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.

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