By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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He and his wife, Caryl, adopted 100 pet rabbits -- make that former pets abandoned in Seattle's city parks -- in summer 2007.
Ralph Turner, retired after 30 years at Safeway, poured much of his savings into building the nonprofit Precious Life Animal Sanctuary, an 80-acre spread off Lost Mountain Road.
A motley flock of animals, all rescued from slaughter or euthanasia, scampers around the place -- at high speeds, in the case of those rabbits.
Nearly three years ago, the Seattle Parks Department rounded them up and had them spayed, neutered and delivered to a temporary pen at Precious Life.
Then it was up to Ralph, Caryl and a small team of volunteers to build a permanent enclosure for them.
That nearly 1-acre run is done now, replete with what Ralph Turner calls "bunny chalets," plus small shelters and lots of fencing and netting.
The rabbits go through about 100 pounds of feed a week, plus a bale of alfalfa every other week, he said.
At Precious Life, the Turners are devoted to caring for these and the other creatures, which came here from abusive situations in New Mexico, Wyoming, Kansas and other parts of Washington state.
They do this work because they don't believe in throwing animals away. Yet Ralph added that that's what happens with all too many rabbits after Easter.
A parent buys a child a bunny, and it's cute for a while, but when the novelty wears off the child doesn't want to take care of it.
Some families then take the rabbit to a park or into the woods and leave it behind.
"That desensitizes kids, and teaches them to not be responsible," Ralph believes.
Pet-store rabbits are typically breeds that cannot live in the wild for long, he said; in the Pacific Northwest, they're likely to starve or freeze to death.
A rabbit can live seven or eight years if its owners care for it properly, he added.
But Ralph doesn't favor lifelong confinement in cages.
"They like to dig, eat grass, be in the sun," he said while surveying Precious Life's rabbit run. Around and between their houses, the inhabitants have dug dozens of burrows.
"They've got it made, underground and above ground," their caretaker said, grinning.
Constructing this enclosure was a big project, and caring for the rabbits isn't simple amid winter snow and rain, Ralph said.
But this was the compassionate solution. Otherwise, the animals would most likely have been euthanized.
At the Clallam County Humane Society, "We've had quite a few rabbits come in," staffer Kristie Wilcox said Thursday.
"We do seem to get them quite often," but usually they find adoptive homes and don't have to be destroyed.
But Ralph noted that other U.S. cities have rabbit trouble.
He said he's talked with officials in San Diego, Sacramento and Los Angeles, Calif., and in Vancouver, British Columbia learned that animal-control workers trap and euthanize large numbers of them.
"Seattle is the only city where a humane approach was taken," and a one-of-a-kind shelter built, Ralph said.
Seattle Parks provided some funding, but for the past two years the rabbits -- and the entire Precious Life sanctuary -- have survived on the Turners' retirement income and on donations of money and labor.
Caryl has half-joked that the animals keep her and her husband young. Both are in their 60s.
Later this spring and through the summer, the sanctuary will welcome visitors who want to see the rabbits, the dogs, Lucky the 450-pound pig and the rest of the animals.
The Turners encourage those who are interested in visiting, volunteering or donating to phone 360-582-1437 or visit www.PreciousLifeAnimalSanctuary.org.
And in the meantime, instead of buying bunnies, "have the kids stick to decorating Easter eggs."
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.