- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Given 30-day suspended jail sentence
By KATIE FITZPATRICK
Carole Van Wie, the owner of Bunny Magic Wildlife and Rabbit Rescue Inc., from which more than 200 sick and injured rabbits were removed Aug. 8, entered an Alford plea Thursday to one count of animal cruelty failure to provide in Calvert County District Court.
An Alford plea acknowledges that the state has enough evidence for a conviction but does not admit guilt.
Van Wie, 66, of Lusby was given a 30-day suspended jail sentence Thursday by Judge Robert B. Riddle, who also placed Van Wie on three years of supervised probation. Riddle said Van Wie is required to surrender her license to practice animal and wildlife rescue, receive a mental health evaluation and pay $500 in restitution to the Tri-County Animal Shelter and $215.34 in restitution to the county.
The remaining 20 charges of animal cruelty failure to provide were dropped as part of a plea agreement with the Calvert County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Robert H. Harvey Jr., Van Wie’s attorney, during the hearing said his client’s “heart was always in the right place” while she was operating the rescue.
“That’s what got her in trouble, I think her heart was too big,” Harvey said, adding that as a result, she took in more rabbits than she could care for. Van Wie was not hoarding animals, Harvey said, but was taking them in and adopting them out to other people.
Harvey said he thinks Van Wie is “still in the position to take care of some animals” and asked Riddle to authorize the return of 45 of the rabbits being held at the Tri-County Animal Shelter to her care. He also asked Riddle to ensure that the animals that remain at the animal shelter are “properly cared for” and not euthanized.
Van Wie said rescuing animals and wildlife “has been my life” and she “did not do this to intentionally harm any animal.” She said she’s been a licensed rescuer since 1979 and because she has agreed not to practice anymore, the county will “lose the only rescue in the area, but I’ve agreed to do this.”
Riddle said Van Wie’s was a “troubling case” because while her intentions were good, the people who brought the living conditions of the rabbits to light “had the same intentions.” After handing down her sentence, Riddle said he would hold a separate hearing, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 4, to hear from professionals whether “there’s room for these 45 rabbits to be cared for” in Van Wie’s home.
After the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint July 24 from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Calvert County Animal Control and the Calvert Investigative Team executed a search warrant at the Lusby rescue and removed 222 rabbits that were living in unfit conditions. Those animals were taken to the Tri-County Animal Shelter in Hughesville, where some received medical treatment and several rabbits died.
The sheriff’s office was contacted July 24 by Dan Paden, a PETA research associate, who said he wanted to meet with deputies, according to charging documents. At about 1:30 p.m. that same day, deputies met with Paden and a PETA investigator, who had been working undercover at Bunny Magic for 10 days, deputies said.
Paden said PETA had received a complaint about a rabbit rescue on Tongue Cove Drive in Lusby, where about 400 rabbits were allegedly being housed inhumanely on the property. The investigator saw about 140 rabbits in the areas she was allowed into, charging documents state. Paden then provided deputies with notes from the investigator’s investigation, a DVD with video footage and a CD with photographs taken while acting as a volunteer at the shelter, deputies said.
After obtaining a warrant, a search and seizure was executed at 9:33 a.m. Aug. 8 at the shelter. Dr. Autumn Terry, a licensed veterinarian in St. Mary’s County, accompanied law enforcement in the execution of the warrant and “did a quick field assessment” of about 265 rabbits on the property, according to charging documents. About 35 rabbits in a shed appeared to be healthy and were kept in a clean environment, deputies said, and Terry recommended those rabbits be kept on the property as there were no signs of animal cruelty.
As officials went through the front door into the “main residence,” they allegedly noticed “a very strong concentration of ammonia smell and had to wear masks,” according to charging documents. Officials noticed a “large amount of heavy cob webs and feces on the floor from rabbits,” deputies said, as well as “a large amount of mice running around inside” the cages. Deputies said it appeared the litter pans had not been cleaned in “some time.”
Terry, during her initial field assessment, said of the more than 200 rabbits in the house, only five “were loose” and every cage in the house was inappropriately sized for long-term use for housing rabbits. The cages were also filthy and did not have wire bottoms to allow excrement to pass through, deputies said.
Terry, according to charging documents, said every rabbit in the house was laying in 2 to 4 inches of feces and urine, and all were infested with fleas. About a dozen of the rabbits had overgrown toenails; 50 rabbits had no hay, and 21 of those had neither hay nor food pellets; seven rabbits had no water; 24 rabbits were “visibly ill” with evidence of Pastuerellosis, which causes discharge from the eyes and nose, head tilt and lethargy; and one rabbit was found dead in its cage, charging documents state.
Due to the unsanitary conditions and lack of appropriate food, hay or water, Terry said she felt all the rabbits inside the house needed to be removed, with the exception of those in the shed that appeared to be healthy, deputies said.
Deputies said 78 rabbits in the main residence, 15 rabbits in a second room, 39 rabbits in a third room, five rabbits in a bathroom, one rabbit in a kitchen, 81 rabbits in a one-car garage and five rabbits in a “sick area” were seized due to poor and unhealthy living conditions, charging documents state.
Van Wie, 66, was charged Aug. 20 with 21 counts of animal cruelty failure to provide.