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Local rabbit rescue taking extra precautions with spread of deadly virus

Rabbitats annual Easter Bunny Fest fundraiser set for Sunday
rabbit fundraiser
Rabbitats Rescue Society founder Sorelle Saidman with some of the rabbits currently being housed at Urban Pets in Marpole. The society has had to take extra precautions with its rescues after rabbit hemorrhagic disease spread from Vancouver Island to the Lower Mainland. Photo Dan Toulgoet

A local rabbit rescue group is having to take extra precautions with its annual Easter fundraiser this year after a highly infectious virus spread from Vancouver Island to the Lower Mainland.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is highly contagious and deadly for feral and domestic rabbits. Several cases popped up in Nanaimo and Comox in mid-February before spreading to Delta and Annacis Island.

“There was a sanctuary in Nanaimo that ended up taking a sick bunny in from the original infection point and they ended up losing 275 rabbits,” said Sorelle Saidman, founder of Rabbitats Rescue Society. “Every last rabbit in the sanctuary died.”

Rabbitats’s annual Easter Bunny Fest fundraiser is set for April 1, and while it would usually be a ‘meet and treat’ event where attendees would be able to buy a cup of food and feed the rabbits this year, due to fears of the virus, people won’t be able to get close to the bunnies.

“Unfortunately this year, we can’t have the bunnies that close to people so they’re just going to have to look,” Saidman said.

Saidman said there haven’t been any new cases of the virus in the last few weeks but the society isn’t taking any chances.

“It’s all precautionary. This is an extremely volatile little bug so we have to make sure it doesn’t come anywhere near our bunnies because once one bunny gets it then they’re all pretty much gone.”

The event will also include face painting, crafts, games and treats.

In addition to planning this year’s event, Rabbitats is on the hunt for a new home after unexpectedly having to leave its previous location in the Richmond Auto Mall. Since its inception five years ago, Rabbitats has been housing its rescued bunnies in empty buildings slated for demolition.

“When there’s a developer that’s going to tear down a building, and we managed to do this at the auto mall for the last four, five years almost, we move into the building until they’re ready to tear it down,” Saidman said, adding the society thought it would have a year at the last building but plans changed and the developer decided to renovate the space instead of tearing it down.

“We’re hoping that maybe with all of the development going on in Vancouver somebody might have an empty house or warehouse or something that they’re not going to be using for anywhere from months to a year,” she said. “Once the virus actually calms down we can look at moving the rabbits outside but right now we need inside space.”

Saidman said Rabbitats is currently looking for permanent homes for around 100 bunnies. About 30 are currently living at Urban Pets store on Granville. The rest are temporarily housed in a trailer at the auto mall or in a horse stall in Delta. The society also has a sanctuary in South Surrey and rabbit foster homes throughout the Lower Mainland.

Sunday’s Easter Bunny Fest runs from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Urban Pets (8697 Granville St.) rain or shine. Entry is by donation.

Saidman said the money raised will likely be used for a vaccine for rabbit hemorrhagic disease, which has to be imported from Europe.

“It’s going to cost us about $7,500,” she said.