Lack of Funding Forces Wildlife Center to Evict 21 Bunnies

The South Florida Wildlife Center's mission is to take in animals that can be rehabilitated and later released in the wild, like opossums and hawks. But over the years, the facility began taking in domesticated animals, mostly small exotic reptiles and bunnies, which cannot be released in the wild. So the Center tried adopting out those critters. But due to a lack of resources and funding, the Wildlife Center was forced to formally end its adoption program last year and can no longer take in domesticated animals. 

"We have limited resources," says Sherry Schlueter, Wildlife Center spokesperson. "We certainly appreciate the community's confidence in trusting us with these kind of animals, but we never intended to be a facility for domesticated animals."

So what to do with the 21 bunnies currently at the Wildlife Center?

Carmen Foy, a rescue volunteer, remembered Pet Haven Rescue, an idyllic sanctuary in Loxahatchee that Foy has taken older dogs to in the past. She contacted the founder, Carole Chapuis, who agreed to take in all 21 bunnies on her strictly cage-free property.

Yesterday the bunnies were transported in cages to the fenced-in property and then released to roam free. "It was so cute," Foy says. "They were jumping on top of each other and playing."

Chapuis explains that she has a two-bedroom, 24-foot-by-12-foot "condo" that the bunnies will reside in. It has pet doors so the bunnies can come in and out, and beds for them to sleep on. "I've taken in bunnies before but never 21," Chapuis says. "They're doing just fine. They're pooping and partying away. I walked in to check on them and there were Cocoa Puffs everywhere!"

Chapuis has been rescuing animals for 24 years, mostly orphaned puppies at first. But for the last two years,  Pet Haven Rescue has rehabbed all sorts of abused pets. There are currently 40 dogs, five pigs, four horses, two sheep, two cats, and now 21 bunnies, under Chapuis' care. A handful have been successfully rehabbed and are available for adoption.

The reason Chapuis creates little homes for the animals is so that the animals are acclimated when they are taken in by a family. "The dogs live in an in-law cabin. It has beds and TV," Chapuis says. "When someone adopts them they know what a door sounds like and what a TV sounds like. They're used to a home lifestyle."

There are white bunnies, albino bunnies, spotted cream-colored bunnies, and one black bunny. About 10 of the bunnies had been sent to the Wildlife Center from the Broward Sherriff's Office as part of an animal abuse case.

Chapuis is only looking after the bunnies temporarily. In a few months, they will be transported to a bunny sanctuary in Rhode Island. That facility specializes in finding homes for bunnies. 

"I hope the public will understand that we care about these bunnies, but they will do better in other facilities more equipped for domesticated animals," Schlueter says. "We were so delighted that they were all placed together."
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson