An animal rescue organization confiscated a rabbit from two UF Kappa Sigma fraternity members for bringing it to a house party. A video posted by Barstool Florida on Instagram Jan. 14 led to Gainesville Rabbit Rescue taking the 1-year-old rabbit, Colby, from her foster parents.
In the video, a man is standing on a platform and holding the rabbit over a large crowd at an off-campus fraternity house, at 21 SW 23rd Terrace.
Cal McLoughlin, a 20-year-old UF business sophomore, and his roommate were fostering the rabbit for Gainesville Rabbit Rescue, a shelter based in Williston for small animals.
Paige Willis has volunteered with Gainesville Rabbit Rescue for eight years and her sister, Catesby, runs the rescue’s Instagram.
The rescue’s Instagram received multiple direct messages “with concerns about the safety of the rabbit.”
“We are incredibly grateful to our community of advocates who alerted us to act,” Willis said. “I was very upset to see Colby in this setting and was deeply disappointed in the fosters for putting her in this situation.”
Willis and her sister screen potential fosters through a phone call interview and in-person meeting. She said the rescue makes it clear they expect fosters to prioritize the animals’ emotional and physical well being.
“We are using this experience to reassess our interview screening process and improve our foster communications and expectations,” she said.
Willis said she approved McLoughlin’s foster application. She said he told the rescue that Colby would live at an off-campus apartment and be cared for by him and his roommate.
After speaking to the fosters and examining Colby, Willis said the rescue determined that she is in good health and was otherwise properly cared for.
“The video is the one demonstration of inappropriate care. When addressed, we were assured by the fosters that she was only at the party for 5 minutes,” Willis said. “That said, the decision to even bring her to a party was enough for us to revoke their ability to care for a GRR rabbit.”
She said the main concerns with the video are the loud music, large crowd and how Colby is being held. She said “rabbits are sensitive and fragile creatures,” and can become anxious or even suffer heart attacks in an unsuitable environment.
“The fosters made an inappropriate decision in bringing her to the party,” she said. “I believe that outside of this decision that Colby was well cared for and that this instance is a result of immaturity and not fully understanding the needs of small animals.”
After seeing the Instagram post, Willis said she and other volunteers contacted the two students to ask them to bring Colby back to the rescue. They apologized for bringing Colby to the party and drove her to the rescue’s main location in Williston.
Willis said she doesn't think the two students should face any further consequences.
“I felt sincere remorse and guilt when they dropped off Colby,” Willis said. “I do not think their actions were made with ill intent. I appreciated the ownership they took in recognizing their fault and believe that they will learn from this error.”
Although neither of the Kappa Sigma fraternity members chose to comment, Willis said they both apologized privately to the volunteers.
“Looking back we probably should not have taken on the responsibility of having her and did not know enough about the animal,” McLoughlin said. “I had absolutely no negative intentions and made a bad mistake.”
Cassie Adkins is a 19-year-old UF microbiology and cell science sophomore. She initially thought the video was funny, but soon realized it was not appropriate for a rabbit to be in that environment, she said.
“When I looked in the comments of the video after seeing it for the first time I found out that the rabbit was supposed to be a foster and was going through a rehabilitation process,” she said. “Rabbits already get stressed out around loud sounds, so if the rabbit is also traumatized it probably put the rabbit under a lot of stress.”
Adkins has fostered kittens, so she knows how thorough shelters are with ensuring fosters take good care of the animals. The rescue taking Colby back was the right decision, she said.
“The brothers that were responsible for the animal show blatant disrespect for the rescue and disregard for the animal's wellbeing and health,” she said.
Willis said Colby was adopted by a family Jan. 21. She encourages people to look into adopting rabbits and other small animals rather than buying them from pet stores.
At Gainesville Rabbit Rescue, the adoption fee is $100 for a single rabbit and $175 for a bonded pair. All rabbits are spayed or neutered and vaccinated prior to adoption.
Contact Emilia Cardenas-Perez at email@example.com. Follow her on X @emiliaandreaa.