Veterinary Adviser, Dr Richard Saunders has been recognised as an Animal Welfare Hero and been awarded the prestigious title of the Chris Laurence Vet of the Year at the 2018 Ceva Animal Welfare Awards.

Richard was nominated for his dedication to improving pet rabbit welfare, in particular the huge amount of work involved in getting a new vaccine into the UK to protect all pet rabbits against an emerging deadly disease (RVHD2). We all owe Richard a huge debt of thanks for his success with the vaccine. So far it is estimated that in the region of 70,000 rabbits have been vaccinated thanks to Richard.

Richard’s day to day work educating vets and clients on the needs of rabbits as pets has been as vital as his work on the vaccine. Rabbits are amongst the most neglected of pets, and people like Richard who raise awareness of the needs of the species, have a huge impact on the welfare of these hugely misunderstood pets.

No more ‘stress rabbits’ at Heathrow

At the start of the Easter holidays we were horrified to see that there were rabbits in the terminals, being offered as stress relief for travellers. Obviously a busy airport is no place for rabbits. Not only will this have been stressful for them, but the biosecurity risk was a real concern. We contacted the company that provided the rabbits and the local authority responsible for the airport and they began to investigate. We do have a contact at Heathrow airport and we also contacted them and discussed our concerns. We also shared our concerns on social media, where of course Heathrow was inundated with messages pointing out the obvious; it was a bad idea. We’re not exactly sure what did the trick but within an hour Heathrow had confirmed that they would cancel the event. Thanks to Heathrow for acting so swiftly and to everyone who contacted them.

Rabbits in the news

 

The RWAF supported Burgess’ Suzanne Moyes on This Morning

Pet Rabbit Welfare Guidance – Scotland

 

The RWAF is happy to have been involved with working on Pet Rabbit Welfare

Pet Rabbit Welfare Guidance – Scotland

Guidance, now available on the Scottish Parliament website. This is a great step forward in giving formal structures to ensure that pet rabbits are properly looked after throughout their lives: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2018/04/3112

The Healthy Pet Guide

We have had a very busy few weeks around Easter. Easter is

The Healthy Pet Guide feature reached far and wide

always a busy time for the media and we were really delighted to be invited on the BBC Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ to discuss the Easter Amnesty. We then did a live interview for BBC Radio Gloucester and then a pre-recorded session for BBC radio Somerset.

We also had a great two-page spread in the ‘Healthy Pet Guide’, which was inserted in the Mail on Sunday, so had great reach, and also a brilliant one page article in ‘Yours’ magazine.

As if that was not enough, during the Easter holidays we worked with our friends from Burgess Pet Care on the set of This Morning (thank you to Runaround for providing the binky box and tunnels), and it was a really great piece promoting rescue rabbits. We were behind the camera making sure the right message was given to the millions of viewers.

From there we went straight to Birmingham to the CEVA awards where we celebrated Richard Saunders being recognised as a Welfare Hero for his huge amount of work involved in getting the RVHD2 vaccine into the UK.

We then spent two days with Burgess at the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Congress, talking to veterinary professionals and launching Rabbit Awareness Week. It’s great to work with other such dedicated people.

Dunelm remove cage from sale

The power of social media worked again when we shared a small hutch for sale on Dunelm’s website. Dunelm very quickly removed it from sale and promised to look into their range. If you see something that worries you please share it with us on one of our social media platforms.

Easter Amnesty

Once again this year Pets Corner, Pets at Home and Jollyes suspended sales of rabbits over the Easter period. Good news, especially with the release of Peter Rabbit in cinemas. We’d like to thank these retailers for taking part in the Easter Amnesty.

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.

Introduction

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
irresponsible.

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.

Conclusion

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.

THANK YOU RICHARD!

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.