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Living with Bunnies Offers a Daily Occasion for Experiencing Awe

Freya the House BunnyBy Sarah Kleeb

I find that people who do not have the honor and joy of living with house rabbits (hereafter referred to exclusively as “bunnies”) often have difficulty understanding why those of us who do have such privileges are so emphatic about our bunny bliss.  There is just something about bunnies, I’m not sure how to put my finger on it, but there is something there that is really unique, really special.  I’m hoping this article will help me figure out exactly what that is, and that will also create a space for others to reflect on this as well.

A (somewhat) quick word on my own experience with bunnies:  I currently have three bunnies in my house – one male and two females.  Each one was a rescue in his or her own way.  Our first, Ostara (a Dutch), was a private adoption.  She was posted on Craigslist (*shudder*) when she was two years old, and her teenage “owner” was no longer caring for her properly.  The first week or so was tense – my partner and I had so much to learn!  But, we learned quickly, and Ostara became a family member with little trouble.  Shortly thereafter, we wanted a partner for her.  We saw another online ad for a bunny that needed re-homing.  Sadly, this bunny, now named Nivek (a black Dwarf), was in very poor shape.  I don’t need to go into graphic details, but any bunny-lover will know what I mean when I say that “poo” speaks volumes.  He’d never been fed hay, and his pen was barely larger than he was.  Based on what we could see, he was lucky if he had a week left in him.  When we brought him home, we gave him hay and aspen shavings to lay in – it was the first time he’d experienced either.  We were immediately rewarded with a major bunny-flop in the shavings, and a marathon gorge-fest on timothy hay.  Our third bunny, Freya (a Chinchilla rabbit), was a “true” rescue.  She’d been saved by the local humane society from someone that had been raising her, and many other bunnies, for food.  She was thin and terrified, and her fur was actually coarse.  It was heartbreaking.  Each bunny is now six-, five-, and four-years old, respectively.  They are all healthy and happy and full of binkies.

I think Freya’s story particularly begins to identify why bunnies are such amazing creatures to have as family members.  Most of us, I think, whether we’ve ever partaken or not, grew up hearing that bunnies are “food” animals, unlike other companion animals.  As a culture, most are accustomed to think of these animals as expendable, as products, as potential for consumption.  As someone who has lived with bunnies for years, this idea horrifies me, as it probably does many of you.   This isn’t the forum for reflecting on dietary choices, but it does provide potential for such reflection, if you choose to do so on your own.

My bunnies – and surely yours, too – know their names.  They know their nicknames.  They come when I call for them.  They show joy and frustration.  They play.  They love.  When I tell others these things, they often seem shocked – especially the bit about the names and coming when called.  This is not something many think is even possible for these animals.  We have so disregarded them, by virtue of the label of “food”, that it is inconceivable for many that they could possess even this level of intelligence.  Yet, as we all know, they possess this and much more.  It is not mere projection to say that bunnies can be conniving, sneaky, or demanding, let alone loving, concerned, and even happy.

This idea, too, of emotion – and the broad range expressed by these creatures – contributes to why I find bunnies so awesome (in the literal meaning of the word: worthy of awe).  Ostara, for example, “danger thumps” whenever I get the hiccups.  She thinks I am having trouble breathing.  She does this every time, and she doesn’t stop thumping until I get over them.   She is concerned, and wants to let everyone know that something might be wrong.   As well, though, she can be as persistent as she is sweet, making a racket on the bars of her pen when she wants more food, grunting at her “husband” when he gets on her nerves, rattling her bottle when she’s out of water.  She knows that these actions, expressions of her feelings at the time, will get her what she wants.  Popular culture has many people convinced that all bunnies come born with bows and ribbons attached to them; the idea that a bunny could express a broader range of emotion is near unthinkable.

So maybe that’s it – maybe it’s the complexity in the face of the expectation of simplicity, of plurality when one-dimensionality is falsely considered the “norm”.  Perhaps that is what drew me in and left me dumb-struck with my first darling bunny, and which leaves me equally speechless even after all these years.  The defiance of expectation, the warmth and the cold shoulder, the love and the frustration:  these are all amazing things. 

It is in this spirit that I think we are all genuinely thankful when we get the incredible, precious opportunity to kiss bunnies on the face, to receive grooming and kisses in return, to have bunnies flop next to us on the floor, to see them stand on their hind legs to greet us in the mornings.  Having bunnies as companions is a truly beautiful gift.  I think it is our duty to let others in the world know what they are missing when they dismiss or diminish the greatness of such creatures.


About Sarah Kleeb – I'm just a grad student trying to get by… possibly hiding in school to avoid the "real world" (well, maybe not; the world is pretty "real" in here, too). My family (which includes the animals who live with me) are my refuge from the stresses of academia, the chaos of Toronto, and frustrations with life in general. Much of how I view the world has been shaped by my experiences with animals, and I tend to think the world might be a better place if others opened themselves to such opportunities for insight as well.

  1. Arif Arif

    I love my house rabbit and his name is "Grumpy" a Netherland Dwarf.  His favorite spot is underneath the coffee table. 

  2. Lisa Kay Lisa Kay

    Thank you for sharing the love for your bunnies and the knowlege that only comes through speding time with them.  They are beautiful creatures, no doubt, and very much underestimated and misunderstood by most of the population.  As good bunny parents we all do our part in educating those around us about bunny care.  I have adopted many rabbits and enjoy all of their individual personalities.  Not one has been the same. 🙂

  3. Kat Prosser Kat Prosser

    Lovely story! I get those reactions sometimes too when I talk about my bun :p

  4. Cami Cami

    Wonderful article!  It's so true about their many moods.  I've had rabbits for most of my life, and enjoy the wonderful personalities they all have.  My husband and I have 2 sweet house rabbits currently, Charles and Annabelle.  Charles is a very laid back Holland Lop that loves nothing more than to flop out in the bathroom and enjoy his solitude – when he's not in the mood to be petted for hours.  Annabelle is a very high strung, curious girl that relishes in getting into mischief, and jumps at any noise louder than normal conversation.  They each know their names.  Charles refuses to come when called "Charlie" or "Chuck", and Annabelle responds quickly when her name is said sternly (usually in anticipation of naughtiness).  They are delightful and truly misunderstood!  I shudder to think of them as "food".  Wonderful article!

  5. Cara Cara

    This is on eof the best articles that I have read about bunnies! They are truely God's gifts and they are created to be loved and  not eaten.
    Oreo has been the best thing in my life and I adore her! She is so smart that I cannot believe how much she has accomplished! From learning where to do her business, to understand my routine, she is part of our family now. She wakes me up every morning and get treats, she will get mad when I feed her late and she knows when and how to catch my attention.
    I love her, she is my soul mate and we should continue to let other people to know that bunnies and rabbits are intellegient and not something we should cook for a meal!
    Keep up the good work!

  6. Diane Crow-Brown Diane Crow-Brown

    22 years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I found someone giving away a bunch of baby bunnies that needed a home at a gun & knife show. (Ridiculous place, I know.) But it turned out to be a life-changing thing for me, and my bunny turned out to be my Spiritual Guide. It was all just such a strange set of circumstances. She lived with me for 8 years, we struggled together to understand each other…why was she eating my couch? Why was she always digging in her litter? But she followed me around the house like a little puppy, and went everywhere I did. She took to her harness & leash like a pro, and she was the sweetest thing…we said our prayers together everynight and she gave me kisses on the nose, forehead and cheek. When I came home one day, @ the age of 8 years old, to find her passed (I think she had a heart attack)…I knew I would get another. But it took me 6 months to finally be able to go into the Produce dept of the store. Then, I started looking for 2 bunnies- I had decided to get two-for company for each other. I found 2 siblings in my rabbit clubs' foster care, a male & a female; out of a litter of 5 they were the only ones that were spotted-all the rest were dutch. So I always called them 'the twins'. I lost the girl last November, and her brother is still with me…he just turned 14 years old last Tuesday. He has cataracts, a malignant tumor on his side, and has lost mobility in 3 legs…balances himself on one back leg. He still eats his pellets, and his favorite items; and keeps himself clean. He has had a good life, full of lots of love from his sister, and me…he was such a joy, and delight in his younger days…full of bunny antics. These have been my children….they were not conceived by me or born from me…but they got love, and caring and medicine when they needed it (24/7)…I taught them, and they taught me. I would not change a thing.
    But no one, in my family; has ever understood how close I was to them…they were NEVER pets to me, they were Family, in a truer sense than some of my people-family. Only my friends in my bunny club understand me, that way…and I was so blessed to have had them on my side.
    Living in an apartment, they were the best pets…although I had to 'enlighten' many apartment managers. (Which I did by taking plenty of pictures to show the length that I would go to to keep the apartment safe, and my bunnies safe).
    Everyday, now…I sit with my only bunny…and give him his meds; and tell him stories of how he and his sister fulfilled my life in a way that no other person could have….AND I still would not have it any other way…..

    • Bunny Momma Bunny Momma

      Diane, your beautiful response made me cry like a baby. 

  7. Sarah Kleeb Sarah Kleeb

    It's been a while since I visited and re-read this page.  Thank you all so much for your lovely comments, and for sharing your touching stories.
    Sadly, Freya passed the other day from an incredibly aggressive infection. We took her to the vet first thing Monday morning.  She was so sick, I thought I'd lost her on the way there in the car.  She was still with us, but was so weak.  The vet bundled her in a towel, and took her into a back room to examine her.  When she was brought back in, the vet set her on the table, still wrapped in the towel.  She was about 8 inches away from me.  She could barely stand, let alone walk, and yet she struggled and reached her front legs out to drag herself over to me, to snuggle against my arm.  Obviously, I was inconsoleable, but I saw and felt such love in that gesture.

  8. Sarah Kleeb Sarah Kleeb

    A friend shared this quote with me after Freya's passing.  It is so true, and so beautiful – my partner and I are thinking of getting it tattooed, along with the faces of the members of our animal family who we've lost. 
    "It is not just that animals make the world more scenic or picturesque. The lives of animals are woven into our very being – closer than our own breathing. And our soul will suffer when they are gone."
    -Gary Kowalski

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