Thursday, December 8, 2016

New York: Gowanus Rabbit Owner Dorota Trec Convicted of 100 Counts of Animal Cruelty

NEW YORK -- The rabbit owner who raised nearly 200 bunnies behind a Third Avenue tire shop where many of the animals suffered from injuries and disease was convicted Monday of animal cruelty — but there are still more bunnies under her care, law enforcement sources said.

Dorota Trec was found guilty of 100 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 17, according to court records. She faces up to two years in jail.


Despite her March 2015 arrest on animal cruelty charges and subsequent trial, Trec has continued to keep rabbits as pets and currently cares for six dozen cottontails in the same yard where police seized 179 of her pets last year, according to a recent New York Times profile.

Authorities confiscated the first set of rabbits after veterinarians examined the animals and found that many had bite wounds, torn ears, missing fur and other injuries that were likely the result of fights and living in confined spaces. The cottontails also had illness including syphilis and conjunctivitis.

At the request of prosecutors, the judge presiding over Trec's animal cruelty trial signed an order Monday that forces Trec to surrender her current herd of rabbits to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a law enforcement source said.

Under the order, Trec will be allowed to request that someone of her choosing take custody of the rabbits and care for them, a source said.


The rabbits that police seized from Trec's custody in 2015 were sent to several different animal shelters and were eventually adopted by members of the public after a series of adoption fairs.

After the confiscation, Ms. Trec rebuilt her colony and now has around 90 rabbits. The judge in the case ordered those rabbits to be confiscated as well, though he gave Ms. Trec the chance to find someone else to reclaim them from the authorities and take care of them.


Ms. Trec, 36, a flute and piano teacher from Poland, had been keeping rabbits in the lot, on an industrial stretch of Third Avenue, since 2012.

By late 2014, she had amassed about 200 of them. They lived in underground warrens and wooden hutches. She raised them, she has said, “to be wild and strong.”

Animal welfare advocates first became concerned about Trec's rabbits in 2014 after DNAinfo New York wrote about the animals eating chicken wings and living in a dirt lot beneath Gowanus subway tracks.

A hoarding specialist from the A.S.P.C.A. visited Ms. Trec in January 2015, but Ms. Trec sent her away. Then on Jan. 26, 2015, as a snowstorm bore down on the city, police officers and A.S.P.C.A. workers raided the lot and rounded up dozens of rabbits. They returned three nights later for the rest. They seized a total of 176 rabbits from the yard and the basement below the tire store. Prosecutors charged her with mistreating 125 of them.

During the trial, a veterinarian for the A.S.P.C.A. testified to each rabbit’s injuries. She had found that more than two-thirds of the rabbits had wounds, mostly from bites, and that around half tested positive for syphilis. Nearly three dozen had sustained genital or anal trauma, and still others had abscesses and skin inflammations associated with being kept in unclean environments.

Ms. Trec said any harm done to the rabbits was inflicted by the authorities. A neighbor who witnessed the first mass confiscation, Glorianna Cabassa, testified that it was “violent” and that the authorities handled the animals roughly. She presented photos of officers and A.S.P.C.A. workers using garden tools to corral the rabbits, and of rabbits crowded in cages in the back of a van.


The six-person jury acquitted Ms. Trec of 25 of the cruelty counts. But over and over, the forewoman read “guilty” as she was asked about each charge in Criminal Court in Brooklyn.

About a dozen rabbit advocates, one of whom carried a small straw rabbit, were in court for the half-hour reading (and rereading) of the verdicts. Natalie Reeves of Big Apple Bunnies, who first urged the authorities to open the case, called the conviction “enormously gratifying,” though she wrote that she was frustrated that “someone just convicted of 100 counts of animal cruelty be given any input at all into the caretaker of the animals.”


Ms. Trec, who acted as her own lawyer and has filed a $2.8 billion civil suit alleging that her rabbits were wrongfully seized, vowed to fight on. “I think this is all injustice,” she said. “There’s so many reasons to appeal.”

A sentencing date has not been set.

(DNA Info - Nov 22, 2016)