Sometimes the best lessons in life arrive in small furry packages. This is certainly true of Ted, the small rex rabbit I adopted on January 6, 2002 . Throughout my childhood and teen-age years I shared my life with pet rabbits, but nothing prepared me for this guy! He is older, having spent the past 6 years in a home where he was obviously loved by his woman (later I understood from him that he was not treated well by the man). When I picked him up from the MSPCA shelter, he came with his own personalized Christmas stocking!
Ted was afraid in the shelter, but seemed very affectionate. He wanted a guarantee that he would be a “house rabbit”, he would not have a cage, and would run free in the house. I said, “no problem”. When we arrived at our house with Ted, I explained to him that I needed him to live in the spare bathroom for a day or two while we “rabbit proofed” the house, the cats adjusted, and most importantly he proved his litter training. Needless to say he was very offended. Whenever I opened the door to visit him he would say, “you told me I was going to be a house rabbit!”
Ted seemed surprised that I knew what he was saying to me. At first he tried to pretend that he could not understand me. When he realized that I was willing to help him if he talked with me, he opened up. At the end of the first day I asked him if there was anything I could bring him and he replied, “parsley”. I did not have any on hand and promised to buy some the next day. It turns out that parsley is Ted’s favorite so we make sure that the refrigerator is stocked. (Like many bunnies he loves bananas most of all, but they are not considered healthy treats, so we offer them sparingly.)
Understanding how important it was for Ted to be a house rabbit, we put all of our energy into “rabbit proofing” the lower floor of our house. This involves making certain that all wires are out of bunny reach, and being sure that no shoes, quilts, or favorite things are within chewing range of the rabbit. Once rabbits find something they want to chew, it is often destroyed before you know about it, so it is best to be safe from the start. When we finished rabbit proofing that floor, we let Ted out, and he danced and played and was very happy for two days. On the third day he started biting our ankles and letting me know that his care was “unacceptable”. I asked him what was wrong and he replied, “You promised that I would be a house rabbit and I want the rest of the house.” So, another weekend was spent rabbit proofing most of the upstairs. We let Ted up during the day, but put him in the bathroom at night (both of the cats were afraid of him and we did not want to leave them together unattended). He was joyful and happy for two days. On the third day he started biting again and told me his care was “unacceptable”. He explained that he wanted to be free all day and all night.
I had a long talk with Ted and the cats, and explained that if Ted was free all of the time, then I needed to know that they were all safe with each other. They all assured me that although they were not friends yet, Ted could be free at night and no one would get hurt. A few days later Nikita accidentally fell asleep on the floor. Ted discovered him and began to groom him, licking the fur on his hips. Trying to cover the entire cat, Ted put his front foot up on Nikita, and he still slept. Then Ted put his other foot up and Nikita stirred. He slowly looked over his shoulder and to his horror realized there was a rabbit standing on him, licking him! I was worried that he would react violently, but he quietly scooted out from under Ted, and has not slept on the floor since. This interaction gave me the assurance that although Nik feared Ted, he would not hurt him.
Ted was happy for several days with his new freedom, and then I made a huge mistake. I wanted to clip his claws, so we sat on the couch holding him and clipped a few. He became very upset. That night he attacked Tim and I while we sat on the same couch, and for the next eight days he got on the couch and raged (biting and digging at it). He accepted my apology, but would not forgive the couch. I tried communicating with him about it everyday, but nothing seemed to help (my couch was worse for the wear). He told me again that my care was “unacceptable”. Part of me felt like giving up on him. I began resorting to training techniques like blowing a whistle while he was on the couch, putting perfume on the couch to “stink” him out, and bribing him to stay off with banana chips. Everything made him worse, and I felt guilty for trying such techniques on him.
Finally I had a long talk with him and told him that I would follow any care instructions he had, and I would take new instructions each day. He told me that he was hurt that his other people left him at the shelter and wanted to speak with them. I made an effort to contact his woman, but could not. I told him that I would do everything I could to make him happy here. He said he wanted full freedom all of the time, parsley every day, and a furry friend. I could not adopt any new friends for him, but I asked May to give the rabbit a chance. She immediately walked over and rubbed on him, flirting as best she could. He licked her a few times then nipped her on the leg. She looked at me and said, “This is just too much to ask!” I explained to Ted that it was very hard for our family to give him what he wanted when he was constantly pinching everyone on the ankles. We continued our daily talks and he slowly became content and decreased the ankle biting- even May gave him a chance every couple of days.
I built him the most fantastic rabbit fort, made of sticks, 100% edible, and it creates a safe hiding spot for him. After the arrival of the fort he was really happy for many days. All of his grumbling ended, except an occasional fit on the couch. So, I talked to a Behaviorist who suggested putting a plastic carpet runner prickly side up on the couch. That cured the problem immediately (although I prefer to solve issues with communication in general).
Now Ted has lived with us for six-weeks and for the most part all is well. He still becomes very angry or upset (pinches our ankles) when we have visitors or if we watch too much T.V. (particularly sports). As I become more aware of his thoughts, habits, and emotions, I feel us growing closer. This experience has shown me that I still have a lot to learn about patience, animal communication and myself, and I am sure Ted is ready to teach me!