MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Middletown police and area children were trying their luck at fishing at Smith Park pond on Saturday morning when rabbits — lots of them — began jumping out of the wooded area.
Police and rescuers rushed to trap 35 domestic bunnies that were dumped in the park.
“We were at Casting with a Cop when someone from Joseph’s Legacy (animal rescue) came up to me and (Officer) Holly Owens asking if we had seen any bunny rabbits,” said Middletown Police Chief David Birk.
Owens and Birk’s daughter joined rescuers and started chasing rabbits.
“Those bunnies are fast,” he said.
The animal control officer, Jamie Hearlihy, who was already at the park for the police event, investigated and has charged the rabbits’ alleged owner, Leah Mendoza, 43, with 35 counts of abandonment.
The charge is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.
According to the police report, another 30 rabbits were taken from Mendoza’s house on Tytus Avenue.
Meg Melampy, executive director of Joseph’s Legacy, said many volunteers from animal rescue agencies throughout the region showed up with animal carriers and nets. It took much of Saturday and checks Sunday morning, but they believe most have been caught.
There were social media posts on Friday about a woman planning to abandon the rabbits the following morning, Hearlihy said in the report. Mendoza had rabbits throughout the house, including some she hid from rescuers upstairs.
“I went into her basement where there was bunny feces, bunny footprints, dirty water and hay everywhere,” Hearlihy said in the report.