Animal control officials are looking for witnesses to identify the person responsible for pouring lighter fluid on a pet bunny and setting him on fire in the backyard of a West Vallejo home.
||PHOENIX is now being cared for at a Mill Valley rabbit rescue group. Courtesy photo
The sadistic Oct. 1 attack left the young male New Zealand mix rabbit with severe burns, which will most likely cause him to lose his ears.
Officials have an idea who attacked the bunny, a male juvenile, but need a witness statement to move forward with charges, said David Sidie, Benicia Vallejo Humane Society's director of animal control.
Meanwhile, the bunny, named Phoenix after the mythical bird who rose from the ashes, is being fostered in Mill Valley by a rabbit rescue group.
"This is one of the worst acts of animal cruelty I've seen and to such a nice rabbit. It makes you cry," said Marcy Schaaf, of Richmond-based House Rabbit Society, a national nonprofit rabbit rescue group. "I'm very disappointed. I'm hoping someone will come forward. I'm sure somebody wants to talk É I would like to see charges pressed. It's important to educate people that animal cruelty like this shouldn't be tolerated."
Phoenix was found with charred fur and cigarette burns singeing his white-and-black coat Oct. 1, by a neighbor of the owner, who lives on Rodgers Street. The rabbit still smelled of lighter fluid and his fur was tinged brown from the liquid, Sidie said.
The neighbor contacted the humane society, which took Phoenix to the veterinarian and then impounded him at the Vallejo shelter. "The case is at a standstill. We have somewhat of a suspect, but we don't have a witness," Sidie said.
"There were a group of teenagers together. But it was just one of the juveniles involved alone with the rabbit in the back of the house," he said.
The person authorities are looking at is an unidentified male juvenile. Animal control officials have interviewed the juvenile, but do not have enough to charge him with one count of felony animal cruelty, Sidie said.
"What concerns us is the teenager who's able to step out of the realm. The rabbit will be able to survive. It took it pretty well," Sidie said. "We're mostly concerned now with this teenager É This is a young boy crying out for help."
Officials confiscated lighter fluid and a lighter from the backyard as potential evidence, Sidie said. Another rabbit, which lived on the property, was surrendered by the cooperative owner for safety reasons, he said.
On Oct. 5, Phoenix was transported to a Marin County vet, where Schaaf picked him up and took him to her Mill Valley foster center, where he is taking pain medication and antibiotics.
Phoenix is resting in the special needs bunny ward, along with a blind rabbit and a bunny with a broken leg.
"So far he's doing really well, better than expected. He adores being talked to," Schaaf said. "He likes to get his forehead scratched and cheeks scratched.
"He's very sweet. It's amazing to me that they can go through something like this and still be so loving," she said.
Phoenix's long-term prognosis is positive, Schaaf said, but he will be permanently scarred.
"More likely at this point (his ears) will just fall off, they're burned so badly. They look like burned potato chips," Schaaf said. "Rabbits ears are especially sensitive, there are a lot of nerve endings in their ears, so it's very painful."
A rabbit's ears also help regulate its body temperature and communicate, she said. Phoenix's whiskers were also singed off, Schaaf said, which has affected his navigation.
Once healthy, Phoenix will be adopted out to a permanent home.
Schaaf applauds the Vallejo shelter for its help, especially for a rabbit.
"There's always more attention to cats and dogs. When it comes to the protection of rabbits, they don't have the same protection," Schaaf said.
Now, Schaaf hopes Phoenix's attacker will be held responsible.
"We'll do whatever it takes to get justice for this bunny."