July 26, 2022
In late June, Animal Humane Society (AHS) investigators responded to a call that no animal lover ever wants to hear. Savage Police asked for help after discovering 200 rabbits in an old barn in the heart of the city that was commonly known as the “Peacebunny Cottage” — home to a local organization that promoted itself as a haven for endangered rabbits.
When AHS agents arrived, the smell of death, feces, and urine was overwhelming. What they discovered was horrifying: 47 dead and decomposing rabbits and a chaotic situation with bunnies running loose with no food or water.
AHS removed the rabbits in most dire need, including two litters of neonatal rabbits that were later placed with the Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society and Minnesota Pocket Pet Rescue. The neonatal rabbits were found along with the decaying remains of several rabbits when Savage firefighters removed floorboards in the barn.
Two rabbits that were irredeemably suffering, an adult with a broken back and a baby infested with maggots, were euthanized by an AHS veterinarian on the scene. AHS is working with Savage officials to ensure that the organization's founder brings her rabbit population to a more manageable number and is meeting the minimum care standards required by law.
Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar said it was the first case he’d seen involving a purported rescue operation that was now doing the opposite of its mission.
Given the horrific conditions and the suffering involved, Scott County authorities charged Stephanie Hope Smith of Bloomington with multiple counts of animal cruelty and torture, including two felony charges.
Hope and her family gained national attention after promoting their Peacebunny rescue to the national media over the years. On outlets like NBC’s Today Show and People Magazine, she promoted her “Peacebunny Foundation,” as a charity focused on rabbits as therapy animals.
Hope will make her first court appearance in Scott County court next month.