Doomed Tacoma rabbit becomes 'cause célèbre'

Doomed Tacoma rabbit becomes 'cause célèbre'
Darcy Webb of the Pierce County Humane Society says Copper's bite was so severe that it has to be euthanized. (The rabbit in the cage behind her is a different bunny that is available for adoption.)
TACOMA, Wash. - A local rabbit is attracting lots of attention - and sympathy - from around the globe as word spreads that it is about to be put to death, even though many people have volunteered to give it a home.

The Pierce County Humane Society decided to euthanize the rabbit after it bit a shelter volunteer a few days ago, sparking a controversy that has taken on a life of its own.

Calls and e-mails are coming in from as far away as London, pleading with Pierce County Humane Society Director Kathleen Olson to spare the rabbit's life.

But so far the shelter refuses to back down, saying it must euthanize animals that bite – although it has never faced this issue with a rabbit before.

The controversy began after the rabbit, named Copper, was taken in by the Humane Society earlier this month.

According to shelter officials, the rabbit bit a volunteer in a way that was so harsh that the worker had to go to the emergency room.

Copper was quarantined, and Humane Society leaders say it has shown such aggressive behavior, as they describe it, that it has to be euthanized.

Now local rabbit rescue groups say the shelter isn't giving a fair chance to the bunny - and they believe the animal should be rehabilitated, instead of killed.

"We just feel that he's probably just fine," says Matthew Parsons of Rabbit Meadows, a Redmond-based rescue organization. "It just happens to be an incident that was unfortunate - nothing more than that."

But Darcy Webb of the Pierce County Humane Society says Copper's bite was no ordinary case of a nervous bunny nipping at someone.

"Rabbits will sometimes bite and break the skin, but not to this degree," she says. "This was pretty amazing. But it is the policy of the Humane Society that an animal that is ... going to cause damage to people, then it can't be released."

Olson, the shelter’s director, says the rabbit also has serious medical issues that were discovered when it was examined by a veterinarian.

"In the case of the rabbit Copper, the circumstance and severity of the bite, combined with its behavioral history, subsequent aggression, and serious medical conditions have made him unsuitable for adoption," Olson said in a prepared statement.

The rabbit is scheduled to be euthanized on Sunday - but opponents aren't giving up their fight. Hundreds of them have been jamming phone lines, writing e-mails, and calling up the director.

Shelter officials say the publicity has been so intense that they have hired extra security to make sure shelter workers and volunteers remain safe.

Sandi Ackerman of Rabbit Meadows says her group would like to have Copper evaluated by a veterinarian that specializes in rabbits.

But Olson says that the three vets at the shelter are fully qualified to treat Copper and that an outside veterinarian that is a rabbit specialist is also available.

Ackerman claims that Copper was well enough to frolic outside on Wednesday evening before he bit a volunteer and that suddenly he was deemed too ill for adoption and a candidate for euthanasia.

She says her groups would like to take Copper, but Olson says no.

The Humane Society would not allow photos of the rabbit to be taken because it is in quarantine.

The director says her decision will stand says the decision will stand - Copper will be killed on Sunday, especially after consulting with doctors and vets.