Spring 2020 Campaign Update

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

Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund – Animal Welfare Officer Update – June 2019 to December 2019

The last six months have seen a marked increase in the number of sellers identified on internet platforms

We are so very lucky to have Mark working with us. He has absolutely thrown himself into this role and is serious about improving rabbit welfare. He has undertaken training of his own accord, and turns up at locations to follow up leads. Initially this post was funded by Pets Corner, and we are very grateful to them for getting this project off the ground for us. We now fund this project ourselves, and we are always grateful for donations that can help keep this project going.

The software that Keith Hinde developed for us is now being used by many other organisations. Here is an update from him:

“Since our little project started collecting rabbit ads from a small selection of UK sites, things have expanded somewhat!

“In the UK and Ireland, we are now collecting ads for dogs, cats, fish, horses, reptiles and (of course!) rabbits from no fewer than 11 different sites. To date, we have collected 2.2m adverts in the UK and Ireland, of which 208,698 are for rabbits. 2020 should see us add additional sources, as well as engage with stakeholders and enforcement agencies to broaden the depth and availability of the data.

“In terms of international efforts, we have run pilot projects for the EU and have active projects in both the USA and Canada, with more planned for 2020”.

Mark Dron, RWAF Animal Welfare Officer, updates us on his work over the last six months:

“This has been a busy few months with plenty of reactive and proactive work to keep me occupied.

“I recently received training relating to intelligence research, which will enable me to further professionalise the intelligence-handling work of the role, and I have recently made in-roads into liaison and joint-working with several South-East Environmental Health and Trading Standards Departments, which should assist the dissemination of intelligence to the right areas quickly, which can only serve to improve how we action Animal-Welfare intelligence.

“In addition to proactive and reactive enquiries, and attempts to identify the physical locations of ‘breeders’ in and around the South East, I have also been maintaining my watch on internet sales platforms; in so doing I have continued to build up a picture of the size and scale of online sales and sellers, helped by Hindesight’s sales monitoring software and the use of open source research tools.


“As well as intelligence and complaints from the public and RWAF members, I have also received information identifying restaurants in two London boroughs from which it was alleged rabbit-meat of dubious origin was being used to create various dishes that were popular locally. This led to observations and surveillance, as well as considerable open-source research and ultimately referral of two businesses to environmental health food safety officers for further investigation.


“The last six months have seen a marked increase in the amount of sellers identified on internet platforms, which include Pets 4 Homes, Gumtree and Facebook; the amounts are so large in fact that I have had to adopt a triage system, cross-referring my records with the Hindesight trawl data and prioritising investigations based on more than three advertisements a month, otherwise it would be virtually impossible to keep track of the enquiries.


“Since June, I have started over thirty full investigations, many of which are still in hand or have resulted in referrals to the RSPCA, Local Authorities, and in many instances HMRC, where it is likely that the earnings potential represents a likelihood of income suppression and tax evasion.


“My open source enquiries have also brought me into contact with some emerging animal welfare and health issues, that I have been able to highlight to HQ, which includes the presence of unlicensed Cannabis-
derived animal medicines in the UK market, many of which appear to be freely available on the internet, both domestically and as postal imports.


“My current workload includes a number of outstanding Freedom of Information enquiries relating to possible breeders in various South Eastern council areas, which is where I usually start my enquiries into possible online breeders. If someone holds a licence, there is little point in continuing enquiries other than where definite welfare or health concerns exist.


“2019, as a whole, has seen an increase, not only in work relating to unlicensed sales, but also the unlicensed use of rabbits and other small mammals for entertainment purposes. This has resulted in my first referrals to councils for this phenomenon. I suspect this sudden burst of activity relates to provisions within the revamped Animal Welfare regulations, that relates to the licensing of activities involving animals.


“My work continues to impinge upon other areas of potential criminality, and I have been involved in a referral to Action Fraud of an international fraudster offering dogs and monkeys for sale via local sales sites, which do not exist, resulting in considerable losses for some, as well as product counterfeiters, and what appears to be an illicit fuel supply site in the wilds of rural Kent, which came to light as a result of enquiries into a possible local rabbit breeder.


“It is important in this role to remember that crimes rarely happen in isolation, and that rabbit breeding could just be the tip of the iceberg.


“In other news, I have also been enlisted by HQ to assist with welfare enquiries in the ‘Ask the Expert’s’ section of Rabbiting On, which has given me a few opportunities to exercise my grey matter and legal knowledge in the last six months.


“In closing, please remember that I welcome referrals from RWAF members and the public, and any information you may have is always gratefully received and acted upon where possible. The information you hold could well be the missing part in a bigger jigsaw, so please never think that it is too trivial; please also remember, however, that if your information relates to a crime in progress then you should always call the Police on 999”.

Getting ‘On The Hop’ into libraries

Our ‘On the Hop’ booklet, proudly on display amongst other books

In November we were contacted by one of our Bournemouth members, who had undertaken to get our ‘On The Hop’ booklet into her local libraries, to ensure members of the public could access accurate and correct rabbit information. She wrote to us initially, and then set about contacting Chief Librarians in the counties around where she lives, Bournemouth, Dorset, Wiltshire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bristol. The results have been tremendous. Copies of our ‘On The Hop’ booklet, which we have provided free of charge, have been placed in every branch, in those areas, so they can have their own reference copy. Now, she has turned her attention to some other areas in the south too.

We are happy to extend this across the whole UK. If people are willing to write to the Chief Librarian in your area. Please copy us in if you email them (info@rabbitwelfare.co.uk), so we can keep up with progress. Let’s get good, up to date, accurate and kind information out there, so that rabbit owners care for their rabbits correctly.

If you require help in writing an email or letter please visit https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/campaigns/resources/ where you can find a template to adapt.

New Projects

There are currently no legally-binding guidelines on how pet rabbits should be housed. Photo credit – Southampton Rabbit Rescue

We are kicking off the new decade with a few projects. Some we will be able to tell you about later this year, but there are two that we are delighted to tell you about now.

Firstly, we are shortly going to be launching a petition regarding rabbit housing. We have worked with Dr Laura Dixon on this (she was part of the team that conducted some research on rabbit housing for the RSPCA, and is a member of our ‘RWAF Expert Panel’), so we know the petition is based on the most up-to-date research and evidence. This is really important. We will be gathering signatures for this from vets and other professionals, and then asking retailers to remove anything below current welfare guidelines from sale.

Enclosures that are too small for rabbits lead to decreased activity, behavioural restriction and increased stress, and by association can also lead to an increased risk of obesity and skeletal problems. Rabbits will increase their activity levels, interact more with their environment and increase the height of rearing behaviours when provided with appropriate sized enclosures. Rabbits will also work for access to increased space, showing that larger space areas are important to them. As a result, being housed in enclosures that are too small will negatively impact a rabbit’s mental and physical well-being. A survey of rabbit housing retailers found that 60.5% of one-storey hutches available for purchase did not even meet the legal minimum requirements for meat rabbits and 91.5% of these hutches did not meet the RWAF size recommendations. There are currently no legally-binding guidelines on how pet rabbits should be housed. Therefore we are asking to have these inadequately sized one-storey hutches removed from commercial sales.

The other news is that we are hosting a ‘Rabbit Welfare day’ in June.

Rabbits are all too often bottom of the agenda, and we want to raise their profile and raise awareness of the many issues they face. Richard Saunders and Rae Todd have worked with our lovely Patron, Dr Emma Milne, who is well known and respected for her welfare work, to put a great agenda together, to cover as many issues as possible in one day. We have a great line up and we will be inviting delegates from other welfare organisations, the pet industry, breeders and DEFRA in the hope that we can put rabbits top of the agenda and come up with some solutions to improve their welfare.

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 2011

Here is the latest campaign update from Rabbiting On, thank you to everyone that has supported our work and is helping us to help rabbits, together we can make a difference.
https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/campaign_updates/ROWinter11-CampaignUpdate.pdf

If you don’t want to miss a copy of Rabbiting On, and you believe that ‘ A hutch is not enough’, then join the club!
https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/join/index.php