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He is a professional. His targets have nicknames like Quasimodo and Stumpy. But this contract killer, a hare hitman hired to take care of hundreds of rabbits overrunning a Victoria hospital, may have another problem. Her name is Erin Quinney -- alias the Rabbit Lady.

"I won't give up," Ms. Quinney said yesterday of her one-woman campaign to rescue hundreds of "death-row rabbits" from the grounds of the Victoria General Hospital.

The 36-year-old mother of three has trapped more than 300 of the bunnies since the hospital announced plans to shoot them last summer. She has found new homes for more than 100 of the rabbits, and has another 228 in pens on her land outside Victoria, named Hope Farm.

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But her efforts over the past six months have not yet put enough of a dent in the hospital's rabbit population, now on the brink of spring breeding.

Hospital officials said yesterday that they have no choice but to shoot the remaining 150 rabbits, despite Ms. Quinney's unique rescue mission, which resulted in reprieve for hundreds of bunnies last summer. Plans to shoot the rabbits were first announced last August when the population went over 600.

Hospital spokesman Andrew Mordan said the health risks posed by the rabbits and their feces covering the grounds were deemed too great. Some have been discovered nesting inside the hospital in vents.

"We did go to great lengths to see that that would work," he said of Ms. Quinney's mission.

"It's a very distasteful thing," he said of the shootings, which are being done in the dark of night. "Nobody likes to be in this position."

So far, 30 rabbits have been killed, sparking equally mixed public debate about what most concede is an unpleasant solution to a problem that started when the hospital grounds on Victoria's outskirts inexplicably became a dumping ground for pet rabbits more than a decade ago. They quickly did what rabbits do: multiply.

A Victoria radio station poll of 251 listeners found them divided, with 129 approving of the shooting while 122 disapproved. Local radio stations played clips of the cartoon hunter Elmer Fudd and his "wascally wabbit" nemesis Bugs Bunny.

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The shootings became public this week after hospital officials played down initial radio reports detailing sophisticated CIA-type assassins using rifles and infrared goggles to conduct the nighttime executions.

As it turns out, an unidentified man with a high-powered pellet gun and an assistant carrying a flashlight have been contracted for the close-range killings. They are being supervised by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to ensure that the deaths are quick and painless.

The hitman's identity is being kept secret to protect him from overzealous animal-rights activists.

"At the end of the day, there are still hundreds of rabbits," said SPCA executive director Lynn West. "I think the hospital has exhausted all of its options."

Ms. Quinney expressed great concern over the shootings, saying she was never notified of the extermination plans.

She added that she is struggling to keep up with the costs of her rescue. Food for the rabbits penned on her property costs about $1,500 a month.

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"Whenever I go out now people call me the Rabbit Lady," she sighed. She said she will continue to trap the rabbits and provide a refuge until they find homes elsewhere.

"What can I say? I'm insane."

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