99 rabbits found in horrific conditions in Chandler; owner arrested

Posted: Updated:
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

A Chandler man faces animal cruelty and neglect charges for allegedly abusing rabbits and keeping them in deplorable, "inhumane" conditions.

Benjamin Ruiz-Juarez has been arrested and booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail.

Police say 99 domestic rabbits were removed from a vacant lot next to his property.

The rabbits were seized as evidence and are being examined and cared for by the Arizona Humane Society.

A police officer, who was near the property for an unrelated reason, noticed a rabbit in a shopping cart with a piece of plywood on top. The shopping cart was sitting in a vacant lot.

The officer contacted the property owner, Peishan Kang. Kang told police she does own the property, and that is not rented or leased to Ruiz-Juarez. She also said she did not give Ruiz-Juarez permission to have any pets.

Ruiz-Juarez found himself in trouble with the law a year ago. On May 3, 2016, Ruiz-Juarez had goats, chickens, rabbits and other various pets on the property that were against city code. At the time, police say Ruiz-Juarez told them that "he slaughters the animals and consumes them."

When they searched the property, police described the deplorable conditions in which the rabbits were being kept.

"None of the rabbits had fresh water, food or proper shelter. Some of the rabbits had no water at all. I noticed the cages were filled with old hay, compacted with feces and fur. The smell of feces and urine was overwhelming and there was an abundance of flies, spiders and maggots. There were bowls in the cages that were filled with dirty, green water, feces or soaked hay. I did not see any fresh hay, pellets or raw vegetables in the various cages. There were five dog kennels being used as cages, three shopping carts, and two homemade cages out of chicken wire. There was an area that had a cover over six enclosures for the rabbits. The walls and ceiling were infested with spider webs, dirt, spiders, gnats, and other various insects. I could see maggots in some of the cages and outside of the cages in a trash can.

When I stepped closer to one of the shopping carts, I noticed a tiny black baby rabbit laying on the ground. I touched the rabbit to see if it was alive or deceased and it was still alive. I looked in the shopping cart that it was laying next to and saw a white adult rabbit and seven more baby rabbits. I picked up the baby rabbit and placed it back into the cart with its mother. The baby immediately attempted to suckle on its mother for milk."

Officers then called the Arizona Humane Society.

When they arrived, officers from the Humane Society called the setup for the rabbits "inhumane."

They reported: "The hay in the cages is not a food source if the rabbits are urinating and defecating on it," and "the rabbits were panting heavily due to the temperature outside."

Officers also noticed that the water bowls had hay in them and were dirty and had mold, and said that "the temperature outside was too hot for the young rabbits and the babies."

The cages were stacked on top of each other, allowing for urine and feces to fall into the cages below them. Some of the cages had layers upon layers of hay combined with feces and urine.

"Using a temperature gauge, Officer Kuita measured 106 degrees in one of the shopping carts that contained one single gray rabbit. The area where the single mother and her eight babies were in  (in the shopping cart) was 93 degrees. Officer Kuita advised she was going to call her supervisor as she felt the living conditions were inhumane and deplorable due to the lack of water, food, proper shelter, and overcrowding," according to the police report.

A short time later, Ruiz-Juarez's wife arrived at the property.

She told police that the rabbits belonged to her husband, and that "they were his pets."

She also told police that her husband "feeds and waters the rabbits daily and that he likes to talk to them."

She also stated that  Ruiz-Juarez "treats the rabbits better than he treats her," according to the police report.

Police also made more shocking discoveries as they continued to investigate the scene.

"When cleaning out the bowls, the foul smell was overwhelming. Some bowls were soaked and packed with hay, had feces in them, and the water had a brown green tint to it. None of the bowls  had fresh water. Once the water was refreshed, the rabbits immediately started to drink from the bowls and we discovered more rabbits that were hiding under milk crates in the cages or in a borrow [sic] that they dug from their own feces and hay. There was a bale of alfalfa hay that was on the ground fully exposed to the sun and other insects.

The hay was extremely dried out, but we placed some hay in the various carts, cages and kennels. Again, the rabbits immediately began to eat the hay and were coming out of their hiding places. The cages that were overcrowded had rabbits of various ages and sizes. The bigger rabbits were seen walking over the smaller rabbits to get to the fresh water and newly added edible food that was not soaked in water or covered in urine and feces. Photos were taken of the rabbits tending to the fresh water and food."

Investigators discovered numerous rabbits being kept in small cages filled with waste and bugs. They also found many baby bunnies, according to the police report.

"Nine newborn hairless baby rabbits were found in the enclosure. Seven of the babies were underneath the milk crate and two others were outside of the milk crate. The juvenile and adult rabbits were stepping on the two newborns that were not underneath the crate. It was clear that one of the babies had scratch wounds on its back from being stepped on. When the milk crate was moved, there was an abundance of white and red maggots where the babies were. The area around them was wet. It was clear that the mother attempted to make a bed for the babies with rabbit fur, but it was laying [sic] on top of feces, dirt, and maggots."

"There was an abundance of flies, spiders and other insects in and around the enclosure. Some of us wore protection masks to minimize the risk of exposure due to the amount of urine and feces present. The smell was horrific, again due to the amount of urine and feces present. On the ground were old boxes containing dried out green leaves. There was hay on the ground, not protected, that was dried out.

"We attempted to sift through the fresher pieces we could find and placed those in the enclosures along with the fresh water that the rabbits immediately began to eat and drink. There was a white powder substance in various places around or under the enclosures. There was a brown bag opened next to the shopping carts that was labeled "Lime." Lime is known to be used to reduce odors generated from pets. The bag was open and not secured."

According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are the basic animal care standards for rabbits:

  • Fresh, clean water should be accessible at all times. Water should be placed in water containers specially made to hang on the side of a hutch.
  • Rabbits should have constant access to food, including free access hay, a small amount of pelleted rabbit food, and small quantities of raw carrots and pieces of apple. Alfalfa and hay other may also be provided.
  • Rabbits must have pieces of hardwood or dog biscuits to gnaw on to keep their teeth worn down to the proper size to allow them to chew properly.
  • Rabbits should be provided with shelter that provides shade in the summertime, as direct sun and heat can kill rabbits instantly.
  • Rabbit hutches should be cleaned daily. A hutch should have a box approximately 12" by 12" with dry bedding. The rest of the hutch should have a wire mesh (1/2") floor. The hutch should be raised off the floor to allow feces to fall through. This is necessary because rabbits eat their feces, and in captivity, parasite levels can become fatal.
  • To prevent overcrowding and breeding, each hutch should contain only one adult rabbit, two adult rabbits of the same sex if they get along, or a single adult female with her litter.
  • Rabbits should receive veterinary care as needed to check for diseases, parasites, malalignment of teeth, and intestinal impaction caused by hairballs or other foreign matter.

The Humane Society of the United States also has basic signs of neglect or cruelty. Some of the signs that are applied to this case include portions of ears missing because they may have been bitten off due to overcrowding. Housing conditions such as overcrowding; there must be sufficient space to permit all rabbits, including smaller ones, access to food. Some behavior signs include dullness, minimal responsiveness, disinterested in surroundings, and depression.

Domestic rabbits do not do well in extreme temperatures. Temperatures above the 80s can cause a fatal heat stroke. Also just the sight or smell of a predator can cause rabbits so much stress that they can suffer a heart attack and die due to fear.

A rabbit's cage should be a minimum of five times the size of the rabbit. The rabbits should be able to stretch out in the cage and stand up on their hind legs without bumping their head on the top of the cage. Water in bowls should be checked regularly to keep out loose hay, fur or other debris that may fall into the bowl such as feces and urine.

It is recommended that a rabbit's enclosure needs to be cleaned up daily and cleaned thoroughly once a week. Hay or food that sits in water for extended periods of time can develop mold which is hazardous to a rabbit's health. It is recommended that rabbits get at least an hour out of their cage each day for play and exercise.

The police report continued:

"The rabbits did not have access to fresh water or food and their shelter was poorly maintained. There was overcrowding and the rabbits were living in their own urine, feces, and hay that was just thrown on top of old hay. Benjamin made no attempt to clean any of the enclosures or provide sufficient space for the number of rabbits he had.

Many of the larger rabbits caused injuries to the smaller rabbits, including the newborns. The water bowls in their enclosures contained dirty water and compacted hay. Their feces was not able to fall through the enclosures, which allowed the rabbits to feed on it as well as live in it. One of the enclosures contained newborn babies and maggots. It did not appear that any of the enclosures were cleaned.Two of the large dog kennels (5 and 6) were filled more than half way with old hay, urine, and feces to the point the crate could not be opened."

The following charges are being filed:

  • Intentionally or knowingly subjects any animal under the person's custody or control to cruel neglect or abandonment that results in serious physical injury to the animal.
  • Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly subjects any animal under the person's custody or control to cruel neglect or abandonment. (61 counts)
  • Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly fails to provide medical attention necessary to prevent protracted suffering to any animal under the person's custody or control. (1 count)

The rabbits are currently being cared for by the Humane Society.

"Our team worked really hard to pair the moms with their babies," said Bretta Nelson of the Arizona Humane Society. "Sadly, in these conditions, so many rabbits were thrown together in one unit, they weren't getting the proper care and housing that they need.

AHS released the following information about what they call a "large-scale breeding operation."

"Just weeks before Easter, the Arizona Humane Society's Emergency Animal Medical Technicians™ received a call from the Chandler Police Department regarding a breeding operation involving nearly 100 rabbits. It took a team of EAMTs hours to remove the rabbits and safely transport them to the Arizona Humane Society's isolation area, an extension of AHS' Second Chance Animal Trauma Hospital™. Since, AHS' medical and animal care teams as well as foster heroes have been caring for the rabbits and several babies, many of whom were housed together in extremely inadequate housing conditions. 

But here's the good news. Many of those rescued rabbits are up for adoption!

After several weeks of medical care, including spay/neuter surgeries, many of the rabbits, ranging in age from 14 weeks to two years, are now ready to be adopted. Due to the sheer volume of rabbits, AHS was in need of help in placing and adopting out the rabbits.

That is when longtime AHS partners, Phoenix-based PetSmart Charities and PetSmart stepped up to the challenge. Not only did the PetSmart store locations offer the support of their retail space to help house and adopt out the rabbits, but PetSmart Charities, the leading funder of animal welfare in North America, provided AHS with emergency grant funding to help offset the costs associated with caring for so many rabbits at one time. In addition, longtime AHS rescue partner Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue also stepped in to take some of the rabbits into their care. 

In honor of the rabbits and their second chance, PetSmart Charities and AHS will be hosting a special event to find these rabbits the homes that they deserve. Rabbits make exceptional pets, but there are special care instructions and considerations when owning a rabbit that families should take into account."
Here is the information about the event:

Rescue a Rabbit Adoption Event
PetSmart  National Adoption Weekend 
2860 E Germann Road, Chandler, AZ 85249
Friday, May 5, 2017
12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Adoption fees just $35

Currently, four other PetSmart stores in the Phoenix area have rabbits from this case up for adoption and 15 rabbits have already been adopted through the partnership. The remaining rabbits are currently in AHS foster hero homes and will soon make their way into PetSmart stores as well.

For more information on PetSmart and PetSmart Charities, visit www.petsmart.com and www.petsmartcharities.org.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.