Ten rabbits, stolen in December from the City of Hope research center in Duarte and recovered days later in the Napa Valley town of Calistoga, were stolen once more over the weekend from a Napa Valley animal shelter--again by a group calling itself the "Animal Liberation Front."
The rabbits, a mother and her nine offspring, were being kept at the shelter as evidence in a case against Bruce W. Jodar, 32, a Calistoga man charged with receiving the stolen animals.
They had been taken, along with almost 100 dogs, cats, rats and mice, from the City of Hope National Medical Center, where they were used for research into herpes, cancer, emphysema and other diseases. None of the other animals has been recovered.
The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for that theft, contending that the group "freed" the animals because they were subjected to "inhumane" and "immoral" treatment during research procedures at the center.
The group also took responsibility for the weekend "liberation" in a note left at the shelter in the city of Napa and in calls to newspapers and television stations.
Richard Reilly, Napa County Animal Shelter director, said the rabbits were discovered missing from the shelter's quarantine room at 9 a.m. Monday. The thieves had cut a padlock on a 12-foot chain-link fence surrounding the shelter compound, then removed a window leading to the quarantine room and taken the animals from their cages, Reilly said.
They left behind $10 to pay for the damaged padlock and a note, signed "ALF," which thanked the shelter for "taking such good care of our friends," Reilly said.
In a phone call to The Times, an Animal Liberation Front spokesman, who called himself Larry, said he took part in the weekend "raid" to save the animals from being returned to the Duarte research center.
Acting independently from the Southern California-based Animal Liberation Front that staged the City of Hope theft, Larry said, his Northern California Animal Liberation Front placed the shelter under surveillance for three weeks to learn where the rabbits were kept and how to bypass the facility's alarm system.
Police Found Nothing
Reilly said an alarm did go off at the shelter at 6:45 p.m. Sunday, but that Napa police officers who responded found nothing amiss. Larry would only say the theft occurred "after dark" on Sunday.
Once inside the compound, located in a rural area, it took only 10 minutes to free the rabbits and leave the shelter, Larry said.
"We have nothing against (the shelter), but they were going back to the City of Hope after the trial (of Jodar)," he said. "Understandably, we didn't want that to happen."
The animals have already been placed in 10 separate homes where they will be kept as pets, he said.
The rabbits were being bred by the City of Hope to be used in a study of herpes, but they had not been inoculated with agents causing the disease, according to Bonnie Rogers, a City of Hope spokeswoman.
The second theft is being investigated by Napa police, but Lt. George Donald said police have "no leads, nothing" on the case.
Jodar, who is out on bail, was arrested in December after he allegedly gave the rabbits to a Calistoga woman who raised rabbits, telling her that they had come from Southern California. The woman saw a news report about the City of Hope theft and contacted police.
Placed in Homes
Holly Jensen, an Animal Liberation Front spokeswoman in Florida, said Jodar is not a member of the group but may have been helping them place the stolen animals in homes. She said homes have been found for all of the other animals taken in the December City of Hope raid.
Police say the weekend theft will not affect their case against Jodar, because they have other evidence, including pictures of the stolen rabbits, that implicates him.