The Easter bunny has been declared illegal in Washington.
Edward Tuck found that out when a raiding party of three D.C. police officers and four D.C. Humane Society workers, armed with a search warrant, swooped down recently on his pet shore at 704 Seventh St. NW and confiscated nine baby bunnies.
The bunnies are being held as evidence at the city's animal shelter. Tuck, meanwhile, says he was unaware of an amendment to the D.C. Animal Control Act of 1979 -- new this Easter season -- which prohibits the sale of rabbits under 16 weeks old.
Ingrid Newkirk, chief of animal disease control for the city, said the law is designed to end the "walking nightmare" of sick and abandoned bunnies that abound after Easter. For his part, Tuck says the Humane Society is robbing children of the joys of Peter Cottontail.
Two employes of the city's Animal Control Agency checked on Tuck after he advertised in The Washington Post that he had 125 "teeny tiny" bunnies to sell for $6 and up. The employes each purchased a bunny from Tuck and took them to an assistant professor of animal science at the University of Maryland, who confirmed, under oath, that the bunnies were underage.
A search warrant was approved by D.C. Superior Court Judge James A. Belson and Tuck's bunny business was busted on April 3.
Assistant D.C. Corporation Counsel Howard B. Horowitz said yesterday that the city had decided not to prosecute Tuck since he was not aware of the law. The violation carries a maximum $25 fine. Tuck's lawyer, former D.C. Superior Court Judge Charles W. Halleck, said that he plans to retrieve the confiscated bunnies from the animal shelter.
Jean Goldenberg, director of the local humane society, said that rabbits at least 16 weeks old have a better chance of survival. Newkirk said that bunnies, separated by breeders from their mothers soon after birth, are subject to the "snuffles" (upper respiratory disease), fever and intestinal disorders.
Humane society officials hope the new law will cut off the Easter bunny trade in the District, but laws in nearby jurisdictions are apparently not as tough. In Prince George's County, rabbits under six weeks of age can be bought in half-dozen quantities, which the humane society says prompts some people to drop off unwanted ones. Martha Armstrong, director of the Animal Welfare League in Arlington, said Virginia has no bunny protection laws.
Meanwhile, Tuck is giving away -- not selling -- his stock of underage bunnies to any customer who buys a $16 plastic cage and a $4.50 bunny food-and-care kit.