February 3, 2016
EDIT: 4.2.16 – Burgess have announced they will no longer support the Harrogate Show. Thank you Burgess for making a stand for rabbit welfare.
Widely promoted as ‘the UK’s biggest small animal show’, the Burgess Premier Small Animal show has been held in Harrogate since 1921. It is a meet up for breeders of rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, chinchillas and more who enjoy showing the best of their stock and hope to come away as winners. As my expertise is in rabbits – this will be the species I focus on here. The Guardian has posted an interesting article on the most recent 2016 show.
BUT AT WHAT PRICE?
Rabbit handling at the 2007 Excel show in Harrogate. CC:BY-NC-ND.
Photos from the event and those from previous events (see above), show some common handling techniques used at shows. For example, rabbits being held on their backs. This is called ‘trancing’ or ‘tonic immobility’. This has been proven to be very stressful for rabbits (as well as increasing the risk of a back injury). As they are prey species, this is an auto response they enter when tipped over. See here for more info on trancing. Many people use this method of handling for checking, grooming and judging rabbits and many refuse to change their ways and disregard the scientific facts. Many top organizations and specialists do not agree with trancing, including The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) who are the UK’s largest organization dealing with domestic rabbit welfare.
The British Rabbit Council (BRC) are the UK governing body for fur and fancy rabbits. When previously questioned about trancing, they were adamant that this was NOT a part of their routine handling – yet it seems, this happens all too often AND at BRC approved events by BRC approved judges.
Also some of these photos show that the judge is grasping the ears as part of the support / restraint. This method can easily cause damage and pain to the rabbit and is not recommended as a standard form of acceptable and safe handling.
BUT SURELY THE ENCLOSURES ARE OK?
Example of show cages in 2007
Sadly not – as you can see they are tiny, one rabbit per cage, wood shavings for bedding, some don’t even have food and / or hay (hay and fresh water should be available to a rabbit 24/7). Thankfully no cages were observed that did not have a water available. Each rabbit can be stuck in these cages for many hours, some will spend the entire day there. Surely this doesn’t meet the Five Freedoms welfare standards? Is this even legal if you consider the Animal Welfare Act 2006?
Wire floor show cage
The photo above (taken by me in 2007) shows the types of cages that the long haired rabbits have to sit in. They have wire bottoms as clearly shown in the picture. Wire floors are not recommended by welfare organizations and rabbit specialists as they can cause pain and damage to the feet. See this RSPCA factsheet for more information on rabbit accommodation.
Next question… where do they stay overnight? That’s another thing I urge you to ask the show organizers. At this particular event a message was shared publicly to the exhibitors explaining that the animals would have to spend the whole of the first evening in their travel boxes as the venue was not safe due to weather problems. Yes the weather is not under anyone’s control, but is it fair to keep an animal in a traveling box overnight? What size are these boxes and where were they placed? When staying at a secure venue with no weather problems, where do the rabbits spend the night – in these show cages? or somewhere else.
Many of the rabbits that do have food in with them, are being fed on a muesli diet – again this has been scientifically proven to contribute to dental and digestive problems. If these people care SO much about their live stock – why are they not adhering to basic welfare guidelines and following the most up to date veterinary advice?
The RWAF state that rabbits should live in bonded, neutered pairs, be fed on a good quality diet (not muesli style mixes) and be housed in spacious accommodation that allows at least 3 full hops in any direction. Clearly – show accommodation is NOT adhering to any of these guidelines. What message is this sending the general public who flock to this event? Charities and veterinary professionals work tirelessly to promote good husbandry, handling and welfare – then for a bit of fun and entertainment (for the humans not the animals), these animal shows can do untold damage to the welfare messages in just a few hours.
WHAT ABOUT DISEASE RISKS?
Some diseases are very easily spread between rabbits and other small animals. I’m focusing on one – Viral Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD). This is a rapid and often fatal disease that is easily spread from rabbit to rabbit and from human to rabbit too. It has also recently mutated into a second strain that is currently not routinely vaccinated against in the UK. The disease can live in the environment for many weeks and is easily spread on shoes, car tyres, clothes, hands etc. The following statement is displayed on the BRC’s own website with regards to RVHD:
“Clothes should be changed between handling rabbits from different places. Newly arrived rabbits should be quarantined for at least a week before mixing with others, and different clothing worn between established and new groups of rabbits.”
So – take a look at the image of the rabbit show cages again… These rabbits are side by side, above and below many other rabbits from other breeders. The judges wear their ‘coats’ for the whole show and do not change them in-between each rabbit. The judging tables have tablecloths on that are not changed between each rabbit. Do the judges wear gloves? Oh and the public have full access in and out the building, can get right up to the show cages and touch them too. Final question: Why are there no apparent disease risk controls in place?
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
I advise anyone who agrees that these types of shows DO NOT promote animal welfare, to contact the companies involved. Burgess are the main sponsor and the BRC are heavily involved.
Thankfully I have seen that Burgess have responded to a tweet today and are “reviewing their involvement with the show” (EDIT: and have WITHDRAWN their support for the show. PLEASE contact Burgess to thank them for putting welfare first).
Please do consider contacting Burgess, the show and the BRC directly (via email, Facebook, Twitter, letter etc) to see if you can get answers to some of the questions raised and show your displeasure with the event.
Finally a thank you AGAIN to Burgess for putting welfare first.
January 12, 2016
RVHD and Myxomatosis are diseases found throughout the UK and can be fatal to un-vaccinated rabbits. Both outdoor AND indoor rabbits are at risk. RVHD in particular is highly infectious and contagious. It is an air borne virus that can be spread by direct and indirect contact with infected rabbits, food bowls, hutches and even the soles of your shoes. For example – if you, your dog or cat has walked on ground where a VHD infected rabbit has been, you can carry it on your clothes or shoes, your other pets can carry it on fur or feet. The virus can survive in the environment for a long time and can survive cold temperatures far better than you might expect.
“As you may know, over the past year there has been an increasing concern regarding RVHD “new variant 2” becoming a cause of deaths in several outbreaks in the UK. Whilst it has been noted in the UK in research papers (Westcott and Choudhury) for at least 2 years, it has clearly become a significant clinical entity in the past few months.
We (RWAF) have now successfully established an SIC (Special Import Certificate) for a suitable EU member state vaccine, Cunivak RHD, and placed an order for a small number of vaccines to establish an ordering system into the UK.
Vets can order their own supplies from VMD. If they require any further information, they should contact the RWAF at [email protected] and we will pass on any veterinary queries to our vet, Mr Saunders, but they should be aware that he may be dealing with a high volume of email. A more detailed explanation of the above should be available in Vet Times and Vet Record soon.”
What This Means For Owners.
Firstly – please note that NO emails from owners about this topic will be passed to Dr Saunders. he will be dealing with Vet emails only due to the high volume of contact.
So for owners – this means you will need to ask your vets to order in the new vaccine which will take a few weeks for them to sort out. The new Cunivak vaccine is NOT a replacement for the current combo vaccine and will need to be given AS WELL AS the Nobivak
one. Its important to note that these vaccines CANNOT be given at the same time and need at least a 2 week gap between them.
In total, your rabbit will now require 2 vaccinations (comprising of 3 injections) per year:
1) Nobivak combo – Just one injection covers them for myxomatosis and RHVD1.
2) Cunivak RHVD – 2 injections 3 weeks apart. This covers them against RHVD2.
You need to leave AT LEAST 2 weeks gap between the different types of vaccines. If you can manage to schedule it so that there is a gap of 4-6 months between vaccines then this would mean your rabbit would have a veterinary health check up approx every 6 months. BUT you don’t HAVE to work to this schedule, just make sure there is at least 2 weeks between vaccines.
Please contact your vets and ask them to start the process of ordering in the new Cunivak RHD vaccine. Most vets will not be aware that they can do this as the information has only just been released. But the quicker you contact them, the quicker they can get up to speed and get the vaccines in stock. If your vets are unsure, please advise them to email [email protected]
for more info. As per the RWAF first alert above, this information will be released in veterinary publications in the coming weeks.
If your rabbit is vaccinated with the Nobivac combi vaccine AND the Cunivak vaccine, they will have been vaccinated against Myxo, RHVD1 and RHVD2. As always, no vaccination is 100% effective and it does not mean your pet will not contract the disease. However, it does mean they have a chance to be treated and survive these normally fatal illnesses.
February 25, 2015
We all know that fashion and animal welfare do not often go together well. However, a designer at this years London Fashion Week has taken things a step too far.
Markus Lupfer is a German born designer who is most famous for his knitwear. Sadly, his collections include angora products…but this is not the main point of this post (it just adds to his lack of regard for rabbit welfare).
With a worldwide following that includes celebrities, this fashionista decided to “bring a woodland experience to an urban environment so people could re-connect with nature”…well that sounds alright doesnt it?
But does this LOOK alright?
Markus Lupfer Rabbit Abuse
Cue the glass balls hanging from the ceiling, partially filled with straw and 2 young rabbits dumped inside. Cameras flashing, people laughing, inadequate ventilation, nowhere to hide and no obvious clean source of water, room to move or decent food source. Sounds more like a horror scene for those poor rabbits than a wonderful interaction. Oh and don’t forget the fact that they got plucked out to be held by models for 15 minutes at a time for the photo opportunities.
These poor rabbits look extremely young although Markus Lupher will not declare their exact age. Oh and they were from a breeder, not a rescue, just to add extra insult.
Social media came alive with tweets (@markuslufer) and status’s exclaiming how wonderful this ‘show’ was, how cute the rabbits were, how clever the designer was and how its inspired people to go buy a rabbit *sigh*. Not a second thought was given to the welfare of those poor creatures, hung in a glass bowl for the humans entertainment. Not far off a circus act really.
Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 places a duty of care on people to ensure they take reasonable steps in all the circumstances to meet the welfare needs of their animals to the extent required by good practice. This is upheld by the RSPCA and they can prosecute people who are found to breech these conditions. In my opinion, this ‘show’ clearly breaks at least 4 of the 5 freedoms mentioned in the act. For reference, here are the 5 freedoms:
1) Freedom from hunger and thirst.
By providing enough fresh water and the right type and amount of food to keep them fit.
2) Freedom from discomfort.
Making sure that animals have the right type of environment including shelter and somewhere comfortable to rest.
3) Freedom from pain, injury and disease.
By preventing them from getting ill or injured and by making sure animals are diagnosed and treated rapidly if they do.
4) Freedom to behave normally.
By making sure animals have enough space, proper facilities and the company of other animals of their own kind.
5) Freedom from fear and distress.
By making sure their conditions and treatment avoid mental suffering.
Luckily the good people of the world quickly saw the true horror of this publicity stunt and started to retaliate. The social media comments started to turn, welfare questions were asked, responses were sought and the ‘show’ was questioned. The Markus Lupfer facebook page quickly grew with over 60 complaints in a matter of hours. Twitter was also awash with negative comments regarding the debacle. I even had a fashion journalist ask me for more information on the Animal Welfare Act as she was unaware of the problems but wanted to know more.
The turning of the tide has prompted Markus Lupfer to release a ‘legal statement’ with regards to the use of the rabbits. In my opinion, this is a cop out that just forces the ‘blame’ onto the so called animal welfare company that was supposedly present the whole time. I have previously had my doubts about the qualifications of these so called ‘welfare companies’ who attend filming and public appearances to safe guard the animals. This clearly does not happen with rabbits when you consider the last few things like the Mcvities Ad, the PDSA ad and now this fashion extravaganza. If these ‘experts’ truly understood rabbit behavior then these things would not have been allowed to happen.
Markus Lupfer Legal Statement
This is the second time in just a matter of months that a so called ‘artist’ has used live rabbits in an unacceptable way to gain publicity. Anne Imhof presented an art exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Giant rabbits were placed in tiny perspex cubes whilst dancers roamed around the cage banging metal rods. Just awful. You can read more about it here.
Anne Imhof Rabbit Abuse. Photo from tumblr
So….let nip this in the bud and get the message out there that animal abuse for the sake of art, fashion or human entertainment is NOT right and will NOT be accepted. Easter is fast approaching and I fear more stunts like this will appear which will also add to the suffering of yet more rabbits being bought on a whim as an Easter gift, many resulting in a silent suffering, tortuous existence.
Please share this information, help to raise the awareness and also consider sending polite complaints to London Fashion Week, Markus Lupfer, Anne Imhof and any other ‘artists’ who deem their work to be more important than animal welfare. Dont forget to also lodge a formal complaint with the RSPCA if you deem any of the 5 freedoms to have been broken (this only applies in the UK. You can contact the SSPCA in Scotland).
Lets shout loud about rabbit welfare and help make a difference.