Forty-six rabbits were spared a butchering on a Saturday earlier this month, after law enforcement officials responded to an anonymous tip.
In 108-degree heat on June 8, Sacramento animal control officers confiscated a colony of rabbits from the backyard of a house within city limits.
The rabbits were raised for meat, and they had been confined to a yard with several hutches until a neighbor suspected something peculiar and made a call, said Gina Knepp, the city's animal services manager.
"I've only been doing animal care for two years, and the most magical moment I've had was the day we released them all in our yard and let them play and run free for the first time in their lives," Knepp said. "It was the coolest, most joyful thing I've ever seen in my life."
With the help of the Sacramento House Rabbit Society, the city animal shelter on Front Street converted one of its dog yards into a rabbit sanctuary.
Officials said they investigated the case because the house, with dozens of rabbits, was in a residential area not zoned for agricultural uses, and because the rabbits were being kept in inhumane conditions in triple-digit heat.
Rabbits are cold-weather animals, and they can start to overheat in about 80-degree weather, according to Sonia Tedsen, an active officer for the society, which educates people about rabbits as indoor companions. About six volunteers from the society help maintain the Front Street Shelter "rabitat," cleaning, feeding and medicating the rabbits.
Knepp said the shelter put together a criminal case under the Penal Code that covers animal cruelty, which can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. The District Attorney's Office will decide what happens to the case next.
Tedsen said this kind of mass-rabbit confiscation happens across the country, and a different chapter of the society is helping in Indiana where 375 rabbits were recently confiscated.
She said the last raid the Sacramento organization led involved more than 300 rabbits in Fair Oaks in 1999. The county also acquired 60 rabbits from a breeder three years ago.
"People are breeding and not treating them carefully," Tedsen said. "Or they have a couple rabbits that get out of hand."
Knepp said the rabbits were brought to the shelter at 6 p.m. the day they were confiscated, and it took 12 hours the next day to help them adjust and for staff to determine the sex of each rabbit, photograph them and give them identification numbers.
For now, Knepp and the shelter face the task of finding homes for the rabbits, which have each been spayed or neutered with the help of funds raised by the society.
"We raised $2,000 in the first couple days for the first 19 spays at a discounted rate," Tedsen said.
The Front Street Shelter and the SPCA are hosting Bunny-Paloozas to find permanent homes for the rabbits. A flier for the events shows Emma, a white rabbit with big ears who says she's "no different than any bunny else."
"The epic moment in my career so far was watching these rabbits get to be rabbits," Knepp said. "My staff all felt the same thing. Our business is very emotional - with lot of highs, a lot of lows. This moment made all the lows worth it."
Sacramento rabbit adoption events
The city animal shelter has created a "rabitat" for 46 confiscated rabbits and is looking for people to adopt them at two events:
Where: City animal shelter, 2127 Front St.
When: Noon to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
Where: SPCA, 6201 Florin Perkins Road
When: July 6 and 7 (time not set yet)
Call The Bee's Morgan Searles, (916) 321-1102. Follow her in Twitter @morgansearles.