By 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.