Twenty-seven rabbits were captured in Ronkonkoma after being dumped near the train station, the Suffolk County SPCA said Monday in offering a $3,500 reward to find those responsible.
Volunteers with pole nets chased rabbits Sunday and Monday in the Long Island Rail Road commuter parking lot and adjoining woods, with one rescuer estimating Monday afternoon that there could be six or more remaining.
“We just saw one and we lost him,” said John Di Leonardo, founder of Malverne-based Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, a animal advocacy nonprofit. “He was underneath a car, but as soon as he saw someone coming with a net, he darted back into the woods.”
Abandoning domestic rabbits is a “blatant act of animal cruelty” because they do not have the skills to survive in the wild, the SPCA said in its news release.
Almost all the rescues were caught Sunday by 20 or so volunteers after Smithtown-based Guardians of Rescue got a tip. Even as midnight approached, the volunteers, including those from Strong Island and Hopalong Hollow in Norwalk, Connecticut, soldiered on with flashlights, headlamps and even one thermal imaging monocular — a device that detects heat.
The rabbits were of various breeds, including Lionheads and Flemish giants, said Moira Colley, a Hopalong Hollow volunteer who drove to Long Island on Sunday and returned to Connecticut with 14 rabbits.
She believes they were dumped in the parking lot Sunday because they were still there when rescuers arrived. “Some were eating lettuce out of our hands, so they were definitely domesticated,” she said.
“It was very scary because it’s very close to the train station, and the weather wasn’t too good last night, with rain and mist,” Colley said. “So I can imagine how scared the rabbits were.”
The search has been tough, rescuers said, because the woods are full of poison ivy, makeshift homeless shelters, debris and feral cats’ existing shelters, where some of the rabbits were found in hiding.
The rabbits have been fast to evade capture, volunteers said. By the time a net is poised over them, they’re gone. Some rescuers have teamed up, with one attempting to block a rabbit in the hope it would go straight into another rescuer’s net.
Di Leonardo and Colley said the animals show long-term neglect, including matted fur and respiratory illnesses, and several have abscesses, injuries, mites and feces embedded in their fur.
The one in the worst shape had an abscess about 3 inches across and eye discharge, rescuers said.
“All of us thought there was a rabbit dead in the woods before we realized it was him” and still alive, Di Leonardo said.
That rabbit died early Monday after being taken to a veterinary technician in Manhattan, he said.
The rescues will be up for adoption when they’re healthy and spayed or neutered, a delicate operation that can cost as much as $600 per animal because of their small sizes, Colley said.
The SPCA said it is investigating and asks anyone with information to call 631-382-7722. All calls are confidential, the organization said.