City officials try to work with those with varying views
Pets or pests, Valdez officials are working to accommodate the lovers and haters of the feral rabbit population found abundantly throughout town.
Bill Comer, Valdez Police Chief, issued a report to the city manager and city council Monday outlining procedures residents and business owners should use to deal with nuisance rabbits. The problem is, not everybody sees the feral bunnies as problem.
“Some people might call them pets,” Comer said in an interview Monday. “Some people feral, some people wild.”
Over the years, the feral rabbit population has been a subject of controversy; hours of city council time has been devoted to listening to citizen complaints about the problems the bunnies present; conversely, fans of the rabbits have also made public their case against suggestions the population be thinned or eradicated.
Ironically, Comer said that his department, which includes animal control, has not received any rabbit-related calls this year, despite a recent plea made to council by an anti-rabbit faction.
“We haven’t had any rabbit complaints,” Comer said. “No one has asked for help.”
In his report, Comer said if home or business owners have a complaint or need assistance with rabbit issues, they should contact the Animal Control Officer (ACO) Mike Lindquist.
“The ACO is in the process of developing an informational guide for residents to assist them with managing rabbit problems through the selection of certain types of garden plants and/or the use of different deterrents,” Comer’s report said. “If necessary, the ACO will also provide a live trap and advise residents on the best practice for trapping. When a rabbit is trapped, it can be turned into the Animal Shelter. If the live trapping efforts by the complainant are unsuccessful, the ACO will further assist them as necessary.”
Those responsible for the property where rabbits are nesting or spending their days bear the burden of dealing with the feral population.
“Whoever owns the property really should be the contact,” Comer said. Property renters also bear a burden to communicate with owners to deal with problem rabbits.
“Rabbits turned into the Valdez Animal Shelter are entered into the shelter system and can
be adopted out if an appropriate home can be found. In the past, when no suitable
location is available, they have been released or relocated in unpopulated areas out of
town,” the report said. “This generally results in the rabbits becoming part of the food chain.
Ultimately the ACO will work with citizens to resolve their issues in a professional and
responsible manner, keeping the rights and desires of property owners and health and
safety concerns as a mandate.”
The report does not address issues faced by fans of the rabbits, the descendents of domesticated pets that have gone semi-wild. Some of the population are very tame and will answer if called, hopping up to anyone who looks like a soft touch that might feed them.
Some city officials feel that those that feed rabbits are greatly contributing to the nuisance bunny problem faced by many.
The very tame bunnies that once populated the Post Office in Valdez have disappeared. A postal employee – who disliked the mounds of rabbit poop that mounted in the area only to be tracked into the building on the bottoms of shoes – said that people with large fishing nets had been seen in the area catching rabbits.
However, a less tame family built a den on the outer edges of the back parking lot and is raising a family in the same area.
Others are dismayed in the decline of the population or the loss of personal favorite bunnies that they’d pampered in areas they frequent or even fed outside their homes.
“I would hope that people would quit feeding them,” councilwoman Dorothy Moore said about the issue during Monday night’s council meeting.
Comer expressed similar thoughts before the meeting.
“Generally speaking,” he said, “…rabbits wouldn’t be such a big deal if people would stop feeding them.”
That scenario is highly unlikely.
Tammy Hurst, who rescues many former pets and injured feral bunnies, said a large number of predators haunted Valdez this winter last winter and spring, including a lynx and a badger.
Hurst said she has found a home for the town’s unwanted rabbits, offering a second non-lethal solution.
Hurst has a large number of rabbit hutches around her family’s property on Fidalgo St, where they ran the Sound Flooring business. She said anyone that traps a rabbit can bring it to the Fidalgo St property and put it in an empty hutch for relocation to the Kenny Lake area, where she has found an owner of a large property that is looking for as many rabbits as possible.
She said they’d already relocated about 15 rabbits to the property and were aiming to make several more deliveries through the summer.
Hurst stressed that any rabbits dropped off at her property must be put in an empty hutch.
“Don’t kill them,” she stressed, “They are gentle creatures!”
In years past, rabbit lovers in have made complaints to the Valdez Police Dept. that people were killing rabbits illegally.
Comer said the law is tricky when it comes to killing feral animals.
“If it’s a domesticated rabbit, you can shoot a bb or pellet gun on your own property,” he said.
Lethal traps that could kill or injure native fauna or actual domestic pets are prohibited in Valdez, save for certain areas. A map is available at the city’s website or at city hall. The animal shelter has a loan program for the “have-a-heart” type traps the physically trap small animals in cages without injuring the body.
Comer said anyone caught hunting rabbits in town will definitely face legal consequences.
He also said he hopes property owners will be proactive in dealing with unwanted rabbits.
“We’ll help with people if there’s issues they want to get in front of,” Comer said.