The town of Canmore says it is finalizing an agreement with Earthanimal Humane Education and Rescue Society to provide a sanctuary for its multitude of rabbits. The exact number is unknown, but some estimates suggest there are as many as 2,000 long-eared hoppers.
Spokeswoman Sally Caudill said the town of 12,000 on the eastern edge of Banff National Park, wanted to make sure the transfer of the rabbits was done responsibly.
The society, founded by Susan Vickery and going by the acronym EARS, is a volunteer-operated, registered charity that manages sanctuaries for abandoned farm animals and European domestic rabbits.
Vickery said her group only has enough money so far for 150 rabbits to go to the sanctuary.
"I'm hoping that the community can keep up with donations and spare the lives of all the animals," she said from her home in Coombs on Vancouver Island.
"I think it's important that people know this isn't the happy story they might think it is. Let's hope it is."
Calgary veterinarians are donating their time to spay and neuter the rabbits and City of Calgary bylaw services has offered the use of its clinic to do the operations.
Vickery, who runs a sanctuary for 600 rabbits, says her group has two donations of land for sanctuaries for between 25 and 150 rabbits in the Calgary area. She doesn't want to give the exact location because people may dump unwanted animals there.
She says it costs about $130 per rabbit to keep it in a sanctuary, which Vickery describes as a secure — rabbits like to dig — comfortable place for the animals, with a clean, dry place they can go to get out of the elements or rest.
"I like to think we've gone beyond just providing (basics). They're comfortable here. There's no stress here."
Modifications will have to be made for the Calgary sanctuaries because of the harsher climate and presence of predators, Vickery said.
She said she doesn't have a start date from Canmore. Caudill said that won't be determined until after an agreement is signed.
The rabbits taking over Canmore were originally pets, but were released in the 1990s and started doing what bunnies do best. Now, it's estimated there could be one rabbit for every six people in the community.
The town has said the rabbits are too plentiful and could attract cougars and coyotes looking for an easy snack.
Canmore recently rejected an offer from the Animal Rescue Corps (ARC), a non-profit animal protection organization based in Washington, D.C. ARC had offered to take care of the rabbit infestation by trapping, transporting, spaying and neutering the animals and then placing them in a new home.
Vickery said she was astounded that Canmore refused the offer.
"They offer the expertise, the professional resources — it's all there. It's a beautiful package just in time for Christmas.
"My Christmas wish is that they revisit that proposal in January."
Caudill said there is no proposal from ARC, but Canmore will work with the group if it submits one that meets with the town's criteria.
"We want to be responsible...we don't want to pass on our problem to someone else. All we're asking any group to do is to show us that what they are going to do with the rabbits is responsible."
— By Mary Jo Laforest in Edmonton