GOWANUS — Police seized nearly 80 rabbits from the backyard of a Gowanus apartment building as a snowstorm bore down on the city Monday night, the bunnies' owner and the NYPD told DNAinfo New York.
Rabbit owner Dorota Trec said about 20 police officers took the rabbits and told her the animals were being confiscated temporarily out of concern for their safety during the impending blizzard.
Trec was not arrested and police did not take any enforcement action after the rabbit rescue, but authorities are still investigating the situation, an NYPD spokeswoman said.
“The rabbits were in imminent danger from a severe blizzard headed for New York City,” a spokeswoman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said Tuesday.
Police responded to a 911 call about the rabbits' safety at 1:56 p.m. on Monday, an NYPD spokeswoman said. Officers investigated and found “numerous rabbits running around in the snow unable to gain shelter from the inclement weather," police said. Officers told Trec to get the bunnies inside, according to the NYPD.
Police returned to the rabbit colony after a second 911 call at 7:32 p.m. and discovered that Trec hadn't complied with the order to shelter the bunnies, a police spokeswoman said.
Police then consulted with the ASPCA and Animal Care & Control, as well as the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, which had been investigating whether the rabbits were suffering from animal cruelty.
At 10:20 p.m., as the city was preparing to shut roads to non-emergency traffic, police returned a third time with a warrant from the Brooklyn District Attorney, the NYPD spokeswoman said.
Officers spent more than an hour seizing 74 rabbits and took them to Animal Care & Control, where they will be examined by a vet, the NYPD spokeswoman and a witness said. It wasn't immediately clear when and if Trec would be allowed to retrieve the animals.
Trec insisted Tuesday morning that her rabbits were fine and that authorities were wrong to take them. She said she planned to sue the NYPD and the animal welfare advocates who had interfered with her animals.
"There was no emergency," Trec said. "If they were dropping dead, somebody would see them dropping dead...In weather like this, I'm around to see how they're doing. They were doing well."
Trec claimed officers grabbed the bunnies by the ears and legs as they rounded them up, then crammed the rabbits into cages inside a small van. The animals' eyes were wide and their hearts thumped visibly during the raid, Trec said — signs that the animals were terrified. She said she worried that some of the rabbits could have died from fear.
An NYPD spokeswoman responded that representatives from the ASPCA and ACC supervised the rescue and directed the officers seizing the animals.
Police did not take all of Trec's rabbits. She said a few remain, but she wasn't sure how many. "I'm worried they will come for the rest of them," Trec said.
Though people assume rabbits can survive outside, even in cold weather, that's not the case, said Mary Christine Basile of Rabbit Rescue & Rehab. They can easily freeze to death, and living outdoors leaves rabbits susceptible to predators such as hawks, raccoons and cats, Basile said. It's also stressful for bunnies to live outside because they're "prey animals," meaning that they're always on the alert for attackers.
"They need a peaceful environment," Basile said. "They need to be in a safe environment where they feel safe."
A rabbit rescuer who witnessed Monday night's raid said some of the bunnies that police took were missing parts of their ears and had bald spots on their fur, which are signs that the rabbits had been fighting each other.
The rescuer, who didn't want to be identified because he fears retribution from Trec, said rabbits are usually difficult to catch because their instinct is to flee, but these animals didn't put up much of a fight.
"They were more willing to be captured than an average rabbit in the wild would be, because they were all freezing,” the rabbit lover said. "They were obviously desirous to get out of this hellhole. I don’t want to anthropomorphize, but when I looked into the truck [where they put the rabbits], to me they appeared to be thrilled to be out of the cold."