Shelter for All

A few years ago, on a hot, muggy spring day, I was driving through Clifton Park when I saw a sign that read, “Rabbits and Chickens for Sale.” The sign was posted in front of an old, run-down shack that was overrun with brush and hedges which obviously had not been trimmed in 20 years.Out of curiosity, I pulled into the muddy driveway. As I got out of my truck, an elderly, bearded man approached and said, “You lookin for a rabbit?” “I´m thinking about it,” I replied. “I only got one left,” he said and led the way. As I followed him past empty feed bags, pie tins, old tires, overgrown weeds, and a few skimpy chickens, we came to five or six covered, wire crates sitting in the direct sun. I imagined that all were being used to house rabbits.

…the rabbit was dying from heat exhaustion… The man seemed concerned and give me the rabbit which died in my lap as I drove home.

Fortunately, with the exception of a crate resting on top of two concrete blocks, the rest were empty. As I peered in, I saw a small, gray, lethargic rabbit lying on his side near a wad of rotten lettuce and a tin can filled with scum-green water and dead flies. I told the man the rabbit was dying from heat exhaustion and that rabbits need to be sheltered in a way that protects them from direct sunlight. The man seemed concerned and give me the rabbit which died in my lap as I drove home.

I´ve driven past that shack since then and thankfully have never seen the sign again. Yet, I think about it every spring, knowing that many rabbits will end up this way after being purchased as “living toys” for Easter.

As a police officer, I don´t think that it´s necessary to arrest every person who, out of ignorance, neglects an animal — IF that person is willing to be educated. However, without a shelter law in place, rabbits and other novelty animals, as well as all domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats, sheep, cows, etc., have to show signs of suffering before cruelty investigators or the police can take action.

This article was the experience of Investigator McDonough of the NY State Police.

New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XIV, No.1, Spring 2000.