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.

“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

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

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.