Feeding the children

Russell is pretty small, so you’d never know just by looking at him that he eats like A PIG. When I first brought him home, and still had all his food and supplies stacked haphazardly by the door, he tore through the (new) bag of pellets and thoroughly chowed down. Then he happily abandoned the bag to stuff his face with the greens I’d just chopped and drizzled with applesauce. Nothing has changed, and don’t even get me started on treat time.

Gas station soda cup provided for scale.

Gas station soda cup provided for scale.

Anyway, he and Janie get fresh vittles twice a day – morning and evening – and it’s always a big event. At 7 AM, when I get up to clean their pen and prep the breakfast things, they’re usually asleep under the bed in the spare room. I try to be quiet, lest I am attacked by two hungry bunnies before I can get their bowls washed, dried and refilled, but it doesn’t always work. Also, somehow every single species in the animal kingdom knows that the sound of plastic packaging means food and once heard, plausible deniability goes out the window. “No, babies, it’s not breakfast time yet.” “BULLSHIT, Mom! We totally heard the cellophane!”

"I don't ever want to leave you. Not even a foot to the left to eat out of my own bowl."

“I don’t ever want to leave you. Not even a foot to the left to eat out of my own bowl.”

 

This morning was one of those mornings; in fact, I had managed only to open the door to their supplies closet before they were circling my feet. If you have bunnies, you may be familiar with – perhaps even have your own version of – the intricate dance known as the Don’t Step On Them. This dance entails taking the fewest possible number of steps required to retrieve, fill and replace the food bowl(s), effectively taking lagomorph attention off yourself.

Russell and Jane each have their own food bowl, a sweet little crock in the likeness of a lettuce head that I believe I bought at Petco for five or six dollars. They’re supposed to be heavy enough that buns can’t turn them over (Haha! Good one, Petco!) but in reality are merely cuter than bowls that don’t look like a lettuce head. If you have a bonded pair, you really don’t need two bowls, since the buns will share, but Russell insists on having his own everything. (Yes, rabbits absolutely can insist.)

Pretty cute, right?

Pretty cute, right?

Once they’re distracted by food, I dump the litter boxes (two, one for Russell and one for Russell and Jane) and refill them with bedding. I prefer Southern States pine pellet bedding. It’s made for horse stalls so it’s crazy absorbent and a 40-lb. bag is only six bucks. They go through a bag about once every 10 days, but that’s because I change it every single day – which you don’t have to do. I’m just paranoid about the uniquely pungent odor of rabbit urine permeating my home. The buns also get hay, which is where it gets interesting. Jane willingly eats timothy, orchard grass, whatever, but Russell is (SURPRISE!) stubborn about it. I made the mistake when I first brought him home (when he really, really needed to gain weight) of letting him eat whatever he wanted. So he got to eat delicious unhealthy alfalfa way more often than he should have, and now he’s spoiled, and it’s my fault, and I’m a terrible mother, and I’m sorry.

Anyway. Once the litter boxes are clean and hay has been added, I always proclaim, “Clean potties!” and they run over to inspect them. Then they each get a flavored timothy biscuit; Jane gets apple and Russell gets carrot and the crumbs Jane couldn’t eat fast enough, and they snuggle at the door of their pen while I take out the trash. And we do it all again the next morning.

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When Russell met Janie

When I started volunteering at GHRS, I knew exactly nothing about rabbits (unless you count the fact that they are freaking adorable). I had to learn fast when I got Russell and after a month or two, Edie started asking me when I was going to bond him.

Bonding bunnies is often a difficult and unpredictable process. You can try a dozen bunnies over six weeks with no luck. On the other hand, your first attempt can be a wild runaway success within five minutes and everyone stands around “Awww”-ing over the new lovebirds snuggling. Bunnies might scuffle or fight, one might be painfully shy and the other extremely dominant, or they might just ignore each other. It’s best to go through the adoptable bun bios wherever you’re going and pick out three or four who might be a good fit, temperament-wise. With Russell, who is nosy and curious and a huge attention whore, I knew it would be a bad idea to try an aggressive or obviously dominant female. It just wouldn’t work, so I ruled out those buns. Your input is important, but keep in mind that ultimately, the choice of mate is not yours. It’s your bunny’s. Let him take his time and really listen to what he is ‘saying’ about a potential mate.

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Pre-bonded Russell, indulgently allowing his picture to be taken.

Russell cracked me up during the “dating” process. I had been so anxious about the bonding that I had forgotten how adorably laid-back he is, and when the first two girls tried to provoke him into chasing them (a common bonding occurrence), he slid down onto his belly, feet splayed out behind him, and looked decidedly nonplussed. He wouldn’t engage with either of them, so we moved on to a black-and-white bun named Briar Rose.

The change in Russell was almost instant. He went quickly over to her and she lowered her head submissively, inviting him to groom her. After a few seconds of licking her head, she cautiously “offered” to groom him back. He presented his head and within 30 seconds they were full-on snuggling. Much “Awww”-ing followed.

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Russell and Jane at their fateful bonding appointment

The short version of this little romance is that they fell in love then and there and have been together since. Briar Rose became Eleanor Tennyson Fairchild – who goes by Jane – and they are so happy together I feel an occasional twinge of guilt for not bonding them sooner.

Did Russell change? Yes. He got more energetic, happier and a little more mischievous. Did our relationship change? Yup. Full disclosure: I cried for two days after bringing Jane home because Russell was so smitten he hardly noticed I was there. I was used to waking up to him excitedly circling my legs, begging for treats and hanging out with me while I worked. I felt abandoned and unwanted. I called Edie to cry about it and she surprised me by saying that his behavior was good news. He loved me, sure, but he’d been lonely – which accounted for all the early-morning leg-circling. Now I could be sure that he was not lonely; on the contrary, he was completely enamored of Jane and wanted nothing but to love her and be loved by her.

Please bond your single bunny with another single who needs a home. Bonded bunnies live longer, are much happier and do not require any more work or expense than a single bun, AND you get twice the fun and bunny love.

Russell in recovery

So Russell had surgery yesterday. His front teeth were in bad shape when I adopted him and Edie told me they’d have to come out eventually, but I put it off, clipping his teeth myself once every couple of weeks. He hated having it done, but I was terrified of the risks involved with anesthetizing a four-pound rabbit. Anyway, he had the surgery. It was a 30-minute procedure that felt like hours, since I was sitting in the waiting room trying not to cry. When I heard the vet assistant say, “Russell’s all done!” I leapt toward the door to the operating area. I thought she’d bring him out in his carrier, but no. I heard the telltale click-click-click of little nails on tile and there he was, hopping toward me like nothing had happened.

His poor little front tooth before I clipped it for the first time.

His poor little front tooth before I clipped it for the first time.

Of course, you can’t exactly scoop up a bunny and hug them, so I had to settle for a few enthusiastic head rubs. He hopped about impatiently while I signed the post-op paperwork, then we went home. I noticed later that he had blood on his mouth from the surgery, making him look for all the world like a really sweet vampire bunny. At any rate, unlike his mama, Russell was utterly unfazed. Aside from his irritation with me for giving him his admittedly foul-smelling antibiotics, there was no difference in his behavior. He was eating immediately, chomping away at his greens with his still-intact back teeth and begging like always for his carrot-flavored timothy biscuits.

Jane proved to be a wonderful bunwife through it all. She cleaned the blood off his mouth and he hasn’t left her side since yesterday. It makes me so happy to see them snuggle and be affectionate. Rabbits are social animals, as I plan to address in a later post, and they will never be nearly as happy alone as they are once they’re bonded. And once bonded, they’re together for life. Which is awesome.

A blog is born

The day we fell in love at the bunny house.

The day we fell in love at the bunny house.

I finished my MA last December (I’ve since started a PhD, but that’s another story) and entered the bleakest of bleak job markets. Even with all my experience, international travel, multilingual proficiency (not to toot my own horn, but you get the idea) and so on, I couldn’t find a job. Not a good job, but any job. It was infuriating, frustrating, depressing and generally awful.

I decided to do some volunteering. And as I have always loved animals well past the point of normal, I thought, “Hey, the Humane Society!” But that didn’t work out. Neither did a cat rescue. I found the Georgia House Rabbit Society online purely by accident one day and visited the following weekend. One thing led to another, and pretty soon I was volunteering there (and loving it) every Thursday morning.

It wasn’t long before the fine Thursday morning in late February that I noticed a skinny, dappled, lop-eared bunny in one of the pens reserved for medically compromised rabbits who turned out to be my savior of sorts. Russell was underweight, malnourished and suffering from acute malocclusion. Someone – who deserves to be set on fire – had left him in a cage without food or water in the middle of an abandoned baseball field.

It was love at first sight. I knew the instant I saw Russell that he was meant to be my bunny and I put him on hold right then. He went home with me two weeks later.

It sounds incredibly cheesy and cliche to speak of the joy that pets bring, but I’m going to try anyway. Russell is a happy bunny with a curious streak the size of a football field. He is completely fearless, as evidenced by his riding on the vacuum cleaner, and adorably runs laps around my feet when he knows he’s about to get a treat. He is four and a half pounds of awesome, of huge personality, of intelligence, of love.

I nicknamed him Bunicus and he and his lady love, Jane, are the stars of this blog. My fiance and I play supporting roles that include maid, treat-fetcher, ear-stroker, nail-clipper and litter box-changer. But mostly we’re both just devoted bunny parents, a couple of humans very lucky to play mom and dad to these tiny, wonderful rabbits.