200 Rabbits Seized from 'Deplorable' Conditions

200 rabbits were seized from Ms. Debe Bell, a Colorado show and livestock rabbit breeder, on July 21, 2011, on the pretext of animal abuse.

But, what REALLY happened?

The story was published by 9news.com on Thursday, July 21, 2011: http://www.9news.com/news/article/209235/339/200-rabbits-seized-from-deplorable-conditions (story was apparently removed from the 9news.com website in early 2016)

An anonymous, paid ($2,000!!) Crime Stoppers tip led the Animal Control Officer to Ms. Bell, a breeder of show and livestock rabbits. The officer, followed by a bevy of reporters schooled by the House Rabbit Society, described horrific conditions, including multiple dead rabbits.


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Rabbit breeders in Colorado familiar with the situation describe Ms. Bell as a show rabbit breeder, disease researcher, 4H leader, and supplier of prey animals to a raptor rescue organization, whose rabbits were healthy and in great shape.

The case made no sense, so in the dubious hope that a lack of education was at the heart of the matter, we wrote a letter to the sheriff of Jefferson County in Colorado. The main points of that letter are included below.


Contents of our Letter about the 200 Rabbits to the 
Sheriff of Jefferson County

According to the news reports, the animal control officer discovered dead rabbits and live rabbits among the 200 rabbits, rabbits without food and water, and cages sitting in piles of manure. 

The "shed" which housed this ‘deplorable’ situation was "warm" - 84 degrees, which was significantly cooler than the ambient temperature thanks to running swamp coolers.

The article immediately planted the thought that the owner of the 200 rabbits was a "hoarder." (Maybe if she had 200 house rabbits...)

"We have dealt with hoarding cases before," Jennifer Strickland, the shelter's director of community relations, said. "As far as 200 rabbits, that's something we haven't encountered."

She continued: "The owner may not believe that anything is wrong with the animals. I believe they are harder to care for than people think."

One of the 200 rabbits seized, in a dog crateOne of Ms. Bell's seized rabbits in a dog crate in 89+ degree temperatures

In the face of absurd lines of reasoning (the breeder knew exactly how to care for her 200 rabbits and was mostly doing a great job of it), I’m trying to convince myself that it was simply a lack of education that led to these trumped-up charges. However, the Coloradans familiar with the breeder, some of whom have been inside her barn and know the woman personally, are describing a railroading (their term).

But okay, let’s go with 'needs-education,' which is why I wrote to the Colorado authorities:

  • Cramped conditions?
    If we’re talking the cages themselves, agriculture programs at universities such as the U of North Dakota specify acceptable housing dimensions for rabbit cages. Many show rabbit breeders (myself included) give more space than the minimums, because they take pride in their rabbits and because it costs less through minimized losses when they take excellent care of their rabbits.

    If we’re talking total number of animals, one must take into consideration the health of the animals, which the shelter personnel acknowledged was excellent. If the ventilation is great and the animals are healthy and not sneezing, then one cannot knee-jerk the assumption of ‘cramped’ when cage space is acceptable. (And by ‘acceptable,’ we mean according to experts in livestock rabbits.)

  • No food?
    Of course. If you leave food in front of adult rabbits 24/7, they will become obese. My own rabbits would suffer if I fed them according to the guidelines of the House Rabbit Society, or left food in front of them 24/7. (This may illuminate Ms. Strickland’s belief that rabbits are difficult to take care of.) As a rabbit breeder, I had never heard of fat rabbits until I discovered the HRS guidelines. Most livestock rabbit breeders, including myself, feed their rabbits once a day, and expect any adult rabbit to have an empty feeder for more than 12 hours of every day.

  • No water?
    Those familiar with the breeder state that she waters her rabbits twice a day. Any rabbit found without water on the day they were seized had not been without for very long. 

    This is not a case of cruelty, however; this is a herd management issue that could be very easily resolved. As Ms. Bell works during the day, we recommend that she set up an auto-watering system that can deliver water to each cage through tubing and valves, or purchase larger crocks or waterers.

  • Dead rabbits in the rabbitry?
    Dead rabbits "in the single digits" were in the FREEZER. A freezer is an appropriate place for storing butchered livestock rabbits for future consumption by people and pets, by rescued raptors, by the carnivores at the local zoo. This was misrepresentation at its finest. Why did not the Animal Control spokesperson report this little detail?

    One rabbit was found dead in a cage. This rabbit did not belong to Ms. Bell. It was an already debilitated rabbit intended for donation to a local raptor rescue organization and delivered to Ms. Bell for transport to the rescue, which happened to die before it could be taken there.

  • 84 degrees?
    Half the breeders around the USA in that triple-digit July were wishing their rabbits were so lucky. 84 degrees is well within the comfort level of an outdoor rabbit, even an angora, when it is acclimated to the area’s climate and living in a well-ventilated environment such as that which Ms. Bell provided.

    Interestingly (or perhaps shockingly), someone, either a representative of the Animal Shelter or of the HRS, turned off the swamp coolers in the rabbit barn, and then threw all the barn doors wide open. They then waited 5 hours on that hot day before taking a temperature reading. The barn's interior still measured a very comfortable 84 degrees F.

  • Cages deep in feces??
    Of the 200 rabbits, 5 rabbits were living in 3 cages with feces "pillows" in a cage corner. Those familiar with Ms. Bell's barn stated that her 4H group helps with cleaning each week, and may have overlooked these 3 cages. The 4H crew was due back within 2 days, and would have almost certainly cleaned the dirty cages. Those 5 rabbits were in excellent health and condition despite their dirty cages.

    3 very dirty cages out of nearly 200 is this breeder's only 'crime.' Why then seize her entire herd?

In the Wild West, this would have been called a lynching.

(Ms. Bell was eventually found guilty of misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty based on the 'expert' opinions of those who know nothing about livestock rabbit care.)


It should be evident that animal rights organizations are not experts in livestock rabbit care.

  • The House Rabbit Society has no experience with the care of livestock rabbits.
  • The personnel at the Foothills Animal Shelter also have no experience with livestock rabbits

Why would you then consult them in suspected cases of livestock abuse?

Additionally, by definition, animal rights activists (HRS included) reject the term ‘animal welfare,’ having just one goal in mind - to achieve a society where animals are not used at all. No farms, no pet dogs, no pet cats, no zoos. Just tofu.

You don’t have to accept my word for it. This once-hidden agenda is now a very open one: http://noanimalsleft.org/node/13.

If they cared about the welfare of animals, we'd be calling them Animal Welfarists, and I'd be one of them.

Here’s the irony of this animal abuse case:

This breeder’s 200 rabbits were subsequently mishandled by the "animal rescuers," whose main area of expertise was caring for spayed and neutered house pets:

  • They stuffed the 200 rabbits in multiples into poorly ventilated dog crates in ambient temperatures (89+F)
  • They allowed the rabbits literally to sit for hours in their urine and feces.
  • Who knows whether bucks and does were mixed, or whether they could even tell bucks from does. Who knows if they bred willy nilly, or whether they injured each other.
  • Kits were removed from their nest boxes and placed in carriers with their frightened dams, who then trampled them to death in their panic. 
  • The shelter used the publicity to solicit donations. 

Of course. Using cruelty charges for publicity, whether true or false, is a common method used to fund a non-profit shelter/rescue organization. God knows they can't rely on any handouts from the Humane Society of the US (HSUS).

It is not that animal cruelty never occurs. We know that it does. But in the case of these 200 rabbits, there were no legitimate cruelty issues.

It would have been far wiser, less expensive and a whole lot more logical for the County to have left the animals in place with the demand that appropriate measures be taken to ensure that all the cages get cleaned. Having an animal control officer drop by once or twice to verify compliance would have been far less stressful to the animals and less costly to the County.

Next time, esteemed practitioners of Jurisprudence and concerned citizens,
consult the HRS or Shelter organizations only if the rabbits in question are
house rabbits.


What Other Website Visitors Have Said

Click below to see posts to this page from other visitors...

Defense against animal rights false accusations 
Ms. Bell has been raising rabbits longer then most HRS members have been alive. Rabbits were domesticated for HUMAN FOOD animals not pets, and are close …

Years of work down the drain 
Not only were her rights violated, but years of selective breeding have been destroyed. Any rabbit breeder knows how difficult it is to develop an excellent …

Ridiculous 
This woman is obviously guilty.... And...SNIP! Karen here, saying, Sorry, Haylei. As you can see, I've deleted most of your post. It was just …

What the h*** are you talking about? 
Was watching the 7-news of whole thing, and in the background you can see the Sheriff's department carrying dead rabbits and eventually putting them in …

Appalled by the House Rabbit Society's actions 
While this has enraged the Show Rabbit Community, what worries me even more is the violation of this woman's rights as a citizen of the United States. …

Reader Opinion about 200 Rabbit Theft Not rated yet
Sad to see that the breeder's rabbits were confiscated in this manner. Experienced rabbit custodians are very well aware that when rabbits are maintained …

Where you there? Not rated yet
How can you say anything if you didn't see the barn and the rabbits inside. Yes there were dead rabbits. 25 in all. That's my entire herd. Did any of you …

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