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Rabbits reproduce into pests

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 28, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- A colony of rabbits has invaded one of St. Petersburg's most exclusive neighborhoods, leading to calls for a rabbit roundup on Snell Isle.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Jack Gray, who handles landscaping for several homes along Brightwaters Boulevard NE. "They were coming out in the daytime, eating right in front of us.

"They chewed 12-inch plants right down to ground level. I'm telling you, they were flower-crazy!"

A few rabbits appeared in the spring, taking up residence in a grassy cul-de-sac at the north end of Brightwaters, an area where homes commonly sell for more than $1-million. Nobody knows how they got there, but residents speculate they were abandoned pets.

The quiet street and abundant plant life were tailor-made for the colony, and before long they had multiplied like -- well, like rabbits. Dozens could be spotted in yards and shrubs north of the 1900 block of Brightwaters.

"At first I didn't care," said Jeff Raihall of 2027 Brightwaters. "But now they're just eating everything. They've become a nuisance."

Raihall's flower beds of petunias and dianthus have been cleaned out several times by the rabbits. He finally got a humane trap and captured a half-dozen bunnies, turning them loose in the wild and keeping one as a pet for his 10-year-old daughter.

Local rabbit lovers are urging others to join the effort. Jennifer Richard, an officer of the Tampa Bay House Rabbit Society, said the best thing for the Brightwaters bunnies would be to find them good homes.

"These are domesticated animals and not wild rabbits," she said. "They lack many necessary survival skills. They're like pets that need to be cared for by humans."

Richard, who owns four rabbits, said the Brightwaters colony faces possible death from winter cold or predatory animals. The House Rabbit Society is working with the SPCA of Pinellas County to encourage homeowners along Brightwaters to humanely trap rabbits in their yards and bring them to the SPCA shelter in Largo.

There, the rabbits will be spayed or neutered and put up for adoption. Richard said rabbits make fine pets. They're quiet, clean and can even be trained to use a litter box.

The SPCA has humane traps available for $2 a day with a $50 deposit. Call (727) 586-3591 for more information.

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