Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 17
April 26-May 3, 2000
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Move Over, Frieda
It’s So Nice to Have a Bunny in the Home

All the thoughts of a turtle are turtles, and of a rabbit, rabbits.
—The Natural History of Intellect, Ralph Waldo Emerson: 1893.

Though I am not a rabbit, my thoughts dwell on these delightful creatures — especially on the days following Easter when in some homes the Easter Bunny delivered rabbits. I have concern where those rabbits will end up.

Increasingly, rabbits are gaining a niche in households across the country as family pets. But some families are not yet ready for pets of any kind. After those Easter bunnies grow a bit, the novelty will wear off. It happens every year at this time.

Not infrequently, the new pet ends up in an animal shelter. Worse it is set free to scavenge for itself. These are not wild cottontails. They have neither the instinct nor the ability to make a life on their own. They perish, often in a painful way to predators.

Given good homes with patient guardians, most could be satisfying pets. They’re docile, intelligent, rather independent though appreciative of attention and affection, and low maintenance. My cat Frieda’s vet, Dr. Bob Etter, says they’re great. “Ideal pets,” he says, and has some among his patients at Pasadena Animal Hospital.

As for Frieda, I have reservations concerning her thinking about rabbits. For more than a decade, I’ve wondered about adopting a rabbit. But would Frieda accept it? Even more critical, would wife Lois?
If you know the answer it’s not a question.

Rabbit Squabbles

I know better than even approach the subject to either of the two females still in the household. Frieda has been around for more than 13 years and obviously prefers status quo — though the way she watches the wild rabbits on the lawn from the window and screened-in porch, I speculate she wouldn’t object too much. The weather is warming and mice aren’t sneaking in, leaving her little to chase these days.

As for Lois, she thinks of rabbits as predators who gobble up the flowers she plants in the garden on the east side of the house. They seem to have a preference for freshly planted annuals of assorted species.

But seeing as Lois also likes birds, of which we have dozens upon dozens visiting our feeders and living in our bird houses, a little light bulb illuminates within my dome. A rabbit is just the thing for those who appreciate winged guests.

Rabbit Advantages

You see, coming up on May 13 is National Keep Your Cat Indoors Day. Its goal is to make feline owners appreciate the benefits of an indoor life for cats. Its sponsors really are promoting the day not because indoor cats are healthier and have an average lifetime much longer than their outdoor counterparts. It’s much more selfish than that.

Sponsors are the American Bird Conservancy, and its membership has long been telling us that keeping your cat indoors is much healthier for songbirds and small mammals. Each year, free- roaming cats do in hundreds of millions of birds and other creatures.

So, I’ve got this idea. At an appropriate time, like when Lois is admiring cardinals slurping up sunflower seeds on the lawn underneath the bird feeders, I suggest that perhaps we should set an example. We should get a rabbit.

Who ever heard of rabbits feasting on birds? No one, that’s who. Rabbits are vegetarians.

Not that I harbor any thoughts of retiring Frieda from her dominant role in the household. Still, we could be another cog in a wheel that could put more rabbits in households, which would probably mean less cats and dogs — which would, bottom line, spare all those hundreds of millions of songbirds done in by felines whose owners think a cat belongs outdoors, at least much of the time.

Bunny in the House

My friend Henry has a rabbit, but it, like my Frieda, doesn’t spend much time outdoors. Discount trips to the vet and kennel, and Frieda hasn’t been outdoors 25 times since we abducted her as a kitten of about eight weeks from the lawn at Chesapeake House, Tilghman Island, where she was one of many feral feline scavengers.

Henry’s rabbit is white. No pedigree, he says. He adopted her from an animal shelter where he went in search of a kitten. He couldn’t bear to leave her to the usual fate of inhabitants of such places.

It takes time, he tells me, to gain the confidence of a rabbit — especially an adult one. But once that’s gained, a bunny can be downright friendly, even affectionate.

He had concerns about litter training, but they were unfounded. Either his bunny Molly was litter box trained or learned quickly. A couple ‘accidents,’ and since all has gone well — though he sometimes worries about his furniture.

Rabbits like to chew, it’s their nature, and Molly is no exception. Fortunately her gnawing efforts have been pretty much restricted to the molding of the doorway of his basement workshop. But Henry worries about his hardwood living room furniture and baseboards elsewhere in the house.

No big holes yet in the door molding of Henry’s workshop, just deep bites, and he figures Molly’s presence is worth it. He could keep her in one of those fancy pens now selling well in pet shops, but he enjoys watching her romp about the house.

She’s about five years old (rabbits live to 10 or 12), but she has the energy of a kitten. For no apparent reason, she will take off on a romp only to stop and look back at him as if expecting a chase. If he ignores her for long, she hops up onto his chair and nuzzles his face.

She, like many domesticated rabbits, doesn’t like to be cradled though she tolerates being held — though not in an upside down position — and that’s when he’s sitting down. When he is standing, Molly becomes anxious. Rabbits are ground creatures and don’t like heights.

They don’t like harnesses or collars either, Henry says. He tried both to allow Molly to munch on grass and clover outside his Baltimore County home, but she became quite agitated. Without a leash, he feared he couldn’t keep her safe should a neighborhood dog come around. So Molly, like Frieda, stays indoors full time.

Her food is pellets, lettuce, carrots and other vegetables, and she nibbles a good part of the day. She likes to be groomed, also to have her head scratched. She isn’t shy with company, sometimes jumping right into a visitor’s lap.
She’s pretty much like a cat, says Henry. “Good company for a bachelor, someone to talk to.” He says any future pets will also be rabbits, maybe another one to keep Molly company.

Bunny Help

Henry should have no trouble finding a companion for Molly. When I called the House Rabbit Society (410/889-4104) one recent afternoon seeking a few details on bunny care, the answering machine informed me there was no more room now for any more lodgers — and this so soon after Easter. But those interested in these furry animals can call that number for details on anything from adoption to veterinarian care for bunnies that arrived on Easter or any other time.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly