For the first time since we got rescue rabbits nearly four years ago and started on our journey to understanding these surprisingly complex animals, we finally had some major breakthroughs this week and, as usual, I’m viewing the world through them.
The thing about rabbits is… they are small, prey animals at the bottom of the food chain, and this causes them to behave in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Firstly, they hide their illnesses – an in-built behaviour to stop predators picking them off. You try not to take it personally but it’s pretty hard work trying to help an animal that doesn’t let you know it is ill until it’s at death’s door. Even giving them meds that will save their life can involve a massive battle involving swaddling them in a towel and pinning them down Big Daddy/Giant Haystacks style.
Secondly, prey animals have a natural distrust of you, despite the fact you give them food supplies, a brand new luxury rabbit mansion (or your own house), daily outdoor runs in rain, shine or snow, do their housework, and offer endless love and affection. You may be big and think you are in control but try to pat or pick up a rabbit and you’ll usually have a wriggly fight on your hands (unless you’ve handled them from babies). We’ve been nipped, scratched, bitten and whacked by those big thumpers. And all we want to do is have a snuggle for our troubles.
Thirdly, rabbits are highly social and benefit from company with other rabbits but also they can be territorial, hierarchical and vicious – even to the death. Anything new is curious but also potentially a threat. Thinking like a human and saying, ‘Oh my rabbit is lonely, I’ll get them a little friend’, is to play with fire. Rabbits need to be properly bonded not just thrown in together and the process can be painful and costly if not done properly. We know; we brought home a bonded pair from an animal sanctuary and one bit half of the other’s ear off in the new environment.
My point is, you are not the boss of a rabbit, despite their small cute helpless appearance and the fact that you do every for them. They are ruled by their own survival instincts. You cannot easily force your will on them. And they won’t automatically love you. You could even say they are even worse than cats for treating you like an unpaid, unappreciated servant.
Yet I have learnt so much from our past few years of looking after five rescue buns. It was a bit of a joke (albeit a true one) that Pete and I got married because of Professor Bunminster and his Lady Bunzilla’s role modelling the perfect relationship – providing basic needs of company, warmth, protection, social life, fun, etc, but keeping separate characters, independence and the space to do your own thing.
They’ve also been our fur-kids – requiring care through the night when ill, daily love and attention, a cramp on our holidays, spontaneity and lie-ins, infuriating at times but entertaining as hell. We’ve bonded together ourselves over caring for our little brood.
And now in these times of Brexit, Trump and the rise of various extremist political and religious groups, I’ve learnt something else that I only sort of recognised and half-knew.
The buns have given me comfort that perseverence, kindness and love will win out in the end. Because since last November when Bunzilla died and Bunminster lost his mate, I’ve been grooming and giving him neck rubs on an almost daily basis, something he never would have tolerated before. What happened is that he started to bond with me, slowly but surely to the point where he now willingly comes over for attention.
This week the culmination of that is that he has allowed me to give him eye drops twice daily for conjunctivitis. No fight, just trusting submission. He has even allowed me to pick him up for a minute – and this is something I can build on after years of not even being quick enough to catch him. Our little dictator, who bit off an ear in defence of his territory, has finally learned to trust us through perseverence and love.
Meanwhile, our new bun Clem has only been here a month from Fat Fluffs, but she sees the others getting cheek rubs and although she usually runs away from contact, yesterday she came in voluntarily for a group head rub.
Then today, the big one – Joy, who arrived with us after being dumped at Moseley Bog last Easter, and who is the most craving of attention, let me pick her up and put her on my lap for a snuggle. No looking around for an escape route and no jumping off after a few seconds. It was a major breakthrough.
Love conquers all, even rabbits. In understanding the lagomorph, the most political act as we drift towards a depressing new world of 21st century hate, misogyny, racism and fascism is to love.
For more soothing bunny balm, you can see our group’s progress at https://www.instagram.com/bunminster/