By Kyle Barr
Smithtown volunteers hopped to saving nearly 30 domestic rabbits that were left alone and abandoned in a tick and poison ivy infected stretch of forest last week in Ronkonkoma.
Smithtown-based nonprofit Guardians of Rescue received a tip about the illegally released rabbits and reached out to local animal rescue groups for help. Volunteers spent close to two full days overall, May 27 and 28, capturing 27 rabbits that had been marooned in a forest near the Ronkonkoma train station commuter parking lot. One was found dead in the forest and another died while receiving care.
“These particular rabbit breeds were not suited for the wild,” Robert Misseri, the president of Guardians of Rescue said. “There is no telling how long they would have lasted, but it would have not been long.”
After Misseri got a tip from a local feral cat rescuer, he said he put the call out to several local animal rescue groups including the Sound Beach-based nonprofit Strong Island Animal Rescue League.
“Whoever abandoned those rabbits should be ashamed of themselves.”
– Frankie Floridia
The first rabbit that Erica Kutzing, vice president for the Strong Island rescue group, saw when she arrived at the forest was larger than any wild rabbit should have been. It was a Flemish Giant, a huge breed of rabbit known for being extremely calm around humans. Kutzing got down to its level and laid out rabbit feed in a line and the rabbit loped toward her. From behind her, Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island rescue, flashed out with a net and caught the rabbit. Kutzing held it as she brought it back to their car. It was nearly as big as a small dog.
“Whoever abandoned those rabbits should be ashamed of themselves,” Floridia said. “They were giving those rabbits a death sentence.”
Many of the rabbits found were of different breeds including Lionheads and Flemish Giants. Some had obviously interbred with each other, which makes the rescue groups believe all these animals were held together in only a few small cages.
“Black ones, white ones, gray, brown, there were all different kinds,” Kutzing said. “It was like shopping at Macy’s, you could get any color you wanted.”
Misseri said he suspects the person who abandoned the rabbits might have been breeding them.
“Black ones, white ones, gray, brown, there were all different kinds. It was like shopping at Macy’s, you could get any color you wanted.”
– Erica Kutzing
Many of the animals were sick with pneumonia. Others were injured by the cage they were kept in and the rabbits they were caged with, according to Misseri. Several had cysts on their skin and many were suffering from malnourishment. The first rabbit Strong Island rescue captured is currently being nursed back to health, and they have named it André the Giant after the famous French wrestler and actor.
“Once we caught him we were running through the woods, it was just net after net after net,” Kutzing said. “And you have to be careful picking these guys up because if they kick strong enough they’ll break their backs, if they get too frightened they can have a heart attack. They have paper-thin skin so if you handle them wrong you can tear the skin.”
The rescued rabbits have been sent out to multiple animal rescue operations in the surrounding area. Six were taken in by Guardians of Rescue, but all those have already been fostered out. Several more were taken in by Long Island Orchestrating for Nature from Malverne, the Connecticut-based Hopalong Hollow Rabbit Rescue and Queens-based All About Rabbits Rescue.
The Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has put out a $3,500 reward for a person who leads them and authorities to the person who abandoned the animals. Several local animal rescue groups donated money toward that reward, namely Guardians of Rescue, Strong Island Animal Rescue League and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature who put up $500 each, while the SPCA and All About Rabbits Rescue put up $1,000 each.
“This is a sad, pervasive problem in Suffolk County.”
– Vivian Barna
“We at the SPCA take this very seriously, especially in cases of abandonment like this,” Suffolk SPCA President Roy Gross said. “This is a case of abandonment and animal cruelty, and so the person or persons involved in this are up for criminal charges. All that person had to do was to pick up a phone, call any of these organizations and we would have found a home for them, but instead he abandoned them.”
Vivian Barna, who runs All About Rabbits Rescue, took in six of the rabbits, and said that rabbit abandonment on Long Island, especially in Suffolk, is endemic.
“This is a sad, pervasive problem in Suffolk County,” Barna said. “This is about our fourth or fifth recent rescue. We had rescued 25 in Bohemia back in December 2016, another set in Northport not too long ago. These rabbits were just deprived. They had illnesses including upper respiratory problems, intestinal parasites, and these six rabbits are costing us close to $2,500 to give them that care.”
Gross said there have been instances of rabbit abandonment recently not too far from where the rabbits were dumped in Ronkonkoma.
“We had a case just recently of other rabbits dumped in Lake Ronkonkoma,” Gross said. “This may possibly be the same person, but there’s no way right now to be sure.”
All rescue groups mentioned in the story said that if people were interested in fostering the rabbits or wished to donate to call to call and inquire. People inquiring about the rescued rabbits can call the
Guardians of Rescue at 888-287-3864.
The SPCA said that any tips about the person who abandoned the rabbits can be sent to their phone number 631-382-7722. All calls will be anonymous.