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Baby bunnies rescued from Downtown L.A. streets


The bunnies sat in stacked cages on the downtown sidewalk. They nibbled on lettuce as passers-by stopped to pet them. How much? A young woman cheerfully named her price. ($20 is the going rate.)

"No photographs," she said, passing a hand in front of a rabbit as a photographer snapped pictures.

On a sunny Saturday, she scanned the throngs coursing along Maple Avenue toward 12th Street, en route to the Santee Alley shopping bazaar.

Suddenly, she gasped. She and other vendors whisked black garbage bags over the cages, grabbed them and anything else they could carry and scurried off.

In seconds, they were swarmed by half a dozen yellow-shirted Business Improvement District security officers and a Los Angeles police officer. A bucket of turtles ended up dropped in the middle of 12th Street.

Security officer Alondra Alonzo tussled with one vendor, wresting a bag of rabbits from her grip. The vendor, annoyed, walked off with a single rabbit.

"It's 5 months old," said the woman, who identified herself as Stacy Martinez when asked if the animal was unweaned. "They are well taken care of." She handed the caged rabbit to a little girl, who placed it on her lap.

In the weeks before Easter, the illegal bunny trade is booming in downtown Los Angeles. "It's kind of a perennial problem," said Lt. Paul Vernon of the LAPD, especially around holidays.

In Los Angeles, selling anything on the sidewalk is against the law.

Though the sale of animals may not be on an economic par with the selling of counterfeit designer handbags and bootleg DVDs, what makes it particularly egregious to animal rescuers, the Department of Animal Services and law enforcement officers is that the animals are usually unweaned, malnourished and destined to die once buyers get them home.

An arrest for illegal sidewalk selling brings a citation. But if an animal control officer can certify that the animals are being badly kept, the vendor can be arrested on suspicion of felony animal cruelty.

Two weeks ago, LAPD Officer Matthew Shafer arrested a man downtown on suspicion of animal cruelty and confiscated more than 100 animals, including rabbits and iguanas. "I try to get them at their point of entry: parking lots," Shafer said.

Earlier Saturday, Shafer, downtown security officers and rabbit rescuers had set out to a rooftop parking lot. There, in an unlocked Chevy van, they found a container full of dozens of green turtles clambering over one another.

"For these people, this is just a business," said Shafer.

Shafer, who owns three rescue dogs, said collaring sidewalk vendors illegally selling DVDs and animals is "my favorite thing."

"I know all the players down here," he said. And they know the tall, hazel-eyed cop. They have nicknamed him Guero -- a not-so-endearing term for "white boy."

The vendors rely on lookouts -- on foot, scooters and bicycles -- to warn them by cellphone, walkie-talkie or air horn that officers are approaching, he said.

But on this Saturday, that didn't stop Shafer from arresting a vendor who gave her name as Veronica Maldonado. As she stood by, handcuffed, rabbit rescuer Lejla Hadzimuratovic cradled two tiny bunnies, just days old, their eyes unopened. She will take all the underage rabbits home and nurse them with kitten formula and colostrum pills. (By the way, she said, lettuce destroys the systems of young rabbits.)

"They might survive," she said of her charges.


-- Carla Hall

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Top photo: A street vendor slips a plastic bag over cages containing rabbits and turtles as she scrambles to leave the corner of 12th St. and Maple Ave. in L.A. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Bottom photo: From left, Mackenzie Fick, Shawn Evelyn and Jeannie Aguilar, members of rescue group the Bunny World Foundation, hold young rabbits confiscated from illegal vendors in L.A.'s Fashion District. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (8)

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Where is L.A. Animal Services and SPCALA in all this? Is it news to them that small animals are being sold illegally, particularly one week before Easter? Can't they make the connection with all the rejected rabbits that are going to end up being killed in their shelters in the next few months?

Also, what kind of morally bankrupt parent buys a baby animal for his/her children to neglect in celebration of a "Christian" holiday? Speaking as a Christian, that's an extremely un-Christian thing to do.

My daughter and our friend rescued a two-week old rabbit last year at this time by buying him downtown as they saw him in a cage, the last rabbit. They knew nothing about rabbits, but they knew if they didn't buy him, he would die. They took him to a vet who helped him rehydrate, then took him home and became surrogate mothers. It took a few days before he was weaned and would drink water and the nutritional mix given them by the vet. He almost didn't make it. Today, Canoli is a loving, affectionate companion and family member who more than rewards us by licking our hands as we stroke him and nuzzling against us. If you've never been licked by a rabbit, it is a gentle and pleasant caress.
Shame on those who take these animals, not yet weaned, from their mothers and sell them to folks who don't realize that they will die unless helped to wean and mothered against warm bodies.
It is sad that many of the rabbit sellers are challenged financially and count on the income from their sales to pay for the staples of life. Yet not every rabbit is as fortunate as Canoli, who almost didn't make it.

Thank you to the LAPD and Officer Matthew Shafer!

To LA Voter....LAAS DOES know what is going on. I am sure they were there somewhere...these babies are taken to North Central shelter where they are usually killed......but thanks to Lejla who is Bunny World-she has rescued more than 600 of these babies!!
Shame on theses "animal dealers" and the people who buy them (who need to be educated on NOT BUYING these animals). Ignorance is not bliss!!!!
LAAS and the LAPD created a task force JUST to deal with the illegal animal sales in Santee Alley (I went to some of the meetings when it was being formed).
Lejla is the spear head of this movement to save these animals!
But MORE of the problem rests with the jerks that are dealing in animals and the "slap on the wrist".....they are guilty of animal cruelty and the penalties need to be MUCH MORE STIFF!!!

Actually, as an LA County animal shelter volunteer, I do help Bunny World Foundation by volunteering there as well. My shelter has also allowed me to donate cages, and litter boxes and towels, etc. They do know what is going on, but County shelters only get so much money from our lovely California government and therefore can only do so much.
More money would definitely help. Also, if all rescues would work together, that would do some good as well....but it doesn't always happen that way. Too much politics involved everywhere.
It will always be an endless battle.

i just bought one of these bunnies and then read this article...what can i do to save the poor thing. im scared it will die. wat does it eat and drink???? please help

"It's kind of a perennial problem," said Lt. Paul Vernon.
It didn't use to be a problem, back when Los Angelenos respected laws and each other.

I bought one of these recently, hoping to save it. I bought her Benebac, a supplement and feed her that everyday for a week along with wheat bran. She would run around and fall asleep on my chest. She died on valentines day. Only a week after I bought her. I wish I had read this article before hand. I didn't want to buy her because I didn't want to encourage more sale of the poor little rabbits, but I couldn't stand seeing them there. I don't regret my purchase because she had the biggest personality for her size and was very happy with me.


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