Donna Prindle, a physical education instructor at Long Beach City College,… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)
No one is quite sure when the rabbits came.
Lore has it that the bunny population at Long Beach City College boomed when the nearby airport broke ground decades ago, causing a population of jackrabbits to relocate to the campus grounds.
Two years ago, the population — now mainly abandoned pets — peaked, and more than 300 rabbits competed for food, space and mates on 112 acres.
New castaways were attacked by territorial rabbits. Predators found the domesticated rabbits easy prey.
That's when the animals' savior, physical education instructor Donna Prindle, entered the picture. She leads the campus' Rabbit Population Control Task Force, formed in 2009.
The group chose not to exterminate the rabbits but to instead round them up, spay or neuter them and put them up for adoption. Prindle, 60, who has taught at the college for 32 years, spends almost every day scouring the campus for new drop-offs and tending to the several dozen rabbits sitting in pens in an old woodworking shop.
"I walked by them for 30 years and I was ignorant of what was going on," Prindle said. "I couldn't sit by and not do anything."
The efforts seem to be working.
Prindle said that since mid-August, she has found only six new rabbits. In years past, school officials easily counted that same number in a day.
Part of the success can be attributed to an ongoing education effort.
A sign in front of the college informs passersby that "no bunny wants to be a college drop-off." Small placards warn that abandoning a rabbit carries a $500 fine or six months in jail. So far, no one has been caught, school officials said.
Over time, area residents came to see the school on Clark Avenue as a sort of bunny sanctuary. It had become overrun with abandoned pets — and the campus embraced the creatures, Prindle said.
Students fed them from their lunches. Rabbit feeders cropped up in common areas.
"We fell in love with them," said Pedro Rodriguez, a 23-year-old LBCC student.
Rodriguez, who is studying kinesiology, is part of a trio of students — dubbed the Bunny Patrol — who frequently volunteer at the adoption center.
His cohorts, Ana Banuelos, 23, and Matthew Calima, 20, clean pens and cages and keep food bowls stocked with pellets and hay most afternoons.
Prindle, however, seems to work around the clock.
She wakes up at 5 a.m. each day and drives from her home in Downey to get to the campus before she has to teach. She'll look for any overnight drop-offs and then check on the rabbits at the adoption center.
She's most proud of trapping one particularly elusive rabbit, affectionately named Houdini.
For more than three months, the large male ducked and dodged. Prindle and company stalked and waited.
Finally, during one of Houdini's runs through the old woodworking shop to see his "girlfriends," Prindle managed to quickly pull down the roll-up doors and trap him.
He gave up and "just let me pick him up," she said.
Veterinary students from Western University in Pomona have made a couple of visits, working from a mobile spay/neuter clinic.
With only about 40 rabbits — deemed unadoptable because they are wild — left to roam free, Prindle said that the task force's mission of population control has been fulfilled.
Now she just wants to find good homes for her charges, a goal that dominates much of her daily conversation. At last count, 236 rabbits have been adopted.
"When I go to bed, instead of counting sheep, I count the bunnies that still need adopting," Prindle said.