The Georgia House Rabbit Society has taken action to secure the safety of rabbits found at the Dunwoody, Ga., home of a hoarder and subsequently taken to an RV park in Bremen, where they were subjected to a second phase of neglect. The story takes many turns.
“Hoarding is difficult for all of us to understand, “ says Edie Sayeg, GHRS Chapter Manager, “because hoarders love their animals. Yet the animals suffer. How can you understand that? It’s hard. They need help through the judicial and the mental health systems. It’s the only way to help.”
Serving a warrant
When Dunwoody police officers went to a home on February 23, 2013 looking for Jessica Ly, a woman wanted for violating her probation, they found 77 rabbits, and most were hopping around loose indoors in disgusting conditions. Some rabbits were in interior and exterior cages. There was also one dog living in the house.
The ammonia odor of animal urine was intense, and the interior of the house was covered in rabbit droppings. The animals did not have enough food and water, and some showed signs of neglect.
DeKalb Animal Control agents removed 13 of the rabbits, but didn’t have the capacity to take more. Ly’s nine-year-old child was also removed from the home and placed with the paternal grandmother.
Police charged Ly and two other residents of the home, Louis Massood and Dena Guevara, with animal cruelty and also with illegal possession of prescription drugs. Massood was charged with failure to appear in court for a traffic offense, too. The trio claimed that they had rescued the rabbits and wanted to find homes for them.
The animal cruelty case will be adjudicated in Dunwoody municipal court on April 17th. Claudine Wilkins, an attorney who specializes in animal rights cases, noted that the defendants might be charged with violation of either a local or a state animal cruelty ordinance. “It’s also possible that there could be a separate charge for each animal,” she says.
Wilkins works with police departments, teaching them how to handle animal hoarding cases. “The rate of recidivism is almost 100% when it comes to animal hoarding,” she says. “It’s a psychological disorder.”
A history of hoarding
Sayeg regrets that Animal Control did not turn to her organization in the first place. “We would have helped,” she says. “We had a history with the hoarder (Guevara). We’ve taken rabbits from her before.”
Guevara surrendered five rabbits to the GHRS last year. “After she had relinquished the five rabbits, she came and begged for them back. She fell on the floor screaming and crying,” recalls Sayeg. “She made calls begging for us to give her the rabbits back. We did not give them back. We had a signed release.”
Just a week before the arrests, Massood had called the GHRS to ask if they could take 10 rabbits, because Guevara couldn’t care for them. He gave no indication that there were more than 60 others.
More improper care
Guevara freely signed the rabbits over to the Dunwoody police. With no idea what to do with so many rabbits, the police were overwhelmed. When they learned that Guevara had recently placed an ad on Craig’s List to sell the rabbits and had an interested buyer, they contacted him. It was Philip Asztalos, owner of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park-Camp Resort in Bremen, who wanted to have rabbits on site for an Easter egg hunt he planned for March 30th.
Although the GHRS wishes that they had been involved in the case earlier, they credit the Dunwoody officers for doing the best they could. “You can’t fault people when they do something wrong if they don’t know any better. I use Maya Angelou’s words, ‘You do what you know, and when you know better, you do better,’” says Sayeg.
Asztalos took the remaining 64 rabbits.
“He was clueless,” says Sayeg. “They went to a horrible situation.”
She’s used to situations in which people are ignorant of proper care for rabbits. “He put all the rabbits in a fenced area outside his office with a fence two feet high and no cover and no shelter.” March was colder than usual, and there were some heavy rains.
As advocates for rabbits, Sayeg and the GHRS are constantly trying to educate people about rabbit care. Rabbits can live for 10 or more years. They require indoor housing, can’t tolerate temperature extremes and can actually succumb to fatal heart attacks if they are frightened.
“Mr. Asztalos feels he was a Good Samaritan who was just trying to do good because he came upon a horrible situation. He doesn’t realize what happened.”
By the end of March, Sayeg became worried that there would be many females about to deliver their litters at Jellystone Park, since the gestation period for rabbits is 30 days. She had been calling Asztalos all along to voice her concern about the care of the animals and volunteer to help him. He agreed to let GHRS take the females, but he wanted to keep the males for the Easter egg hunt.
When GHRS arrived at the RV park, Sayeg found that the first two rabbits she recovered were skinny and sick. “The hawks swooped down on us and screamed,” she said. Horrified, she made the decision to take all the rabbits, though she had no legal right to them. Asztalos agreed when Sayeg promised to return for the Easter egg hunt with two child-friendly Flemish Giants from the GHRS that would actually enjoy working the event.
There were only 22 rabbits still in the enclosure. “All of them were starving.” Some of them had probably jumped the fence. “I’m sure he lost many to hawks,” Sayeg says. And Asztalos told her he had sold some of the rabbits.
“I have devoted my life to rescuing these guys,” Sayeg says. “All I ask is that they get the same respect in society as dogs and cats.”
Windward Animal Hospital provides care
On March 27th, Sayeg took 15 does, three bucks and four baby bunnies to Windward Animal Hospital http://www.windwardanimalhospital.org in John’s Creek for evaluation and care. Dr. Stewart Colby declared them all malnourished. He scheduled nine rabbits for spaying the next day. One died overnight.
Dr. Colby terminated the pregnancies of five rabbits that were too weak to carry their babies to term. He believed that the does that were not pregnant had already miscarried because they were in such poor condition. Six rabbits were too ill to be spayed and will have the surgery when they’re stronger.
The three males were neutered and are recovering nicely.
GHRS also managed to get back 11 of the rabbits that were originally taken by DeKalb County and saw that they had urgent medical care. Their injuries included hair loss, respiratory infections and open wounds. One had lost a foot. After spaying and neutering, all will be available for adoption.
The GHRS needs donations
The GHRS built and operates the only free-standing facility to care for rescued rabbits in the Southeast, but they are already stretched to the limit with happy, socialized rabbits who are waiting to be adopted.
All of the rabbits rescued from Jellystone Park were released from the hospital on March 29th and delivered to qualified foster homes. The Georgia House Rabbit Society is in dire need of donations for their care. They also need exercise pens or extra large dog crates.
To donate via Paypal, go to the GHRS web site, http://www.houserabbitga.com/?p=6706. To donate via credit card, contact Edie Sayeg at 770-826-2732. Make checks payable to The Georgia House Rabbit Society, 2280 Shallowford Rd., Marietta, GA 30066.
To foster future rabbits, please contact the GHRS foster manager, Shelley Williams, at email@example.com, or call Edie Sayeg.