Paws Here, Edinburgh

Just a quick note to introduce the topic from me, and then I'll get straight to the message. A young woman who runs an adoption centre/ animal shelter in Edinburgh, Scotland with her partner (and some other very dedicated volunteers), has decided to take up her teaspoon and begin advocating for change in a public way, and thinking she's got a great thing going and wanting to support it, I bethought me to bring over a letter she's written to a local politician beginning a campaign to close down the rodent and rabbit "mills" in Britain, as the puppy mills were closed a few years ago.

Among her good works is a dedication to providing a home for animals whose adopters can't care for them for various reasons, specifically including regular contact with the social work agencies in her region, giving shelter to animals whose adopters must go into care or hospital.

If you have the wherewithal to help her out in any way, I'd call it a mighty teaspoon wielded for those who don't have the voice/power/knowledge to argue for themselves - which is pretty much a good chunk of what we do here, y'know?

A warning for the sensitive of stomach: Rachel pulls no punches in her letter, including somewhat graphic (but appropriate, I think) descriptions of some of the sadder cases she has to deal with.

Dear Fred Mackintosh,

My name is Rachel, I run an independent animal shelter in Morningside which focuses particularly on rabbits and rodents, and today, as with most days, I'm worried.

As usual we are at full capacity. 20 rabbits here, more in foster homes, 10 on a waiting list to come in. All the shelters, SSPCA and independent, are full of rabbits. We've had word that a rabbit rescue in East Lothian has had to close down under the pressure. It's something we can well understand.

Yesterday two more rabbits were brought in by a young family to be rehomed. The father fills out our Rabbit Welfare Association survey, and puts three hesitant, almost embarrassed ticks in the boxes marked “bought from a pet shop”, “bought for a child” and “child lost interest”. The ticks are the last in a long line of other ticks from other families who have decided that the same boxes apply to them. We hear this so often that it is becoming some kind of horrific joke around here. This is happening daily. Rabbits live for 10-12 years. People buy them for kids and give them up within a year. It is not difficult to see that there is a major problem here. The rabbits will have to be spayed before we can rehome them. We're lucky, very lucky. A good small animal vet (a rare thing) has agreed to give us much reduced charity prices for having these animals spayed, neutered, vaccinated and treated there. So the operation for these rabbits will cost us £130. Vaccinations will be more. We rehome a rabbit for a £30 donation. You can already see the problem. In animal welfare we have a saying, “it is impossible to breed, keep and sell animals ethically and make a profit.” Pet shops and breeding mills are making a profit from breeding and selling animals. What does that imply?

We take down the rabbits' details and reassure the family that we only rehome to the best possible homes, that we do home checks, have application forms for adoption, never split up bonded pairs, and regularly turn down people who we do not believe will be suitable pet owners. We tell them to contact us any time to find out how the bunnies are doing. We know from experience that we will probably never hear from them again.

Rabbits are bigger than you might think from looking at the tiny baby bunnies in pet shops where they are often weak, too young to be weaned, wrongly gendered, ill, poorly bred and sold to anyone. Today I have to take one of our bigger rabbits to the vet for ongoing treatment for his bed sores. I want you to stop for a moment and think about how an otherwise healthy animal comes in to an animal shelter with gaping, infected sores on his feet and underbelly. It is from being kept in a hutch too small for him to even move, on dirty, urine-soaked bedding, for his entire life. The vet students from the local veterinary school come here for a week at a time to learn about small animal husbandry, and we have one here this week as well as a disadvantaged teenager who is getting work experience through a government scheme to help her and other young people like her to find work, and one of our regular volunteers. I don't know how I'd get through today without them.

Part way through the day another rabbit is brought in. Pretty soon we realise that something is badly wrong – that this is one of those cases where owners bring in a pet because the animal is ill and they do not want to pay for veterinary care. They are too ashamed to tell us this most of the time, and often it is too late for us or our vets to do anything but make them comfortable. We do what we can. We try to give their last few hours the peace, dignity and freedom from pain that were missing from their lives. This rabbit doesn't look as bad as some, though, and could be in with a chance. Another trip to the vet. There will be permanent partial paralysis of the hind quarters and bunny will have to be medicated for life, making it a near certainty that he will never be adopted. A full diagnosis will be made in a week's time, when the pain killers have had some effect and he has settled down in this new environment. X-rays will be needed. We will need to raise hundreds of pounds in a week, on top of our normal bills and costs. I let our volunteers know that this is the situation – it is not a new one.

The end of the day comes and I am still worried. Today we rehomed one hamster. It is not enough. We are running low on hay, relying on donated bags. What will happen if we run out? We try to raise money to fund the work we do by selling pet products – dog food, hamster cages, cat litter and so on. But our shelves are nearly bare because we simply do not have the funds to pay for an order of products. A bill from the waste disposal people. A bill for the license. Hundreds of pounds that we don't have, that even if we did have should be spent on x-rays for that bunny today that drags his hind legs across his cage to the food dish in excruciating pain. I give him his pain medication. I take a last-minute phone call, and add more rabbits to the waiting list for spaces here.

And, despairing, I am thinking one thing. Why are breeding mills and pet shops still producing and selling these animals like so many toys? Puppy mills are, thankfully, a thing of the past. Yet rabbits are the most neglected pet in Britain, according to the SSPCA and the Rabbit Welfare Association, and are still being mass produced in rabbit and rodent mills like the Essex Breeding Centre, and sold to absolutely anyone by pet shops and superstores. We have had pets brought in by social workers that were sold to people with extreme learning difficulties who cannot even look after themselves. Guinea pigs that are kept in hamster cages. Rabbits belonging to children who neglected to feed them until they were starved to the point of death. Rats tortured by having their toes cut off repeatedly. Pets suffering such extreme psychological trauma from their abuse and neglect that they never recovered. These are not isolated incidents! This is happening every single day. This is the reality of my working life. Rabbits are the third most popular pet in Britain, yet shelters are so full of them that some are having to close down under the pressure. The current system is not working, and trying to police the pet owners is nearly impossible. The problem needs to be fixed at the source.

I don't know how you can help. I just know that you CAN help. You've not gotten to where you are without being a resourceful person – a person who can make things happen. Please do what you can to get this issue heard and dealt with. I know what it's like to feel like the problem is insurmountable – it's something I have to deal with every day, that hollow feeling that it is too much, that we will never make a difference. But politicians and animal welfare workers have this in common: we have the attitude that no matter what the odds, no matter how tiring or thankless the effort, we have to try to make a difference because if we don't, who will?

There's a time when we have to stand up against obvious injustice and give our voices to those who have none. That time is now.

Thank you for your time,

Rachel Plummer.


The shelter's website is here, and they have a community on LJ at paws_here. They can be reached by e-mail at

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