SUMMERVILLE — Balls of black, white and brown fur sometimes get free rein over Joanna Pavlovich’s house.
To the 43-year-old woman, the bunnies — 14 in all — have reeled in first-place ribbons at American Rabbit Breeders Association shows.
To her husband, they serve as therapy that distracts him from terminal cancer.
And to her daughter, who’s studying to be a veterinarian, the “animal menagerie” was career inspiration.
If the unknown perpetrator was trying to send a message, Pavlovich can’t grasp what it could be.
She awoke Thursday to the sight of her Wilson Drive garage burglarized. Three of her pets, each less than a year old, had been removed from their cages and slain. Their bodies were left in a semicircle on the front lawn. Fur speckled the grass.
“They were all beaten, tortured and laid out behind my car,” Pavlovich said. “One of them was on his way to being a grand champion, and one of them was a mom.”
Pavlovich, who took up breeding a year ago, wants someone to pay for the deaths of Onyx, Buster Brown and Moo, each named after the pattern of their coats. And she’ll pay a $100 reward to anyone with information leading to a suspect.
The Summerville Police Department dusted for fingerprints but couldn’t find evidence singling out a culprit.
The garage door had been left slightly ajar, to allow airflow for the rabbits inside.
But the police ruled out an animal invasion: It took a human to circumvent the latched cages.
Citing her observations, Pavlovich thinks the burglar was somehow deranged: Buster Brown was decapitated while Onyx’s tail was removed and crammed into Moo’s mouth.
She doesn’t know why anyone would harm a “cute, little, fuzzy bunny.” A youth might have been raising havoc, she theorized, but most neighborhood children know Pavlovich’s garage as a friendly petting zoo.
She and her husband were home at the estimated incident time, 6 a.m., but they heard nothing. Even the couple’s three dogs and three cats that share the abode with their carrot-loving counterparts went undisturbed.
What greeted his wife Thursday also incensed Leo Pavlovich. After his diagnosis with liver and lung cancer, petting and observing the rabbits became a stress reducer and comedic relief.
“They’re hilarious to watch when they start jumping around and playing,” he said. “A bunch of them will grab each other and form a conga line.”
Pavlovich still tends to 11 surviving rabbits, including a 16-pound Flemish giant named Erebus, but she mourns the trio’s loss.
Moo, a buck, claimed four awards in a North Carolina show and a first-place prize in a recent Ladson fair. He had a big career in store, Pavlovich reckoned.
“They don’t attack. They don’t bite,” said Kimberly Mason, 19, Pavlovich’s daughter and a College of Charleston freshman who considers herself an animal-rights activist. “They don’t disturb the neighborhood.”
A blue blanket covered the three bodies Thursday afternoon. Pavlovich couldn’t let go and bury them just yet.
Feet away, a bumper sticker was affixed to her SUV. “Hey honey,” it says. “Hug a bunny.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.