Happy International Rabbit Day!

It’s International Rabbit Day! If you are a bunny parent, I hope you’ve given your baby or babies a little extra treat just for being so darn cute. I hope you’ll also consider making a donation to one of the many wonderful, tireless, compassionate and devoted animal-rights and bunny-advocacy organizations out there. Their work is critical to the continued spread of awareness of animal issues. They take in, care for and love unwanted animals all over the world, many at their own personal expense, because their heart would break if they didn’t. I know well how that feels and I hope you will join me in supporting their work.

Please give. Your donation could provide a meal, a soft bed or crucial medical treatment for a homeless animal. It could even save a life.

17524 rabbitdotorg

Advertisements

The truth about bunparenthood

This won’t be long. But something occurred to me yesterday when I was cleaning the bunny area, singing to them as I always do and telling them how much I love them: I do this every single day. Same thing. Russell kicks all the litter and hay into the floor; I clean it up. Janie pees on the mat instead of the box; I spray it with Febreze and change the mat. Bear drops a stray poop here and there; I vacuum at least three times a week. It’s not something a sane person would say that they enjoy doing, but I realized yesterday that I really, truly, genuinely, absolutely do not mind it. 

I love spending time with the buns, no matter what that time includes. Cleaning, petting, feeding, whatever. I was thinking yesterday and today how really high-maintenance bunnies are. They’re not like dogs that you can feed, water, and take for a walk once a day. They’re a relatively constant responsibility. If I had to guess, I’d say I spend at least an hour every day doing various bunny-related chores. If I didn’t want the responsibility, I would be miserable and resentful, but I do. It’s a labor of love, and I would not recommend getting a bunny or bunnies unless that’s how you feel about pets. 

Does it get a little old? Sure, sometimes. When I’m really tired, or Russell makes an extra-big mess, I feel a little irritated. But then those three sweet, soft little faces rub against me and beg for treats or head rubs and I melt. They’re my little loves; I can’t really be annoyed with them. 

All that to say that bunnies are time-consuming, but so worth it, and I wouldn’t trade mine for anything in the world. Truth.

Bunnies behaving badly

I know, I know. It’s a difficult topic; no one wants to acknowledge that bunnies aren’t adorable and sweet and perfect 100% of the time. It’s hard, but let’s be strong together and face it. Bunnies can be naughty.

IMG_20130920_075211_291-1

Except my bunnies, who actually are completely perfect and wonderful.

Before I had bunnies, I had experience only with cats and dogs (probably true for most people). Dogs are pretty easily taught with a firm, repeated “No!” Cats just stop doing whatever it is when you’re looking. (Cats can be a-holes.) Bunnies are not like that. If, for example, Flopsy is not using her litter box, the only thing you can do is confine her, praise her for exhibiting the desired behavior, and hope she ‘gets’ it. Rabbits are, through no fault of their own, creatures of habit. Once they do something two or three times, that’s how it’s done, and it’s hard as all get-out to convince them that your way is superior.

Some behaviors cannot be eliminated, but they can be changed. For example, rabbits are chewers. Chew, chew, chew. They love to chew, and indeed they must – it helps wear down their ever-growing front teeth. Russell still has the urge to chew and he doesn’t even have front teeth anymore. They particularly enjoy chewing wood (YUM!) and I’ve heard horror stories of destroyed baseboards and three-legged chairs that would make any bunny parent shudder. However, they’re extremes for a reason. The vast majority of bunnies are not psychotic, fanged lumberjacks. And I would venture to say that the bunnies who are could very fairly blame it on inattentive or ignorant humans.

Anyway. Let’s review some common “bad” bunny behavior.

IMG_20130919_211924_424-1

Five or six bowls, just to make sure.

1) Picking at the carpet – Oh, bunnies can F up some carpet. For real. In our house, Jane is the carpet-devastator. She’ll get behind a dresser or bookcase and go to town on the carpet. You can hear the telltale thup, thup, thup as she rips up little chunks. It’s maddening because, well, she has free run of the entire apartment, their shared “bunnies-only” space is huge, and they have more toys and baubles than most human children. Can’t she amuse herself some other way? GOSH.
2) Chewing – Not just wood. Furniture, clothing, electronics. Everything is fair game. In the past week alone, I lost a pair of earphones and a cell phone charger. Jane’s also a chewer (not to pick on her, of course), and I strongly suspect she is responsible for the fact that I have to find time for a visit to Best Buy this week. Jane has chewed holes in my jeans (she was kind enough to chew out the entire crotch, just to make absolutely sure they were not wearable), through the wooden slats on our apartment-complex closet doors, on the couch and – last night – our mattress. The thing is, when Jane and Russell were bonded, Jane’s foster mom told me that she was just a dream to have around because she never chewed, kept to herself, and used the littler box religiously. None of which she does nowadays. Oh well.
3) Digging – Not necessarily a bad behavior, but you have to make sure right away that they have something awesome to dig in. At my old apartment, Russell had a mountain of old towels and sheets to dig in, and he could spend ages in there. If you don’t provide your bunny a safe and non-destructive way to dig, they’ll dig through the floor. Or your mattress. Or that pile of clean laundry.
4) Not using the litter box – This one is tough. Most bunnies can and will use the box if you clean it reasonably often (I do it every morning, but some people only twice a week) and if you make it obvious that it’s where they should do their business. Don’t make it fancy, don’t cover it, don’t put a bunch of weird-smelling potpourri or something in it. Bedding + hay = done. The internet is full of resources for what you can do if your bunny’s litter box habits aren’t quite up to par, but make sure that you ascertain first that you’re not causing the problem. Aside from it being dirty, rabbits will also refuse to use the box if it a) is filled with bedding they don’t like, b) smells like a strange bunny, or c) is too small. Do not get one of those ridiculous triangular litter boxes that you clip to the corner of the pen. Bunnies will not use them. Go out and get a big litter box for multiple cats. Cheapo.

Silly Russell, tolerant Janie

Silly Russell, tolerant Janie

These are some of the most common bad bunny behaviors, but I have total confidence in the creativity of bunnies and I know there are dozens and dozens more. PLEASE keep in mind, if your bunny is “bad,” that she is just being a rabbit. Work to reinforce good behavior; remember, they’re creatures of habit. Spend plenty of time down there on the floor with her. Make sure all your cords are covered or out of reach. Bunny-proof your home and everyone will be happier. Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, for any reason, should you physically punish a rabbit. Aside from being just plain cruel, you won’t accomplish anything but confusing, scaring and hurting your bun. She’ll be terrified of you and have no idea why you’re suddenly being a jerk to her. She won’t trust you and absolutely will not make the connection between the behavior and the punishment. And if I find out, I’ll come to your house and punch you. In the face. With a bat.

Happy bunny parenting!

The three amigos

As promised, here are some pics of the new tri-bond. We are a happy family these days!

image

Janie snuggles her new little bro

image

Treat time!

image

Breakfast...mmmm

image

Post-breakfast chillaxin'

Well, that was easy.

After all that talk about how difficult it was going to be to bond three buns, and all that gearing up for the long bonding haul, I have kind of an anticlimactic report to give.

The bunnies have pretty much bonded themselves.

Bear stayed in the ex-pen for two nights (Thursday and Friday) and we didn’t attempt any more face time after the first try (just got too busy). Saturday night, we planned to create a temporary bonding space the next day so we could do daily face time, slowly increasing the amount of time together until the buns got used to each other. Sunday morning, I rose as usual around 7 to feed them and I got a shock: Bear and Russell, snuggling on the living room floor, with Jane flopped over nearby. Bear had pushed his hidey-box up against the pen, climbed onto it, and hopped over onto the floor. (As his mother, I take both credit for and pride in his exceptional problem-solving skills.) There was no sign of conflict.

This is great news and we’re thrilled. Kind of bewildered, but thrilled. Seriously – think of the most unlikely thing that could happen in your life right now. Maybe winning the lottery. The chances of successfully and immediately bonding three rabbits are about as good, so maybe you should go buy a ticket. I knew Russell was an exceptional bunny and I didn’t really anticipate him putting up a huge fuss about a third bun, but I never dreamed he’d meet the new kid and be all, “I love you so much, I just want to snuggle your face off and play with you forever and share my toys.” Never. But he’s totally into it. He and Bear and Jane have become the three bunny amigos over the past few days. As I predicted, Janie took a little longer to warm up to him, since she’s a shy girl, but now even she thinks Bear is the bee’s knees.

All that being said, guess what? This is actually the story of how not to do things. For one thing, I adopted Bear almost on a whim. I wanted him, but I hadn’t planned for him. Never Do This. This is the kind of thing the bunny house has to fight against all the time — people think this bunny or that is SO EFFIN CUTE they simply must have him. (Or, like me, they boo-hoo at the thought of leaving such a precious specimen.) So they buy all the bunny swag, take the new little guy home and when the novelty wears off, he’s (frequently) neglected. I already had Russell and Jane, so I knew that life with bunnies isn’t all binkies and flops, but the message is the same. Suppose they’d hated him? Suppose it turned out that three bunnies was too much for us? Please, please be honest with yourself and realistic about your lifestyle when getting a bunny.

Second, I cannot stress enough how incredibly rare it is that three bunnies bond themselves. In fact, I know of no other case. The vast majority of the time, if you have a bonded pair and want to add a third, you’re going to end up having to get #3 his/her own mate and keep the pairs separate. Forever. No bunny quartet running around adorably playing rabbit tag or something. Do not ever rely on being able to duplicate this experience. Bunnies are as different as humans in terms of personality, temperament and ability to adjust. I got freakishly lucky, and that’s all there is to it.

Third, I made a big and potentially disastrous mistake when I put Bear in the ex-pen with a hidey-box that he could easily move. At the time, I put it in there because, well, bunnies like hidey-boxes. It was like giving him a water bowl. I didn’t stop to consider that he could use it to get out of the pen. As it happened, things worked out, but what if they hadn’t? My fiance and I could have slept right through a terrible and very possibly fatal fight. I could not live with that kind of guilt, and I don’t think you could either. Let’s not find out, mmkay?

If you do want to add a third bun to the mix, proceed with caution (like I didn’t). In my non-expert opinion, you should able to answer this question – “What are your bunnies’ personalities like?” – in excruciating detail. You should have an extremely clear idea of what your buns are like as individuals and as a pair. Maybe Flopsy is a jealous little girl who simply will not have some OTHER bun taking away mommy’s attention. Maybe Mopsy is shy and afraid of bunnies bigger than he is. Perhaps Cottontail is an older bun set in his ways and hates changes to his routine. If you have an in-depth understanding of what your bunny or bunnies are like, you’re halfway to figuring out the kind of bun that would make a good third. As with any bonding, proceed slowly. Do not rush the buns to hang out. Do not freak out and immediately intervene if you see mounting behavior or chasing. Remember, bunnies are social – they need a hierarchy to be happy. Give them plenty of space and time to work it out.

Pictures of the new trio coming soon.

Welcome home, Bear! Let the tri-bond begin.

I already have to change the title of my blog.

Bear, formerly known as Nolan, officially became my baby last night around 8 PM. I was supposed to transport him to the GHRS hex at the Acworth Petco, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. I had been playing with him every single time I went to the bunny house for the past month and he stole my heart. When I placed him in the hex, I burst into tears. How could I leave this soft, sweet little angel? He came home with me instead and my fiance and I renamed him Bear about an hour later. And since I was totally not prepared to be bringing home a new baby, we had to make do with Russell and Jane’s old ex-pen, some trash bags and a big sheet. I wasted a bit of time worrying about how Russell and Jane would react to Bear. But Jane was only mildly interested — she sniffed at him, then hopped off to chew on some cardboard — and Russell kept trying to groom him through the bars of the pen — hardly evidence that conflict was imminent.

IMG_20130905_194908_624

My wittle Bear-baby

Sorry, Bear. You weren't planned.

Sorry, Bear. You weren’t planned.

If bonding two bunnies is difficult and time-consuming, bonding three is almost unheard-of. Edie warned me that the fail rate exceeded that of success pretty significantly, but (like every other hard-headed novice) I am determined to give it a shot. The biggest (and, really, the only) obstacle at this point to a tri-bond is the recentness of Bear’s neutering. When bunnies are altered, they retain pretty high hormone levels for up to six weeks afterward. Russell had just been neutered when I brought him home and for two months he could not be more than six feet from a stuffed rabbit I named Humpy Bunny – I’ll let you figure out why. Bear is still pretty amorous, too, so he’ll need to be separate from the others most of the time for the next few weeks. We attempted some face-to-face time last night after seeing how mellow all three were, but Bear got a little too excited. Pro tip: Do not isolate a bunny unless you have a solid reason – illness, injury, history of serious aggression, or bonding issues – for doing so. Rabbits are social animals and to be alone is almost punitive for them. Even when you have to isolate a bun, make sure you spend lots and lots of time with him. You don’t have to constantly pet him, just get something to read or your laptop and sit beside the cage.

I was relieved to see that Russell and Jane didn’t react to Bear with hostility, but I know that over the coming weeks they’ll need extra helpings of love and attention. Bunnies bond to each other, but they also bond to humans and have expectations of their humans just like you and I. It will be more important than ever for me and my fiance to make time to lay on the floor with, give out treats to and even talk to Russell and Janie. As I told Russell last night, “You’re still my little prince, Russell-bun.”

So ... come here often?

So … come here often?

Bunnies behaving cutely

Bunnies are a misunderstood little species. If bunnies were to take a human form, they’d be the quiet kid who keeps a low profile in class; they seem kind of nondescript, but you get to know them and suddenly you’re like, “LOL he’s not quiet at all, he’s hilarious and smart and FUN!” Bunnies get a bad rap, I think, because way too many people see them as aloof, distant and unfriendly. It’s quite true that they’re not, in most cases, a pet you can scoop up and snuggle and love on and shower with physical affection. They usually don’t want to be held and because they’re diurnal (a fancy way of saying they sleep in the daytime), they’re not likely to follow you around the house all day.

If you read closely, you may notice that if you replace “bunny” with “cat,” the preceding three sentences still make perfect sense. What makes no sense is that more people don’t give bunnies a chance to demonstrate how awesome they are. Bunnies are subtle, but they will shower you with affection if you let them take the lead. For example: Bunnies don’t want to get off the floor; they want you to get on the floor with them. In the mornings, after Russell and Jane have eaten, I lay on the floor and they climb on me. Jane picks at my shorts and rubs her face on my feet while Russell perches on my back or gives me kisses. Bunnies don’t want to be patted like a dog; they want back-scratches, ear-rubs and cheek-strokes. Jane is in heaven when anyone gently rubs the top of her head, and Russell purrs  when I give him an “earjob.” (Use your imagination. You can figure out what this looks like.)

Also! Bunnies can dance. Did you know that? Oh yes. Not all bunnies are dancers, but those who are can seriously cut a rug. Russell dances occasionally and IT IS ADORABLE. There is nothing as cute as a dancing bunny, especially when you consider that they do it only when they are so happy they can’t stand it. Dancing is an expression of pure lagomorphic joy and watching it will make your very heart glow.

3evlf

I know, I know. I don’t even … whatever. Out-of-control adorable, right? That was one of his first nights with me and it took forever to record him dancing for that long. That giant mid-air twist at the end? Priceless.

Bunny behavior can be hard to understand, but I guarantee that if you invest time and attention in getting to know your bun and how he or she communicates, you will be delighted with the results. Rabbits are very intelligent and I swear to God they have a better sense of humor than many humans. They will ‘tell’ you when they’re unhappy, frustrated, angry or happy. A few of my favorites:

Stomping – A bunny stomps his back foot by lifting and slamming it down, just like you and me. And even though this is supposed to indicate anger, fear or extreme displeasure with a human, it’s too cute to be taken seriously. (Shhh.)
Flopping – Falling over on her side is your bun’s way of saying, “Life sure is swell. I think I’ll take a nap.”
Splaying – I’ve only ever seen Russell do this, but when he does, it means he is totally relaxed and happy.
Darting – Jane and Russell do this when they’re startled, as you might guess. Usually when I or my fiance walk unexpectedly into their room. I always coo, “Hey babies, it’s just Mama!” and they come right back out. (No, they don’t.)
Grooming – No bunny will groom unless he feels comfortable and secure enough to let his guard down. This is particularly important in bonding situations.
Licking – Better known as bunny kisses, this is your bun’s way of saying, “I love you!” and you should feel very, very flattered.

The full spectrum of bunny emotion and behavior is wider than I can do justice to in a short blog post. I cannot stress enough how very complex bunnies are and how glad you’ll be if you adopt and really get to know one.

1174757_10151647450377810_43015254_n