Animal dumping a ‘cruel’ reality

Jessica Franco holds Coconut at Richmond Animal Shelter on Wednesday. The white Persian cat is recovering from three surgeries after being abandoned in the bushes, locked in an animal carrier. - Matthew Hoekstra photo
Jessica Franco holds Coconut at Richmond Animal Shelter on Wednesday. The white Persian cat is recovering from three surgeries after being abandoned in the bushes, locked in an animal carrier.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

Under a cloak of darkness late Saturday, a man parked his vehicle next to the chapel in Minoru Park and exited carrying a cardboard box.

From the box he pulled two small black rabbits, then tried shooing them into the trees. Watching was Cindy Howard.

“I yelled out that he was not allowed to dump the rabbits, that it was illegal and that he should take them to the shelter,” said Howard, co-founder of the Bandaids for Bunnies animal rescue group.

The man scooped up the rabbits—which hadn’t budged—and drove off.

“My guess is that he either drove to another location and dumped them there or he took them home and killed them,” said Howard.

It’s a familiar scene on Lulu Island, where abandoned pet rabbits run wild in parks, fields and the green spaces of Richmond Auto Mall. Dumping of unwanted pets isn’t exclusive to rabbits. Richmond Animal Shelter is full of a variety of domestic animals abandoned by owners in places where they fight to survive against wild animals, vehicles and starvation.

Dumping pets is illegal under provincial law, but in the absence of a local bylaw, swift justice of perpetrators is unlikely.

Gruesome discovery

It was about six weeks ago when berry-pickers made a disturbing discovery. Two pet carriers were found dumped in the area of the Richmond Nature Park, off Shell Road, and it appeared animals were still inside.

Richmond Animal Protection Society staff, who operate the local animal shelter, were dispatched. Inside one of the carriers they found a white Persian cat they’ve since named Coconut. Inside the second carrier was just hair, and a hunt for the animal it belonged to turned up nothing.

Meanwhile, Coconut was dehydrated, starving, soaked in urine and covered in its own feces. It’s unclear how long it had been locked up and left for dead.

“It was just in horrible condition. It’s amazing it lived,” said Carol Reichert, executive director of the society. “It’s such a shame people do stuff like that.”

Coconut has now endured three surgeries and hundreds of stitches, and continues to fight for its life. Its medical bills are nearing $1,000.

“People are doing ridiculous things,” said Reichert. “Why not dump those two carriers in our driveway? Stick them at the end of the driveway, not in the bush.”

Inside the No. 5 Road animal shelter, staff have seemingly endless stories of unwanted animals that have been unceremoniously abandoned in Richmond.

There’s Mouse, a teacup Yorkie left in a box in a hotel lobby. It’s leg had been broken months before and in the absence of medical care, bones had fused incorrectly. Shelter staff sought treatment for the animal, which had to have it’s leg broken again for it to heal properly.

And on Wednesday, an animal control officer found an eight-week-old kitten inside a tied-up plastic grocery bag, left on the side of Ferndale Road.

“People are just really ignorant about what to do with their animals,” said Reichert. “We need more education in this community.”

Bylaw ‘most effective way’

Dumping, or abandoning a pet is illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, according to the B.C. SPCA’s general manager of cruelty investigations. Leaving a domestic animal in a park or on the side of the road is leaving it in distress—a violation under the provincial law.

Marcie Moriarty said it’s also cruel, suggesting some pet owners might assume that leaving a pet in a public park is a promise of a good life.

“It’s downright cruel to abandon your rabbit, your cat—those are domestic animals, and what you are doing is promising them a slow, and sometimes fast, painful death.”

Animal experts say a newly dumped rabbit can easily be spotted, because other rabbits—or larger wild animals—will start attacking the passive foreigner.

Moriarty said there have been a few successful prosecutions of people who have dumped their pets, but conviction is a long and difficult process.

Richmond council took a step toward controlling the population of abandoned rabbits by banning the retail sale of bunnies. But Moriarty suggested the city has the opportunity to do more.

A local bylaw banning animal dumping would give bylaw officers enforcement powers. Signs, a camera and legislative language that resulted in fines for dumping could lead to immediate results in curbing a burgeoning bunny population.

“That’s the most effective way I would think with respect to rabbits to prevent that versus the odd animal cruelty case that would go forward.”

For pet owners who find themselves with an animal they no longer want, Moriarty said dumping is not the answer. She said pet owners have a responsibility to attempt to find a new, safe home for the animal, and if all that fails, there are rescue facilities and shelters that will accept the animal.

“They made the decision to get an animal…they should make an equal effort to try and place them.”

City spokesperson Ted Townsend said staff are mulling additional violations for the animal control regulation bylaw. Releasing pets into the wild could be among the recommendations city council would consider, along with feeding wild animals or animals in city parks.

“In the interim we certainly discourage the release of domestic animals as it is inhumane to the animals, upsets the ecology of the city’s parks and can create health issues, damage to public and private property and other problems,” said Townsend.

People who dump animals may not make it on the city’s radar, but those who dump garbage do. People tipping trash on city land face a $1,000 fine plus the cost of removing the waste. And residents who report illegal dumping that leads to a bylaw conviction net a $200 reward from the city.

For rabbit rescuer Cindy Howard, it’s about time the city addresses the issue of abandoned rabbits head-on. Witnessing an attempted animal release last Saturday made her wonder how often the activity occurs.

Said Howard: “What are the odds of me seeing this? That just tells you…how often this happens.”

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