The president of a “rabbit rescue” charity was arrested after police found her barn full of dead bunnies and reeking of “death, feces, and urine,” authorities said.
Stephanie Hope Smith, 51, of Bloomington, Minnesota, president of the Peacebunny Foundation, was charged with felony animal cruelty and torture after police found 47 dead rabbits in the barn in nearby Savage on June 27, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“This is the first time we’ve ever seen this type of abuse case, where you have a rescue operation that is now doing the opposite,” said Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar. “We’re deeply troubled by the actions of the defendant in this case.”
— Lorraine Foley (@lorrainesright) July 3, 2022
Police went to the barn, dubbed “Peacebunny Cottage,” after receiving a report of dead rabbits. Once there, they saw “rabbits running loose in the barn and the smell of death, feces and urine was overwhelming,” according to the criminal complaint.
Smith, who was on vacation when police initially arrived, told police later that the rabbits were due to be picked up by another group, according to the criminal complaint.
In addition to the 47 rabbits found dead, two were immediately euthanized and more than 100 that were starving and dehydrated were treated, the complaint said. The Humane Society is now tending to the surviving rabbits.
“These animals were left to fend for themselves with … dirty food, dirty water, not being taken care of,” Hocevar told the newspaper. “There was just no way that they could survive in that environment.”
Smith said the bunnies belonged to her son, Caleb Smith, 18, who has written a book about rabbit rescue. He owns Peacebunny Island, an island on the Mississippi River where he takes rabbits to “educate, comfort and earn income,” according to a 2019 article in the Star Tribune.
Peacebunny is “voluntarily ceasing all public programs … until the legal process is completed,” Stephanie Smith wrote in a July 2 post on the charity’s blog.
Caleb Smith apologized in a separate post.
“I also apologize to those who have followed our journey … and are feeling deceived or at the very least disappointed and heartbroken that they supported our mission,” Caleb Smith wrote in a blogpost dated July 2, 2022. “Thank you for providing me a way to share my story and I’m sorry that the last chapter seems so ugly right now.”