by Kay Kendall
Twenty years ago, several days after Easter, my husband Bruce and I returned home from work, let our Cocker Spaniel outside in the fenced yard and went in the house. Bridget the dog refused to come back in the house, riveted to something white beyond our fence. Long story short–our neighbors had moved out that day, leaving behind a yard full of refuse…and one baby bunny. We cornered the wee frightened thing that felt like bird fluff in my hand, and I immediately dubbed him Precious. And so began our saga of rescuing rabbits.
As we learned all about the care of these long-eared wonders, we discovered that the busiest season for rescue is right after Easter. That’s when the bunnies and chicks bought for people’s children are thrown into the wild and left to manage on their own. Many people believe that rabbits can survive outdoors, but house rabbits are a different breed from wild ones and cannot do so.
Including Precious, we have rescued eleven bunnies and have fostered four. The largest number we have housed at one time is seven. We began with only one and gradually the number crept up and up as we learned how loveable and individual each bunny is. They bring so much joy and pleasure into our lives that it is hard to keep from rescuing even more. Alas, as the numbers grew, so did my allergies. We now have three and find that a reasonable number. I don’t sneeze and cough as much as I once did, and so I can interact with them more.
When Precious was small, I was going through a bit of a depression, working too hard and not stopping to enjoy much of life. One Saturday morning I sat on the kitchen floor with him and watched him hop around and explore the room. He was fascinated with the dishwasher door that I had left hanging open. He plopped his little feet on top of that door and sniffed all around. I watched him for thirty minutes, amazed by the joy he made me feel. I date the lifting of my depression from that time. Some people say “stop and smell the roses. I say “stop and enjoy your bunny.”
The lifespan of a house rabbit runs from five to ten years, with the upper end being geriatric and hard to attain. We did not know that at first, having heard that Precious would probably live to the age of ten. Imagine our sorrow when I returned from work one day to find him, at age five, mortally asleep in his cage, his body still warm. I was desolate, called my husband at work and asked him to hurry home. When he told his boss why he had to leave an hour early, the boss guffawed. “A rabbit?” he said, laughing hard. The next day another man confided to my husband that he understood the family tragedy, as he had just lost a beloved hamster.
The health of rabbits is precarious. They can die very quickly without your knowing that they are sick. As animals of prey, they’ve learned to be very still when they are hurt or sick. Consequently, it is hard to notice when your bunny isn’t feeling well. You must learn its habits and watch closely to see if it is healthy. If we had known that when Precious was five, we could probably have saved him.
Each of our bunnies has a distinct personality. Some are more nervous than others and some more energetic. One of our eleven, Smokey, makes noises so loud you can hear him growl from another room. He is the smallest and thus the most scared. He was traumatized when we got him, and it took many months until he calmed down.
Rabbits can bond to one another one and they are wonderful to see as bonded pairs. One will grieve hard when its partner passes on. Even one of our un-bonded bunnies realized when another died recently. Current research into the emotions that animals feel is only now recognizing what we animal lovers already know–indeed yes, animals do have feelings.
The hardest rabbits to move from foster care into full adoption are the New Zealand white breed with their startling pink eyes. This astonished me since that type is iconic to me. Just think of the rabbit friend of Alice in Wonderland and the Easter bunny. Many people, however, are spooked by the pink-colored eyes. Precious was a New Zealand and after that we adopted Benny, another New Zealand, who loved to stand on his hind legs and beg for Cheerios. He had a genetic heart defect and lived less than a year. I vowed never to have another bunny as it was too hard losing them. One week later we were back at the shelter and adopting Rufus, so far our only lop-eared rabbit.
My husband and I are active in Houston’s Bunny Buddies organization, the Texas affiliate of House Rabbit Society. Both websites have a wealth of information online about caring for rabbits. The three who grace our home these days–Jack, Smokey, and Dusty– asked me to tell you to consider adopting some of their relatives. The third most abandoned animals in shelters are rabbits. They are waiting for you to come meet them, fall under their spell and offer them a caring home.