Rabbit Raid Redux-Six Bells Farm Update

©Doreen Hannes

Debe Bell of Jefferson County Colorado was convicted of 35 counts of animal abuse on January 27th, 2012. Her crime was that she had 193 rabbits in 184 cages and that 4 or 5 of these cages were severely laden with manure. Twenty-five of the 193 rabbits were kits. That’s what baby rabbits are called. I spoke with Debe about the court ruling and garnered a significant amount of information that Channel 7 out of Denver didn’t pretend to be interested in. If you look at the link provided, you can scroll down to see the previous stories done on the rabbit raid by Channel 7, and judge if the headlines alone are emotional enough to convict someone.

The spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Mark Techmeyer, said that the rabbits were in an “overheated” 84-degree barn. This temperature was taken on a 94-degree day after several hours of having the swamp cooler unplugged and the door to the barn open. He also said there were dead rabbits in the barn. Ms Bell said “One rabbit had died that morning while I was at work. About 15 adults and who knows how many babies died after they removed the rabbits from my barn.”

A veterinarian from the Foothills Animal Shelter reportedly testified that she thought 80 degrees was too high and that 72-degrees as a maximum would be a better temperature requirement. However, if one simply thinks for a minute, should rabbits fail to survive temperatures over 84 degrees, we wouldn’t have rabbits in North America. The fact is that the optimum temperature range for rabbits is from 50 to 80 degrees F. It should also be noted that “optimum” is not equivalent to “required”.

Techmeyer also said that the rabbits were “aggressively thirsty”. This terminology is being used to describe behavior that those who raise rabbits see as normal rabbit attitudes. They say they were “aggressive” because when the cage doors were opened, many of the rabbits jumped forward to the door; but lots of rabbits do that. Sometimes they will even jump out of the cages when the door is opened. It’s just what they do. Other rabbits will cower at the back of their cage in seeming terror. Those rabbits are more timid types, but it does not, in any way, indicate that the rabbit has been abused. These are just typical rabbit behaviors, and what they indicate is that the subject is a typical rabbit.

Ms Bell said that the judge would not allow the rabbits to be referred to as livestock. It is an important distinction because when something is considered as a pet instead of a resource there is a personification of the animal that takes place in the psyche of the listener.

Initially, Debe was charged with 25 counts of animal cruelty. The Prosecutor ramped it up to 55 counts after the rabbits had been seized and spayed or neutered. The jury threw out the 20 charges of cruelty on dead animals that were found in her freezer.

Ms Bell said that when the jury was told that this was a animal cruelty case involving rabbits, literally half of them rolled their eyes, indicating to her that they thought the entire issue was ridiculous. Despite that, they found her guilty of 35 cruelty charges that the prosecutor would like to get separate convictions on. There is an 18 month jail term possible for each count against her. A little math shows that it is potential of 52.5 years in jail for the 59 year-old rabbit breeder.

In a previous article, I covered the photos taken to assist the prosecution in indicting and convicting Ms Bell. And again, I have to say that in particular, the manure in the cages shown is not good, and I am not defending that as evidence of good animal husbandry. But the larger issue is that there was no warning given, no warrant on site until six hours after the House Rabbit Society and the Sheriff came and began removing the rabbits from Bell’s barn, and no attempt by the authorities to allow Ms Bell to correct the problems shown in these photos. Also, no mention was made of Ms Bell’s contention that her 4-H kids were scheduled to come on Saturday, two days after the raid, to clean the barn and cages.

According to Ms Bell, a member of the House Rabbit Society was overheard to say that if the raid on her rabbitry went off well they were then going to go after the “one on 104th”. That is exactly what happened. There are now two other rabbit breeders in Colorado currently facing animal cruelty charges related to the anonymous tip line with up to $2,000 in awards available for tips resulting in convictions. One of these breeders is facing 57 counts of abuse, with potentially 18 months of jail time for each offense.

At question here is the very basis of our legal system. As a brief overview, Ms Bell was reported via an anonymous tip line that pays for convictions, the Sheriff and House Rabbit Society were on her property removing her rabbits without a search warrant, the rabbits were spayed, neutered and adopted out before any conviction was assessed. So due process, security in our property, and the right to face our accusers are all on the line in this case.

There will be an appeal made in the case, and Ms. Bell expects the appeal process to last approximately two years. She remains optimistic about the process. She said, “As the process continues, we will be able to get more legitimate knowledge into the record.” She feels that if the information is fairly assessed, she will be exonerated in the long term.

I wish I were that optimistic.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laurel
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 09:12:55

    What slapped me when I read this was the the ‘justification/rationalization’ the judge used in the GA case about Obama being on ballot fit this also—who vetted the qualifications of the ‘expert witnesses’ ,etc……? Is there any fund to fight this?

    Reply

  2. John
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 17:54:52

    I’d like to comment on this article. Animal Control officers were given permission by Debe Bell’s ex-husband, so no warrant was needed. “Typical” rabbit behavior does not involve “lunging” for water. I have rabbits and have had for quite some time. If you are going to make a comment about rabbit behavior, get your facts straight. They hop around their cages all of the time. Rabbits, for the most part, are always on the move. However, when denied food or water, an rabbit will be very focused on whichever thing they have been denied when it’s presented to them. They will not hop out of a cage if they need water and it’s placed in front of them. Debe Bell, for all of her yakking about what happened, didn’t even TRY to get her rabbits back. The bottom line is this – regardless of who had those rabbits, the conditions were deplorable. Despite all of the speculation being thrown around out there there wasn’t a government conspiracy, a show grudge, a personal grudge or any other kind of vendetta involved in this. The call wasn’t made because of reward money. The caller didn’t even know about that at the time and I know that for a fact. They called the humane society and they were given the number to the hotline. End of story. It was a person concerned about the lack of care for a living thing and between the time the person witnessed the conditions and the raid, nothing had changed. It doesn’t matter about the 4H kids because either that’s a fictitious statement or someone wasn’t doing what they were supposed to do when there. Either way, if she doesn’t understand what “basic” care is needed for the rabbits she supposedly loved and devoted her life to, then she shouldn’t have them.

    Reply

    • truthfarmer
      Feb 08, 2012 @ 19:03:36

      John, I have raised rabbits all my life, and some of them charge the door when it is opened….even with automatic watering systems that work. So, on that, I definitely have my facts straight, thank you. If you look at the soiled dish in one of the pictures, you can clearly see water in it, along with the flecks of manure, so they obviously had water recently. They also don’t hop around all the time. They actually sleep, and they also stretch out and don’t move when they are hot.

      Debe Belle says her ex-husband is somewhat psychologically damaged and that it is a really long story, but he is not a person in charge of her property. My minor child, or my ex-boyfriend cannot give permission to move, inspect or transfer my property. If her ex wasn’t on the deed or loan as being a person with the capacity to make decisions regarding the property, then they sure as heck needed a warrant. At least in this country.

      The affidavit for the report claimed the person making the report was there in May of 2010. That is a matter of court record now. May of 2010, until the end of July 2011 is an awful long time to wait to make a report when you are tremendously concerned about somethings well-being. If you don’t agree, that is fine.

      I am curious to know how you know what was going to happen on Debe Bell’s property two days after the raid?

      Reply

  3. Bob
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 15:23:23

    I acquired a bunny from Debe and he was a strong, healthy and happy pet. I had wanted to get another from her when this entire event began. If she didn’t try to get her stock back it was because they were immediately sterilized thus making them useless for the purposes for which rabbits are generally bred, namely show, stock, and sale. Anyway, Debe’s messy property was her worst enemy in this case in my opinion; also she’s kind of temperamental and that doesn’t help in a jury case.

    Reply

  4. countrysidekicks.com
    Jul 25, 2013 @ 18:26:17

    all the time i used to read smaller articles
    that also clear their motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which I am reading at this
    time.

    Reply

  5. american sniper
    Jan 10, 2016 @ 12:37:05

    I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both educative and amusing, and
    let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is something which too few folks are speaking intelligently about.
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    Reply

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