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Rabbit Advocate's Kem Sypher on the Tragedy of 18 Rabbits

A story of 18 rabbits and the people in charge.
Kem Sypher is a treasurer of Portland's Rabbit Advocate's, an organization that has recently been in the headlines when some rabbits were rescued from a hipster butchering organization and left at the home of a Rabbit Advocates member. Kem is also a volunteer at the Oregon Humane Society in NE Portland. He introduced himself to a group of volunteers yesterday, as a member of Rabbit Advocates, and stated that his group has recently been in the papers for, as he put it, "stolen rabbits." That is all that he said about his organization, before continuing to talk to the group of volunteers about proper rabbit care. Kem told the group of young volunteers that rabbits should eat hay and pellets, with occasional greens and carrots, but "only occasionally." Kem was wrong about that statement. There are hundreds of people with companion rabbits who do not feed them pellets, who instead provide them with a daily supply of a variety of fresh greens instead. Many people caring for rabbits as companions understand that pellets were created for meat rabbits, that pellets can make rabbits overweight, and with the right balance of raw greens, rabbits can life long and healthy lives. Just ask Dr. Robert Ness of Lisle, Illinois, a leading professional in the care of rabbits, one of the best in the nation. Dr. Robert Ness, in his decades of experience with Rabbits, understands that rabbits do not need pellets to be happy and healthy, so long as they are provided a variety of daily greens. Kem Sypher left no room for information about a pellet-alternative rabbit diet. Kem Sypher also stated, in his speech to volunteers, that rabbits and guinea pigs can be caged together and coexist almost always. One volunteer stated that rabbits can sometimes bully guinea pigs. Kem dismissed this statement, despite many sources available on the internet and from industry professionals that recognize how rabbits often hurt guinea pigs and cause emergency room visits. The RSPCA understands that rabbits can bully guinea pigs, and the two species do not always coexist kindly, but not Kem Sypher. ( http://www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/pets/rabbits/company/rabbitsandguineapigs)

At this point in Kem Sypher's presentation on rabbit care, one volunteer asked him about his vague statement on "stolen rabbits." She asked him if rabbits were stolen from the Humane Society, or what exactly the story was. Kem said, in a frustrated, condescending tone, that "some activist stole the rabbits" from a man who, as Kem put it, "figured out a way to humanely butcher the rabbits for food," before dropping them off at a member of Rabbit Advocates. Kem stated that his organization, Rabbit Advocates, is still working with the police to figure out who it is who did this. The volunteer asked Kem how the butchering group figured out that the rabbits ended up in the hands of "rabbit advocates." Kem informed the group of volunteers that the member of the butchering organization left a message on Rabbit Advocates hotline, telling them that his rabbits were "stolen," and asked Rabbit Advocates to help him out if they had any information. From there, Kem Sypher stated that the group he is a treasurer for, Rabbit Advocates, contacted the rabbit butcher to tell him that they had 18 rabbits dropped off. The rabbit butcher described each missing rabbit to Rabbit Advocates over the phone, and, as Kem Sypher put it, "they all matched up." Kem repeatedly referred to the rabbits as "stolen property," and said that they were to be returned to their rightful owner, because, he said, "it's the law." Kem complained about the costly legal bills the ordeal caused to Rabbit Advocates, before again stating that his group is currently working with the police to figure out who took the rabbits.

From there, Kem continued his presentation on the best way to take care of rabbits for volunteers. Kem talked about how at the humane society, when a person already has one rabbit and wants to get another, it is best to bring in the first rabbit to meet the rabbit and see if they are compatible. For anyone not familiar with rabbit behavior, rabbits are natural bullies and don't always get along with others of their kind. That being said, it is not a good idea to bring one's rabbit into the humane society and meet another rabbit for a compatibility test. Rabbits are frightened by car rides and new environments. Their personalities are completely different in times of stress, and there is no way to tell if a rabbit is truly compatible with another rabbit in a foreign environment after a stressful car ride. Many large organizations recognize this, such as the House Rabbit Society of Chicago. One volunteer asked Kem Sypher if it's really a good idea to bring one's rabbit to the humane society to meet another rabbit with all of the stress and personality altering stimulation. He talked down to her, raised his voice and wouldn't let her speak. He changed the subject to the fact that car rides with two rabbits together is often used as a bonding tool. While a car ride with both rabbits is used as a bonding tool, that has nothing to do with the original argument that one shouldn't bring a rabbit in to meet another rabbit in the first place. Kem didn't like being challenged during his presentation on the best way to care for rabbits though, so he continued to talk over the volunteer until she stopped talking. For anyone interested in learning about rabbit compatibility in a way other than Kem Sypher's way, HRS Chicago is a great resource with lots of people more experienced and knowledgeable than Kem Sypher.  http://www.hrschicago.org/index1.html.

While Kem Sypher, photographer of the famous "Rabbit Steals a Cookie" picture, tends to brag about his herd of rabbits, he doesn't always put the needs of rabbits above his own ego and love of police. At the end of his presentation on rabbit care, Kem talked about people who come to the humane society without the animal's best interests in mind. He told the group that he felt uneasy once when a girl in gothic clothes and makeup came in and asked for a "virgin bunny." He didn't like where that was going, but he told her she might be able to find a "virgin bunny" at a pet store, before he had the humane society staff deal with her. That's right, he suggested she buy a bunny at a pet store. One volunteer asked him what happened with the goth girl, if she ever got a virgin bunny or what her intentions were for the virgin bunny, and he said he didn't know, because he didn't want to deal with it, and he left it up to the staff.

Where do you stand? 30.Jan.2012 20:25


Anon - Thank you for this very enlightening information - it really is an eye opener. We must distinguish the difference between animal welfare and animal rights/activism. Animal welfare is demanding bigger and cleaner cages. Animal rights is demanding these same cages have their doors opened and the cages emptied. Animal welfare advises going to a reputable breeder to get your pet. Animal rights is telling people to go to shelters or rescue groups to adopt a companion animal. Animal welfare is very concerned about image and donations. Animal rights cares about an animal's safety -rights and well being. Animal welfare believes it is perfectly alright to slaughter animals as long as it is done "humanely." Animal rights says it is never okay to harm or kill an animal for human consumption - sport or profit. Animal welfare feels it is acceptable to keep animals in captivity such as in zoos - circuses - breeding colonies as long as they are treated well. Animal rights says animals belong in their own habitats and are not meant for entertainment - experimentation - exploitation - breeding or our personal vanity. Animal welfare believes in vivisection and medical research using animals to better human heath. Animal rights - again - says open the doors and empty the cages. The list goes on - add to this your own beliefs. It comes as no surprise this individual who referred to the rabbits as being "stolen" instead of "liberated or saved from slaughter" is connected to the Oregon Humane Society - as OHS is definitely a welfare group for animals and not an animal rights group. There is a place and need for both types of organizations. What there is NO place for is cooperation with the police/government agencies when it comes to protecting the health and life of an animal. I have found myself in that position and have always sided with the animals. No regrets!

Not really 31.Jan.2012 11:50

Mike Novack

Never attribute to malice what could be ordinary stupidity.

LOOK, this horrible outcome was NOT the fault of the Rabbit Advocate folks and animal right folks who are blaming them aren't thinking straight. Let me ask you a simple question. Did the folks who liberated these rabbits announce "we did it, these are our names, we have the rabbits, come arrest us". OF COURSE NOT. Liberating animals is underground work.

Well you can't put that onus on the folks who are operating out in the open, completely above ground. As soon as disclosed to them that the rabbits were stolen (according to the laws, however we dispprove) and this becomes KNOWN then they either turn the rabbits over or go to jail as "accessories after the fact" or "receivers of stolen property".

You who have decided to work underground are accepting the risks. You can't draft people to share the risk with you and especially you can't stick the onus onto others that you aren't accepting for yourselves. You aren't stepping forward saying you took the rabbits; the Rabbit Advocate folks didn't know where the rabbits came from, did you? You put them into the position of returning the rabbits and telling all that they know (if anything) about who dropped them off on them.

OK, maybe this was just a hope that it wouldn't be found out. But in that case, why the whining about it and casting blame where it doesn't belong?

Or IS this "malice" (politics) instead of stupidity?

It is NEVER okay to close your eyes to cruelty and abuse and simply walk away 31.Jan.2012 13:41


Mike Novack - Why did I know you would be the first to respond to my post with your same old same old gibberish. I am assuming you have no knowledge of whether or not there may have been communication between the liberators and the rabbit welfare folks. For all you or I know someone from the rabbit welfare group told the liberators to take the rabbits to this home and they would find safe refuge from the intended slaughter. But I don't know what actually transpired and probably neither do you. The fact of the matter is this so called rabbit advocacy group took it upon themselves to return these animals to a cruel and inhumane situation. If that in itself wasn't bad enough they then went public and stated they were working with the cops and investigators wanting the thieves brought to justice. This is not and never will be an acceptable course of action. You do not throw the rabbits to the wolves. For me personally - I will NEVER trust or work with this rabbit advocate organization - I have used their services when I removed an abandoned rabbit from the Glendover Golf Course and again when two of us rescued 52 rabbits left to die in a storage unit (they were then using the name House Rabbits). Never again - they have proven to be untrustworthy and certainly no friends or protectors of animals. I have nothing but praise and admiration for those who took the initiative to rescue these rabbits and attempt to find them a safe haven. And no - these brave individuals did not come forward and say they had done this extraordinary act of kindness .... they are not stupid - they are heroes. We need more individuals and groups like them who are willing to put their lives and freedom on the line to help those in need.
VIVA ANIMAL LIBERATION FRONT! Now lets see the feds come knocking on my door because of my beliefs.

Thnk you for this info - 01.Feb.2012 00:53


this guy is a tool. He is the treasurer of RA. Maybe there are other people there with more power who are better? This information might be forwarded on to RA. Perhaps they don't know what an idiot he is and what he is spreading about rabbit care and the organization. Probably not, but we can hope.

You are missing the point 01.Feb.2012 05:27

Mike Novack

"I have nothing but praise and admiration for those who took the initiative to rescue these rabbits and attempt to find them a safe haven. And no - these brave individuals did not come forward and say they had done this extraordinary act of kindness .... they are not stupid - they are heroes. We need more individuals and groups like them who are willing to put their lives and freedom on the line to help those in need."

Yes, but you can't DRAFT these more people. And you especially can't draft them into "suicidal" positions.

As soon as disclosed that the Rabbit Advocate folks had the rabbits for them not to have returned them and agreed to cooperate with whatever information they had about how they got the rabbits would be EXACTLY the same as the activists who took the rabbits shouting "I did it, this is my name, I have the rabbits, here is where I am, come get me." Somehow you understand that would be stupid but not when it is the Rabbit Advocate folks. You are chastising the Rabbit Advocate folks for not trying to protect the rabbits in an OPEN situation at the same time you say that the liberators would have been stupid to try to do that.

Underground actions have to be underground. Above ground actions aboveground. Both are necessary. Have to learn to maintain plausible deniability of connections or people are simply going to end up in jail where they can't do any actions.

Don't bow to intimidation 01.Feb.2012 13:55


Mike Novack - Here is a perfect example of what any private person can do IF they really want to protect an animal .....
Today I found a large dog running in and out of traffic. Took the dog into my home and offered it a safe refuge. The dog appeared healthy - well cared for and had its basic commands down well. Made the usual calls to list it as "found" - put an ad in the paper and took it down to a local vet to be checked for a chip. Bingo - they found a micro-chip. The clinic made several calls for me and located the guardian. Unfortunately - no one answered at the phone numbers listed. I called Multnomah County Animal Control to see if they had a dog of the same description listed as "lost."
After taking down some info they told me I needed to list the dog with them - told them I thought we had an owner and was just waiting for a call. They informed me I could not keep the dog - guaranteed them that was not my intention or desire. They said any dog that was micro-chipped was an "owned" dog and I needed to bring him to the shelter. Let them know that was NOT going to happen. They threatened me several times with theft of an animal. Told them I was not going to be intimidated by their "bullshit" and I was not giving them the dog so they could place heavy fines on the dog's people and traumatize the dog inside their shelter. Shortly after hanging up on them I received a call from the clinic where I had taken it for the scan. They had received a call from MCAC asking if they had performed a scan on a lost dog when they said they had they asked for name - number and address of the person who brought the dog in. Asked how MCAC knew to call them and was told they had been calling all the vets in the area to find who had scanned a lost dog and asked for my personal info. Told the clinic they did NOT have my permission to give out any info reg me to MCAC as they are no friend of mine or to animals. Yet another person standing up for the rights and safety of an animal. Will I go to jail - go directly to jail - do not pass go .... probably not. Would I care ..... yes - but that is a chance I would take for this or any other animal!

above or below-who cares 01.Feb.2012 14:37


I doubt that most people who get involved in the rescue/liberation of an animal give much thought to whether they are working "above ground" or "underground". They see a problem and take action. They put their trust in organizations that solicite funds for the protection of animals, unaware of the politics in these organizations and their fear of bad publicity. The people in Rabbit Advocates could have taken a stand and refused to return the rabbits. Their fear of punishment and bad publicity was enough to make them betray the trust of those they claim to care about. It is a lesson for anyone who steps up to rescue an animal--be prepared to hold the animal yourself or pass them onto someone you know you can trust, and be aware that most donation dependent organizations will follow the law, not the ethics of sanctuary.

Cappie - 01.Feb.2012 20:32


amazing story! You are a fearless advocate for animals. Good work!

UWYlvODtMm 30.Sep.2014 18:05

LGZraYqHF john@hotmail.com