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 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

Hot Tips For Keeping Rabbits Warm This Winter

Amongst our members and supporters there is a huge wealth of knowledge, so we asked everyone to share their tips. Some are well tried and tested, but others are ingenious and we wonder how we hadn’t thought of them already!

This advice is for rabbits who are in good body condition. Those who are old or thin may need even more care and we advise owners of such bunnies to bring them in for the winter.

Keeping rabbits warm is important, because in the wild they would live in underground burrows where the temperature changes only slightly between summer and winter. By keeping them above ground we are subjecting them to extremes of temperature changes and we need to help them stay warm and dry. Damp and draughts can be deadly to bunnies at this time of year.

We always recommend that rabbits are kept in pairs, and there is no nicer way to keep warm than by snuggling up to your friend.

Companionship is often overlooked, and can be even more important in the winter months. Naturally, because of the dark nights we are less inclined to spend time in the garden, so we see less of our rabbits who are kept outdoors. You must make sure you check them regularly (at least 3 times a day, but more is always better) and check that the hutch or shed is not leaking, that their bed is dry, and that they always have hay and water.

To stop water bottles or bowls freezing:

Cable tie a plant pot to the inside of the hutch and put the water bottle in there. Once the hutch is insulated it reduces the risk of the bottle freezing.

Lift water bowls off the floor of the shed or hutch, and place a Snugglesafe underneath to stop it freezing.

Wrap bottles with bubble wrap, a thermal sock or glove.

For keeping hutches and runs warm:

Use a tarpaulin with eyelets so it can be secured in place over the hutch and run.

Put old blankets or duvets over the hutch and run, but under the tarp for extra insulation. (Make sure the bunnies can not nibble any of it)

Buy a Snugglesafe heat pad to use overnight.

Use silver backed beach mats to insulate the hutch and run.

Put wind breaks up around the hutch and run.

Line sheds to create a double wall and an extra layer of insulation.

Add Perspex sheets to the front of hutches and runs to keep them weather-proof but allow the bunnies to see out. If you do this make sure there is still good ventilation, perhaps leave a small gap along the top.

Add a cardboard box with a small hole to the bedroom area and fill it with dry straw or hay.

Add a low wattage heater to a shed, but make sure the rabbits can’t chew the cable! (The RWAF suggests this should be a last resort for safety reasons and that Snugglesafes and a thick bed are a preferable solution.  If heaters are used they should be electric, not paraffin, they should be in a safe place where they cannot be knocked over, won’t have bedding  or hay pushed up against them and where a rabbit’s fur cannot come into contact as that too is combustible.  Cables should be protected from nibbling.  The temperature should rise to no more than 20 degrees)

Make sure bedding is kept warm and dry. Straw is warmer than hay so makes a better bedding, but nothing is warm if it’s wet. Your cleaning schedule needs to be scrupulous in the winter and don’t be stingy—make sure you provide a deep bedding of something like shavings or Megazorb under the straw.

Remember, that even in bad weather rabbits will need to exercise every day. It is not acceptable to keep them locked in a hutch because you are not able to provide a protected exercise area for them, so some forward planning now may be needed.

A tarpaulin gives them shelter in their run

A hutch attached to a safe exercise run means that rabbits can shelter in the hutch or exercise in the run when they please. At the very least add a tarpaulin cover to protect them from the rain and snow, and add a hiding place. (One per bunny)

Garden sheds offer a great alternative to a traditional rabbit hutch because they can be well insulated and the rabbits are nice and dry inside as well as having room to move around. It’s also easier for the owners to feed and clean out inside a garden shed in wet weather. Exercise runs can still be attached to a shed, and can still be covered by a tarpaulin.

The easiest thing to do would be to bring the hutch into an unused shed, garage (as long as the garage has a window and is not being used for a car as those exhaust fumes are very dangerous) or a conservatory. Lots of owners bring their rabbits in and keep them as house rabbits over the winter months. It’s fine to winter house rabbits and summer garden rabbits, as long as you do not embark on this and then abandon it mid-way: if you decide to do it, you will have to stick with it because it would be cruel to bring them in and let them moult their winter coat, only to put them outdoors again before spring. If you are going to do this then first of all bring them into a room with no heating and acclimatise them gradually. Remember that they may find household noises like the TV and washing machine scary so take your time. They will not be used to the artificial lights and extra ‘daylight’ either so make sure they have somewhere to hide out while they adjust.

Top tip: If bringing rabbits indoors do it gradually over a period of weeks. First of all bring them into a cold, quiet room and give them plenty of places to hide. Use their own litter tray and toys so that they have a familiar smell.

When to take action: By cold we mean if the temperature falls below zero; that is when insulating hutches and sheds and items such as Snugglesafe can be used for best effect—but of course lots of the tips relate to weather proofing and they can be used in wet and windy weather regardless of the temperature.

A 77cm hutch….

Argos hutch – 77 cms long the story so far.

Argos are selling a hutch, 77cms long that they describe as allowing the rabbit to stretch and run freely. We all know that that can’t possibly be the case, and that these hutches are cruel, and would not be suitable under any circumstances. Trading Standards have been contacted and are not able to help unfortunately. Argos have chosen to ignore our advice, so we have been sending press releases for the last few months to build awareness of our campaign and gain support. The most recent press release last week gained some good coverage, notably with The Guardian’s website picking it up, but also local press, local radio sations and specialist magazines.

So far, Argos have added text to the description of every hutch that says they should be used in conjunction with a run, and that they will offer a discount to anyone buying a hutch and run together. It is progress, but we would like to see them review their whole range, stop selling the really tiny hutches like this, and offer something more suitable.