Court orders man to get rid of bunnies

Virginia

Southeast / Virginia 82 Views

Von Ruder may only keep two of his many rabbits, a judge ruled Wednesday, but she gave him extra time to begin working with animal services to find homes for them.

Von “Aspen” Ruder turned away from a judge to fight back tears Wednesday after being ordered to get rid of nearly two dozen rabbits.

His six-month protest to keep his colony of rabbits was over.

Ruder, 58, has been battling the city of Gainesville’s code enforcement and several neighbors since February, arguing that he isn’t to blame for a feral rabbit outbreak in the Stephen Foster neighborhood in northwest Gainesville.

Wednesday, Judge Kristine Van Vorst found Ruder, who owned 25-plus rabbits, guilty of violating a city ordinance for having more than two allowed in a residential area. She ordered him to get rid of all but two.

“I know this is very hard for you, I do,” Van Vorst said, who gave Ruder extra time to find homes for his rabbits.

When The Sun first met Ruder at his home in the 700 block of Northwest 31st Avenue, he had 25-plus rabbits. Ruder says the rabbits were in the neighborhood long before he moved there, but neighbors beg to differ.

Ruder says he caged and bred the bunnies on his property. He found they helped with his PTSD. He provided two letters at court Wednesday that said the rabbits' removal would be detrimental to his health.

But neighbors have voiced their frustrations with Ruder’s love for the invasive species, saying the rabbits eat their plants. They said they often find dead rabbits in their yards, and that they're either hit by cars or carried off by swarming hawks. Ruder has admitted that some occasionally got loose from their cages, but he denies fault.

On May 25, Ruder was fined by the city of Gainesville's code enforcement department for $521.50, which grew to $561. He was also cited $271.50 in March, which he paid, hoping it would resolve the issue.

He also asked the City Commission to grant a special zoning or permit to allow him to keep his rabbits, but nothing came of it.

The judge forgave all but $50 from the fine that Ruder must pay. He also will have to work with Alachua County Animal Services, beginning Aug. 15, to start removing rabbits from his property. Most of the rabbits will go to Gainesville Rabbit Rescue.

He has 60 days to comply with the court order.

Ruder said he fears some neighbors will still blame him for the neighborhood issue, even if he complies.

“There are rabbits that pass through my yard daily because there are rabbits in the neighborhood,” he said. “I don’t want to be blamed for rabbits that aren't mine.”

He told the court Wednesday that he had just 17 rabbits, through code enforcement says it’s closer to 30. Toward the end of the hearing, Ruder said he only had 14 rabbits.

Van Vorst repeatedly warned Ruder not to release his rabbits from the cages to ensure they don’t run rampant in the neighborhood, something neighbors said Ruder has done before.

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