A rabbit breeding operation at a South Nashville residence may have allowed dozens of infected rabbits to roam the neighborhood, according to neighbors and local animal advocates.
The concern centers around a backyard hutch at 687 Huntington Parkway, off Edmondson Pike, which neighbors claimed housed more than 70 rabbits.
Robert Sutherland, who lives in the neighborhood, said his stepdaughters first noticed several rabbits that got free last week.
“We had driven by one late afternoon and early evening and saw all these white rabbits hopping around the area,” Sutherland told The City Paper. “We ended up seeing this breeding operation that was going on back there.”
Sutherland worked for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Canada, so he knew the snow-white rabbits weren’t wild animals. Advocates believe the rabbits are of the domesticated breed called New Zealand white rabbits.
Metro Animal Care and Control visited the home last week and gave the residents until Friday to get rid of the rabbits. According to officer Billy Biggs, the original report was 80 rabbits, but the officers saw “about half of that” when they visited.
Chelsea Bordlen, who helps run Clover Patch Sanctuary, one of just a few rabbit rescue programs in the area, said the hutch was overrun with rabbits.
“They were coming out of sewage drains; they were everywhere really,” Bordlen said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Clover Patch Sanctuary was able to catch four of the rabbits. One of them died from a gangrene infection shortly thereafter.
The remaining three were taken to a veterinarian, who made an alarming discovery. All three of the rabbits were infected with coccidia, a parasite that can be transferred between animals. If a dog or cat ingested the rabbits’ feces, it could contract the infection, according to Grassmere Animal Hospital.
The City Paper spotted nine white rabbits loose in the area along Huntington Parkway on Wednesday. Five rabbits were spotted under a car in the front yard of the house, two were under a car in the driveway and two others were spotted in neighbors’ yards as far as a block away. Knocks on the front door went unanswered.
According to Metro ordinances, people aren’t allowed to own more than five companion animals, which includes rabbits, if the person displays a “general disregard” for the condition of the animals.
Biggs said the owner of the home admitted to having a breeding operation that got out of control.
“He got over his head in it. It’s easy to do with rabbits,” Biggs said. “He probably thought he was going to have a good meat operation.”
According to Biggs, slaughtering animals in Metro Nashville is illegal, and it’s usually difficult to determine if the animals are killed in a cruel manner. The slaughtering is actually a Metro Department of Codes issue, Biggs said.
The melting pot of immigrants and refugees in South Nashville can lead to some culture clashes concerning animals slaughtered for food or tradition. Metro Animal Control recently responded to a family that killed a goat and displayed it to the neighborhood.
“The goat was hanging in the tree [in the front yard] for everyone to see,” Biggs said. “I wasn’t there to see how they killed it.”
As for the rabbits, advocates believe Metro Animal Control should have acted faster in preserving the safety of the animals. The rabbits that have gotten loose are likely to die in the wild — and advocates doubt that the owners will find their rabbits good homes.
“When I was working for the SPCA ... if we got a report of something like this, it would get top priority because of the number of animals involved and the potential danger to them,” Sutherland said. “We would respond by going to get them and get as many of them as we could, if not all of them. They certainly wouldn’t be left there.”