Yesterday I spoke with Debe Bell for quite some time about the raid and seizure of her rabbits, the actions of law enforcement and what her plans are regarding her future in the rabbit world. Bob McCarty did an excellent job of chronicling the event and bringing it into the light of public scrutiny, and you must read his article so you have an idea about what happened.
Since we also raise rabbits, and I have raised rabbits nearly my entire life, I know a little bit about them, and about what is normal and abnormal. I saw the pictures from the Jefferson County, Colorado Sheriff’s Department that are the “evidence” of extreme neglect and animal abuse. The pictures are, in a word, scary. But the photos need some background information to be understood by laymen. You can view the pictures from the Sheriff’s Office here.
Before you can condemn the lady, or think that it is justifiable to take her $17,000 herd and destroy 20 years of genetics by spaying and neutering all of her rabbits prior to a verdict being rendered as to whether or not she is actually guilty of the 25 charges of animal abuse levied against her, you need to have a little understanding of the scope. Also, you know, that pesky little thing called the 4th Amendment? It’s something we have to demand now…. Even though the Sheriff of every county takes an oath to uphold all of our Constitutionally guaranteed rights, they evidently are unaware what that actually means.
A few facts are germane. The Sheriff’s Department shows 11 pictures. One of an aisle and one of a fan. The fan has hair on it. When you have a rabbit barn, the hair on fans will get out of hand from time to time. So what? The aisle has triple stacked cages. There are water bottles on most of them, and those water bottles look clean. So, again….So what? 3 pics out of 11 are moot.
There are two pics of water dishes (crocks) that are filthy. When you put crocks in a rabbit cage the rabbits will often destroy it in a matter of hours. They drink their fill and then defecate in it. Nasty? Yes, but it’s what they do….and it’s why I only use crocks in an emergency, like when a waterer is broken and I can’t fix or replace it right away. The good thing is that dishes can be rinsed out fairly easily. 5 of 11 pics explained.
Then there are three pictures of Angora rabbits with matted hair. It is my understanding that those were going to be raptor food that weekend. In two days to be precise. So, does that matter?
Finally are pictures of four cages. The cages are bad. I have to say that I would be upset if they were in my barn. However, these are four cages out of 184 cages. Worth an inquiry? Probably….but worth seizing and destroying 20 years of work and violating someone’s rights? I don’t think so.
Finally, we have the search warrant. The warrant is based on an anonymous tip to a tip line that pays for information leading to prosecutions. Notably, the “informant” claims to have visited the rabbitry in May of 2010, and was so appalled by the conditions that they (he or she, I guess) waited fourteen months until there was a potential for a $2,000 payment to report these horrific conditions.
In the search warrant, which arrived six hours after the Sheriff, several deputies, Animal Control and the House Rabbit Society came onto Debe’s property and went into her rabbit barn, a veterinarian named “Dr. Hill” states that the rabbits need to be kept at a maximum temp of 80 degrees. The truth is that 80 degrees is the top of the optimum temperature range for rabbits. If they had to be kept below 80 degrees at all times there would be no rabbits in most of the United States. It was 84 degrees in Debe’s barn after six hours of having the door open on a 94 degree day. Dr Hill also says that rabbit cages have to be cleaned every day. That is just crazy.
Once in awhile you will have a rabbit that needs to have the cage brushed on a daily basis, but that is almost always a doe that has recently had babies, and the poop falls through the wire nearly all the time. Once a week brushing is usually sufficient to keep the cages clean. If you had to wire brush 184 cages once every single day, how much time do you think that would take? Is it necessary for the animal’s health? No. Look closely at rabbit with the most impressive pile of manure in her cage. She is shiny and healthy looking. And that pile of manure is huge. But the rabbit looks good. That particular rabbit is a 17 leg Grand Champion…..and now she is spayed.
Dr. Hill works for Foothills Animal Shelter. They are the ones who have spayed and neutered all these rabbits and are now re-homing them for a fee. Nice, isn’t it? They don’t believe rabbits can live in temps over 80 degrees and they get to profit by spaying neutering and charging a re-homing fee on livestock they never had to invest anything into acquiring. Hmm. Could that be a motive?
I was only able to find one video of Debe Bell showing her rabbitry, and it wasn’t the footage we discussed. She told me that she believed there was video footage on youtube of her barn the day of the raid and seizure, but I couldn’t find that. My main puter is shot and I am dealing with one that I am not too proficient on, so perhaps you may be able to find the footage she spoke about, or you can look at this footage if you like.
My stand is this, at no time should a person’s property be violated without proper warrants, and proper cause. Due process must be followed before any agency deprives someone of their property. If there is a concern over animal welfare, the course of action should be to contact the owner and give them the opportunity to correct problems. If an actual problem is not dealt with, then and only then should further action be taken.
What happened to Debe Bell was patently wrong.