Transporting Rabbits as Part of a Rescue Operation

Oct 7, 2017

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Introduction

When you need to move rabbits out of your city or state you’ll be looking at both HRS chapters and other types of sheltering agencies. We’ll look at how to vet each agency in just a moment.
But first, there are ethical considerations to ponder when moving rabbits to new communities.

1. There must be community demand for rabbit adoptions.
2. The destination shelter must not euthanize rabbits for time or space.
3. The destination shelter must have a strong infrastructure to receive the number of animals you want to send them.

Meeting these criteria is important for the ethical transport of animals into a new community. We must avoid moving rabbits into an area where adoption demand is low and euthanasia is high, jeopardizing the lives of rabbits already there — an example of this type of situation is Southern California. This is an area with not enough adopters for the large number of rabbits needing homes compounded by a very high euthanasia rate.

Networking in person and using trusted sources as personal references

When it comes to transporting rabbits do not trust relationships that only exist on Facebook or other social media. Facebook/social media is not a trustworthy or reliable source for information when lives are depending on you. What do I mean by this? Facebook is a cultivated, curated view that shows only what a person or organization wants you to see and nothing more. Facebook provides a narrow slice of information and not the entire picture. What are better sources for information?

Combine:

  • your first hand experience visiting the facility
  • your first hand experience networking with staff and volunteers of the facility
  • your trusted sources who have personal (in person — not social media based!) experience with the person or facility
  • trust local humane advocates on the ground over social media supporters who live in other states or countries

Networking at the HRS Conference, at rabbit gatherings such as BunFest and at other educational seminars helps us to build lasting rescue partner relationships. Visiting other agencies and facilities also helps us gain firsthand knowledge about who our rescue partners are.

Vetting the receiving shelters/agencies appropriately

As rescuers we must exercise due diligence before we transport rabbits. We must properly vet every new agency before we partner with them. Failure to do so jeopardizes the very lives we are trying to save.

When in doubt:

  • Call local animal control and humane society and ask if there are any complaints about the facility
  • Speak directly with the president or operating manager and ask for assurances to address your concerns
  • Ask for specifics in writing — such as promises to spay/neuter before adoption or promises to provide medical care
  • Ask for tangible records from the agency: intake outcomes, number of rabbit adoptions, annual reports, budget information, etc.

Transport drivers should follow best practices to safeguard rabbit health

Agencies which regularly transport dogs (or cats) have developed statements of best practices. For instance, the National Federation of Humane Societies has an 8-page document called “Companion Animal Transport Programs — Best Practices.” Some of the care guidelines these agencies describe vastly surpass what I have personally seen on some rabbit transports.

Some things I have seen on rabbit transports that violate best practices:

  • Excessively long drive time
  • Driving without emergency medical supplies
  • Unsafe number of carriers, or unsecured carriers
  • No hay or water supply
  • Sick animals on transport
  • Unsanitary, filthy carriers — with no supplies to clean or refresh
  • Crossing state lines without proper documentation (such as health certificates)
  • Long transport with only one driver
  • Animals left unattended in vehicle

Having guidelines for best practices ensures the safe and effective transfer of animals between organizations. The HRS board of directors is in the process of developing transport protocol for rabbits — our own best practices for safe transport.

Example of a medical summary report from a destination shelter. Note this rabbit was transported as healthy but has a body condition score of 4/9. Rabbits coming from confiscations often have compromised health, which is one reason we discourage long drive times during transport. Identifying information has been redacted

The topic of best practices is too large to cover fully here, but here are a few things that transporters should be thinking of:

  • Drivers must visually inspect each rabbit before loading to ensure that the conditions of transport are being met. It is very important for drivers to know that destination shelters may turn away animals who are not as described!
  • Drivers should have a manifest of rabbits on the transport, w/photos and ID numbers.
  • Each animal should have a cage card w/ photo and ID number. Have a digital copy for your records.
  • Marathon drives longer than 9 hours should be completely eliminated.
  • Driving is very stressful for rabbits. Rabbits need down time to eat, drink, and bounce back from being on the road. Humans can tolerate marathon drives, rabbits cannot, especially if they are already compromised by coming from a confiscation or other stressful situation.
  • Drivers should also visually inspect each rabbit upon delivery at the destination shelter. Any changes from the beginning of transport to the end of transport should be noted in writing.

Being as organized as possible in all stages of transport

Large transports are very complicated and time consuming. They can feel overwhelming. If you don’t get organized you’ll feel even more overwhelmed. Here are some ideas on how to get organized which will help make the process easier for you.

  • Create specific folders in your email relating to the transport.
  • Do the same on your computer for other transport documents.
  • Create a photo manifest of all rabbits on the transport and what destination shelters they
    are going to.
  • Create a detailed list of drivers with all their contact information
  • Create a transport itinerary that covers the activity of each day of transport and each
    driver’s responsibilities for each day.
  • Regularly communicate with your drivers and destination shelters throughout the process.

Include a ruler for scale as you document wounds, fur mats, or other visual evidence. This photo was taken to show a veterinarian for a personal rabbit with GI stasis

Keeping detailed records that can be used to build a case

  • Gathering evidence can be a part of a transport. Some transports reveal unexpected problems, such as neglect or troubling conditions that are only revealed when you receive the rabbits. In this sort of situation you may find yourself needing to gather evidence.
  • If you need to gather evidence your job is to create a paper trail and to document issues with photographs.
  • Write down your observations — be sure to date and be specific.
  • Take photographs and be sure to use a ruler for scale
  • Shoot video if photographs are not sufficient documentation – be sure to date and time stamp
  • Collect all veterinary bills and medical records
  • Save copies of health certificates or other relevant paperwork
  • Get necropsies done so a formal cause of death is established
  • Ask for a formal statement from the veterinarian who provided treatment
  • Ask for a formal statement from destination shelters if they observed problems or issues
  • Ask for copies of intake paperwork from destination shelters if they observed problems
    or issues
  • If you are aware of rabbits who died or disappeared before they could make it onto a transport try to document their existence (via screen shot or social media photos, etc.)

Photo documentation taken by a transport driver of the condition of the carriers upon her receipt of rabbits. Rabbits should have only been in carriers for 3 hours at the time time this photo was taken. Note the lack of hay or food.

These types of records will be extremely useful as evidence. It’s vital to document as you go because our memories fade and become inaccurate.

In Summary

The first step to transporting rabbits must be to make sure their proposed destination community meets the ethical standards of transport.

When choosing rescue partners we cannot be reliant on relationships that solely exist on Facebook or other social media platforms. Instead, we must partner with rescue agencies who we have either personally vetted or with whom we have a trusted source to vouch for their care standards and outcomes. Properly vetting agencies does take extra time and effort, but we sabotage the purpose of transport if we do not do our due diligence and endanger the lives we hope to save.

Adopting transport best practices for rabbits ensures the safe and effective transfer of animals between organizations. House Rabbit Society members and chapters must be the leaders in elevating the care standards for rabbits on transports.

Minimizing stress while maximizing safety and comfort needs to be our transport doctrine.

Being as organized as possible during each stage of transport is essential and will prove helpful for each person involved. After the completion of a transport gathering evidence may be needed.

Creating a paper trail consisting of detailed notes, photographs, videos, and official statements and records is key to documenting neglect or abuse. Being organized also helps facilitate evidence gathering.

By covering each of these bases we create the foundation for solid rescue partnerships and successful transports. We will help more rabbits and more communities who are struggling when we participate in a robust transport program.

By Amy Ramnaraine, HRS Educator, Minnesota

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