Possibly the biggest threat to rabbit welfare right now is the huge upsurge in unlicensed breeders appearing on classified ads on the internet. These breeders are not subject to any regulations, legislation or welfare checks and they provide no care advice to their customers.

To start to tackle this problem, the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) launched the Capone Campaign.

Using bespoke software,we have been able to analyse thousands of ‘rabbit for sale’ adverts to identify unlicensed pet retailers and their Welfare Officer provides evidence to the relevant local authority.

RWAF Capone Campaign success – back yard breeders beware!


By reporting traders in this way we aim to:

  1. Identify unlicensed sellers where welfare standards are potentially 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. Make a log of responses and actions taken, or lack of amongst local authorities
  6. Gather information to build a sound basis for lobbying for better welfare or resources in local authorities

A number of online sellers have been licensed by their local authorities so far as a direct result of the campaign. This is the first time this has happened in England and is hugely encouraging. The retailers will now be inspected annually and will have to follow set conditions that should improve welfare. It will also be a warning to other back yard breeders.

The RWAF hope these examples will set a precedent for local authorities to interpret the act in a way that reflects what is happening in today’s society. Where this doesn’t happen, we are keen to enter a dialogue with DEFRA to tighten the guidelines. We are eager for a change in the law to help regulate and control online sellers of pets but until then they will continue to work with the tools we do have. If more sellers can be uncovered and licensed it all helps in the battle for positive animal welfare.

Why Capone?

Apart from it being cute to have pictures Bugsy Malone Bunnies, there is a point to the name of the campaign. Al Capone, as many may already know, was caught, not for his obvious criminal activities, but for tax evasion. We are aware that the law is not always in our favour in terms of protecting rabbits in poor welfare situations so we, like those on the trail of Al Capone, need to work every angle to make it as difficult as possible for these ‘backyard breeders’ to operate and use whichever parts of the law we can to get results.

Annual reports

The most recent Annual Report can be found in our Blog

Campaign Updates

Keep up with our campaign updates.

Online breeder sales

At present in England and Wales there is no legislation to prevent or licence the breeding of rabbits and other small mammals; we recommend that you continue to complain about internet sellers, especially where you have concerns about animal welfare, to local authorities, but do not state that they are breeding, simply state that they are selling animals online.

The sale of pet animals is regulated under Pet Shop Licensing regulations, and as such local authorities would be expected to investigate unlicensed pet sales.

The RWAF has a template for these referrals, a copy of which can be downloaded here. When using the template please remember to delete sections and words that are not appropriate to your specific complaint.

Local arrangements

This applies to all parts of the UK except Northern Ireland where animal welfare issues are licensed and enforced centrally under the Welfare of Animals Act 2011 and are primarily enforced by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, to whom this form should be sent.