*Bunny names have been changed to protect the fluffy.
It was not long after adopting our second bun, Gertie, that I learned a lesson that will be obvious to all you lifelong pet parents: each animal has its own personality! Duh, I know, but until we got our second bun, I thought all rabbits would be more or less like Maxwell. Not at all, and that would be proven again as we got to know our third bunny, Stanley.
Having sworn off the bonding process after our failed attempts with Maxwell and Gertie, I wondered about adopting two rabbits that were already bonded. At this point in our pet parenthood we had become aware of rabbit rescue organizations beyond the Humane Society, and it was through one of these saintly organizations that we first met Stanley. We were all set to attend one of their adoption events—a prearranged time and place in which foster parents bring their furry charges and prospective adopters get to see many buns at once in an environment less sterile than a Humane Society meet-n-greet room.
Perusing the rescue organization’s website, I had settled on a bonded pair and a few singletons I was interested in meeting. Shortly after arrival, though, an energetic young English Spot caught the husband’s eye. The room had been set up with an obstacle course and this young male was zipping through it insouciantly. The husband was knee deep in the sport of triathlon at the time, and he was attracted to both the rabbit’s athleticism and the mischievous twinkle in his eye. “That one,” the husband said. A volunteer picked up the four-legged racer and placed him in a large pen with me. This fearless boy was outgoing, spunky, and friendly. It took less than a minute to fall in love.
At this point in our lives, we were of the “we don’t believe in caging our bunnies” mentality (a perspective we shared with others with a slightly supercilious tone, I’m sure), even though it was—and still is—recommended by rabbit rescue organizations. We reasoned that this had worked out well with our previous buns (Gertie would have chewed that hole in the side of our couch no matter what. It was a delicious couch.) so why start now? This didn’t cause any problems at first, but then we went on vacation.
You know that disclaimer you find whenever you’re about to purchase stock or make other financial investments: past performance not indicative of future results? We wish we’d known that that applies to buns as well. We’d gone away before and left Gertie and Maxwell (at times when they were solo buns in our house), who always seemed to do just fine having a neighbor stop in daily to feed and interact with them. What we didn’t fully understand is that if rabbits in general are social creatures, English Spots are really social. Stanley needed much more human interaction than our vacation bunnysitting plan provided, and he ended up getting bored.
A bored house rabbit is not a good thing.
Our couch, a bespoke denim-covered (and none too cheap) L-shaped sectional that Stanley had previously ignored, suddenly became a tasty playland. We returned to find that he’d used the couch for lots of fun scratching and chewing (both normal and necessary rabbit behavioral needs that he’d previously satisfied with bunny toys, seagrass mats, wicker baskets, and other appropriate items). The good news is that if any fabric can still look sort of OK after a rabbit has mauled it, it’s denim. (Think of all the trouble fashion brands go to to make their jeans look worn and frayed. They should just unleash a fluffle* of rabbits on their reams of fabric: Introducing Levi’s® new Rabbit-Distressed™ Jeans. Bring out your inner bunny.) The bad news is that he’d gotten behind the couch, which was situated in a corner of the living room, pushed up against two walls to hide the lamp cords and speaker wires that were back there. Those cords and wires did not fare well. He had chewed through them, which, while it caused a major headache for us, could have killed Stanley.
*Many thanks to Rivergirl, whose recent post introduced me to this fanciful word. It is the term northern Canadians—and now I—use for a group of rabbits.
He didn’t get electrocuted, thank goodness, but he had become an addict, and our couch was his cocaine. We tried everything to keep him off the couch and out of the narrow, warren-like racecourse behind it, but it was too late; the habit had crystalized.
Just a few days after coming home to this problem, the husband ran off to chaperone a group of student divers in the Cayman Islands, leaving me to deal with The Stanley Situation on my own. First I went out and bought a baby gate. It was made of thick, heavy-duty plastic and had eight interlocking panels that allowed it to be configured in a variety of shapes and sizes. I’m sure Stanley was guffawing as he watched me put it together, because he knew something that I would soon discover: without a top, he’d just jump right out of it. Every measure I took to keep him contained, he overcame with little effort. Finally, frustrated and tearful over the long-distance line to the Caymans, I told the husband I was going to have to get an actual cage.
This I did, and it broke my heart to jail him so. Slowly, though, we both got accustomed to our new normal, as did the husband when he returned. From then on, Stanley would be in his “rabbitat” when we were at work and overnight.
It was around this time that we discovered the existence of Hoppy Hour, a local bimonthly rabbit socialization hour. A cavernous room at a local humane society was set up with obstacles and litter boxes. The two-legged animals sat in a ring around the perimeter and deposited the four-legged animals within to hop around and play for an hour. Other behaviors that rabbits engaged in included cowering in terror, seeing how many bunnies could sleep in a litterbox together at once, humping unsuspecting rabbits, and occasional fighting. These last two shenanigans brought about a swift penalty from the human bouncers patrolling the scene: a five-minute timeout. Stanly got a few timeouts (for humping—he was a lover, not a fighter), though he developed a reputation at Hoppy Hour not for his lewd indiscretions, but for his shameless flirtatiousness. He spent the better part of each hour hopping around the perimeter, charming humans into petting him. The rest of the time he would run up ramps and elevated “skyways,” often looking back at us as if to say, “Mommy! Daddy! Look at me! Are you watching?”
At home, Stanley was a study in contrasts. He eagerly hopped over to investigate unfamiliar humans at the front door (and solicit head rubs), but was scared of the vacuum cleaner. He was oddly afraid of the kitchen, but every so often we’d find bunny pellets at the far end of it. Stanley loved to test the limits. He often jumped on forbidden furniture, looking slyly at me and clearly thinking, “Whatcha gonna do about it?” But on cold winter evenings he and I would stretch out in front of the fireplace and I would spend ages stroking his hot fur. He kept us on our toes, made us scratch our heads, and elicited a lot of laughter.
Then, after just 3½ years together, we noticed a slight change in his gait. It was the first indication of hip dysplasia, and his mobility would decrease steadily over the following eight months. Toward the end, he was dragging himself around by his front paws, but he never lost his spunk or his spirit. Unable to clean himself, he relied on the husband, who took Stanley into the shower with him and always told the same old joke as he cleaned Stanley’s undercarriage:
Then one day in September we arrived home from a bike ride and knew it was the last day Stanley would be with us. He died hours later in the husband’s arms and we were ripped to shreds once again. After six years with Maxwell and nearly ten with Gertie, it felt cruel to have Stanley taken from us after only four short years together.
Heartbroken, we looked ahead and reluctantly decided to remain petless for about a year. We had a trip to Jamaica coming up in March, followed by trips to Italy and Colorado that summer. This was in the days before we discovered the petsitting organization and bunnysitters were difficult to come by. It made sense to wait.
After about two anguished weeks, though, my resolve—which had been teetering—utterly crumbled. I couldn’t wait. My heart was broken and needed a mending that only a bunny could give it. I began the search, and it would be only a month before a new fur baby hopped its way into our lives . . .
For the complete picture: