Every time she had gone to visit one specific spot in Las Vegas, Nevada, Stacey Taylor had been met with an incredible sight: about a hundred abandoned rabbits, as far as she could see. But on February 22, 2018, her view changed in a heartbreaking way.
It was 2013 when Taylor had first discovered the rabbits. She and her son were driving past a mental health facility when they looked out of their windows and noticed its lawn was full of the tiny, hopping beasts.
They counted about 100 rabbits on the grass in front of them but decided to explore the grounds further. Taylor told The Dodo that they found nearly 1,200 of them there. “We saw all of these bunnies everywhere,” she said. “I had no idea about rabbits. I assumed they were wild.”
Despite her own assumptions, Taylor found herself intrigued – she had to know why the bunnies were there. So she began her own investigation into the state-owned mental health facility, and she asked around about the abundance of bunnies there.
“The story we get over and over is that someone thought [the rabbits] would be a good idea and soothing for the patients, so they put about 40 to 60 unfixed rabbits on the property,” Taylor said.
And, of course, with that many unfixed animals on the premises, more and more rabbits were born and added to the colony. On top of that, Taylor thought that locals dropped off pets they no longer wanted, further growing the bunny population.
With that, another question popped into Taylor’s head: how could that many domesticated animals be fending for themselves? They had grass, but they had nothing to drink and nowhere to shelter – and, unlike wild rabbits, they didn’t instinctively know how to find these things.
Soon Taylor found herself on a mission to find care for the rabbit colony. The only problem was that no local rescue had enough resources to help her with hundreds of abandoned animals. She realized she’d have to take matters into her own hands.
So she and her friend Dave Schweiger founded their own organization, Bunnies Matter in Vegas Too. Through a Facebook page, they received donations for food and supplies and shared images of the rabbits in the hope that they’d get adopted.
Additionally, Taylor brought several of the rabbits to the vet for check-ups, as well as for spaying or neutering to keep the numbers down. She even opened her home to some of the hopping beasts, inviting other locals to foster too.
And yet she couldn’t put a roof over all their heads, so she continued trekking to the mental health facility for five years to feed and look after the animals. So what she found on February 18, 2018, completely shattered her routine.
Through a live video projected to followers of the Bunnies Matter page, Taylor shared her horrifying discovery. “As you can see, there are little to no bunnies,” she said, panning her camera around the grounds to show the lack of activity.
She told The Dodo that she knew right then that something was wrong. “Usually when you walk out, you’re greeted by a hundred of them,” she said. “I can’t even begin to explain the feeling. I felt weak. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
She’d soon realize why there were hardly any bunnies hopping around. As she walked through the grass, she found that many of the animals were dead. In her live Facebook video, she said, “We are finding and collecting the […] bodies of our friends.”
The worst part was that there was no explanation why the deaths had occurred: the rabbits’ bodies had no evidence of trauma. Oddly enough, the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services had said it would catch the animals and move them just two days before Taylor’s discovery because of the risk they posed to health.
“The state claimed that the rabbits carried diseases, like rabies and salmonella,” Taylor told The Dodo. But rather than deal with the supposed health risk the animals presented, Taylor alleged that the state had taken an easier route by poisoning them.
“We’ve been in contact with them multiple times to work together on placing the rabbits but nothing has ever happened,” Taylor said of the Department of Health and Human Services. “It is so sad that it has come to this.”
After that day, Taylor and other volunteers corralled as many of the rabbits as they could to place them with foster or forever families. Although they managed to find places for more than 100 bunnies, there were still plenty of animals on the property and in potential danger.
Taylor hoped that she could find an off-site facility to temporarily house the remaining rabbits. At some point, though, she dreamed of opening a rabbit sanctuary to provide the animals with a safe, permanent shelter. Indeed, she told The Dodo that she almost had all of the funds to build one, and she just needed space.
In the meantime, she waited to receive the results of toxicology reports that would show just why her furry friends had passed away. Rather than break her, Taylor’s loss inspired her to continue the rescue efforts she had begun half a decade before. “We’ve been helping the rabbits for so long,” she said. “We love them and need to get them out of there.”