As a young child my best friend had a pet rabbit. Actually she must have had at least two because they had babies – lots of them. They were all cute, gentle and friendly. How lovely they were observed through the eyes of a six years old child with no responsibilities. My friends’ parents probably thought differently as they frantically sought new homes for the off spring. However, I have to say they were excellent at hiding their concerns . My best friends’ house always seemed perfect, a mixture between The Good Life and a feel good American film. Everything appeared rose tinted, attractive mum and dad, beautiful children, caravan holidays in the south of France and a house furnished and decorated like a photograph in a 1970’s copy of “Hello”. Hens were reared from fluffy yellow chicks, fresh vegetables and berries were picked and consumed from the prolific vegetable patch by eager children and of course rabbits frolicked happily around their run. I think you get the picture.
So you can maybe understand why I pestered my parents for a pet rabbit for years. Eventually they relented, having decided that I was now responsible enough at the age of eleven to care for a rabbit properly and most importantly independently. Incidentally my friend had now moved to Cheshire following her parents’ bitter divorce after her mother had an affair and ran off with a childhood sweetheart. Maybe this was an omen.
The search for my new pet began. My parents had not researched how to choose a baby rabbit from a reputable breeder, used to being handled by children (this was well before the internet existed). Knowledge was gained through a friend that knew a friend of a local farmer who had some rabbits that were looking for new homes. I was so excited, I pictured long sunny days playing with my sweet adorable rabbit in the garden and showing it off to all my friends. Secretly and rather embarrassingly now I even had visions of my new pet winning shows for its wonderful temperament and looks. That afternoon we arrived at the farm, the farmer opened a shed door and approximately eight rabbits ran to the opposite corner of the shed cowering from the human interruption. Now these rabbits were not babies, they were probably edging towards adolescence, they were large, identical and petrified of people. “I’ll have that one,” I said shakily, rapidly pointing at a random rabbit. I was not going to let this opportunity to pass me by. After a hair flying scuffle resulting in some angry weals inflicted to the farmers fleshy bare arms and the utterance of some choice words too rude to repeat, the rabbit was stuffed unceremoniously into my grandmas roomy shopping bag, we had forgotten to take a box. “Thank you,” I said nervously to the perspiring farmer.
“How much do we owe you?” my mother asked uncertainly.
“Nothing, love,” he replied, his face a picture of relief. He walked rapidly back to the farmhouse before we could change our minds, with a definite spring to his step.
On return home my father had constructed a hutch out of an old cupboard, bearing in mind that my father was rubbish at DIY. It was far too small for my monster rabbit. In the hutch my new pet went and I fed it, watered it and cleaned its hutch out religiously and meticulously for approximately two weeks. The responsibility then landed on my mother’s reluctant shoulders. You would be forgiven for now thinking that I was a very irresponsible child and that your own children would never behave like that! However just a little more information regarding the character of my rabbit (which we had now named Speedy, due to its inability to be caught) may help you to understand why this sudden shift in responsibility had occurred. Speedy hated to be stroked, cuddled or picked up. Speedy was fantastic at scratching, kicking and making a threatening grunting noise when approached. Speedy lived the rest of its (never knew if it was male or female) life in its too small hutch or racing round the garden munching my not too impressed father’s tender vegetable and flower plants. Until one day I went to Girls Brigade camp and returned to a deceased Speedy. The guilt of whose death lies with my brother to this day who was given the responsibility of looking after it.
Fast-forward 20 years, and I had two children of my own. It did not take long before the cry of “Mummy can I have a rabbit, please?” was heard. Did I hesitate? Did memories of Speedy prevent me from saying yes? Of course not, I thought great news, my chance to do it properly and eliminate the guilty thoughts I still harboured for poor Speedy.I researched on the net, borrowed books from the library and scoured local pet shops to increase my knowledge on the breed of rabbit that would be best for the family, how to care for them and reputable breeders. I bought a hutch (cost a small fortune) food, hay, sawdust, food bowls, bottles and toys. It reminded me of when I was preparing for the birth of my first child. Oh and a rabbit run for the garden (again cost a fortune). I assembled everything and then began the search for my new rabbit – sorry, the kids new pet rabbit. I avoided pet shops as I’d read about intensively bred rabbits from bunny farms and sourced a reputable breeder some 40 miles away. We chose a beautiful pedigree male lion head rabbit with gorgeous fluffy fur in grey and white, compact and easy to handle and used to being handled (or so the breeder told us). We paid £40 for him and named him Bugsy, however after a couple of weeks we concluded that he actually should have been named Houdini, as his main purpose in life was to escape. He desperately chewed his hutch in his bid for freedom, chewed his run and burrowed under the lawn relentlessly until one day he succeeded and was never seen again.
Surely that’s the end of the tale? I hear you say. I’m afraid not. The hutch along with all its paraphernalia cried out desperately for a new occupant. So off we went to a well known pet store chain and chose a black lop eared rabbit whom we called Voldo after my son’s favourite martial arts character on his Playstation game. He was a lovely rabbit, friendly, cuddly and enjoyed the freedom of our garden during the day and obediently returned to his hutch at night. He used to come to the back door for rabbit treats. Success at last! Until one morning I noticed what I thought to be a piece of straw stuck to his mouth, on closer inspection it was actually a tooth growing from his bottom jaw (here’s where the story gets technical and gruesome I’m afraid). Off to the vets who confirmed that he had malocclusion due to mis-aligned teeth as well as abscesses in his mouth. Voldo had to be operated on and then we had to syringe feed him until his strength returned. Hundreds of pounds later and after numerous appointments at the vets he returned to his loveable self. The vet’s words of wisdom on how he wished people wouldn’t keep rabbits as pet due to jaw and digestion problems being so common and hard to treat and that the abscesses would definitely return rang ominously in our ears. Voldo’s treatment helped with our bonding to him, but he sadly died and I had the tricky task of breaking the news gently to my sons that Voldo had gone to bunny heaven. Here’s where my sons Catholic schooling was invaluable in cushioning the blow. Voldo’s condition was more than likely due to bad breeding.
The hutch was cleaned, disinfected and left empty for many months. We then got a beautiful grey mini lop doe from a friend. We have had her for two years now and she is docile, and friendly. I’m hoping that this concludes the tale although watch this space.
In conclusion if after reading my experiences you are still intent on getting a rabbit as a pet for your children, please take heed and research breeds, temperament, how well handled the rabbit is, ask to see parents of the baby bunnies and then cross your fingers.
The traditional British view of the pet rabbit is of a docile, cuddly animal that the children can play with. Unfortunately as illustrated by my experiences this is rarely true and this misconception is why 30,000 rabbits a year end up in rescue centres.
Although with a lot of input, research and human contact they can make great family pets, bear in mind that they are not naturally cuddly and docile at all.