San Diego House Rabbit Society. "Spend time just sitting quietly on the floor."
I have some rabbit stories. When I was little, nine or ten maybe, my grandfather was cutting a wild meadow with a Gravely walk-behind mower, a massive unit that cuts four-foot-wide paths through grass. My brother and I were playing and hardly even noticed that the buzzing of the mower had stopped or that my father had emerged from the house and was now standing with his father-in-law, both of them looking down, scratching their heads, holding a conference. We ran over to see, naturally, what warranted such scrutiny.
There, depressed in a dimple in the fresh-cut meadow, lay six quivering, terrified baby rabbits. The Gravely, beast that it was, had run over a den of some sort, had dispatched of a parent or two— or had not, it was impossible in fact to tell — and had shaved the fur and a little skin off the scalp of one of the babies. I absorbed the sight and my world went black. The Horror, the Horror: wounded bunnies.
Now, had we at that moment the wherewithal !o go online, things might have turned out differently.
We might, for example, have launched a search using “rabbit care” as our terms, which very likely would have led us to the vast — strangely vast — website of the San Diego House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org/chapters/san-diego/index.htmI). This site, which takes its mission as seriously as many hospices, operates more efficiently, and has more content than many Red Cross chapters. The essential points of the House Rabbit Society philosophy are: “That all rabbits are valuable as individuals, regardless of breed, purity, temperament, state of health, or relationship to humans.... That rabbits are intelligent, social animals that require mental stimulation, toys, exercise, environmental activity, and social interaction with, as appropriate, people, other rabbits and other household companion animals.”
Though nothing on that day in the meadow could have been more important than this instruction in the fundamental rights of rabbits, a little lesson in rabbit health and comportment might have helped as well. Granted, these orphans were outdoor creatures and were not bred for the hutch life, but their skittish behavior should not have intimidated us as much as it did. After all, as the “Kids” page at the site tells us, “There are shy bunnies and active ones; big rabbits and small ones; some with ears that stick up and some with ears that hang down. There are white, brown, gray and even red-haired bunnies; some have spots, some don’t. Some bunnies like to be held; others would rather be left alone.”
Rabbits, the site tells us constantly, are complicated animals, and anyone taking one home from the San Diego Humane Society or House Rabbit Society had better be ready to deal with this fact.
“Bunny,” for example, “will be more active in the morning and the evening. The rest of the time she will probably want to sleep.” Rabbits, it turns out, only want to play at dawn or dusk, and even then there are strict rules: “The first rule in communicating with a rabbit is to get down on the floor. The second rule is to get down on the floor.” Even this, apparently, does not guarantee a good relationship with your rabbit: “If he seems to avoid you at first, spend time just sitting quietly on the floor, not approaching him, not trying to pick him up.... Do not rush this introduction. Remember, a rabbit is an animal of prey.” In the end, though, you can do much more harm to a rabbit than it can to you: you can frighten a rabbit to death without even touching it.
Rabbits have as much difficulty socializing with each other as they do with humans. The site gives vivid descriptions of how rabbits might fight, nip, and mount each other in territorial disputes right in your living room. “Fighting is usually an instantly, purposely vicious attack. Rabbits sometimes attack the other rabbit’s face, underside, and genital area.” Notwithstanding their fierce resistance to domestication and socialization, the San Diego House Rabbit Society does its best to sell rabbits. Posted here are close to a dozen anecdotes about successful adoptions of rabbits with names like Bugsey, Whiskers. Hobo, and Henna.
Had we only known. As it was, the bunnies we found in the meadow that day died, of course. My grandfather persuaded us that the humane thing to do was to drown the injured babies — “to put them out of their misery" is the accepted phrase. W e put the rabbits in a brown paper bag, filled it with rocks, and threw the package off a river bridge. The rocks fell out of the bag before it hit the water, and my brother and I watched the pathetic bundle float slowly downstream. That summer, in bed at night, I listened to the high-pitched death shrieks of rabbits being killed by foxes in that same meadow. Ten years later I met Nigel, a blue-gray rabbit my girlfriend brought home from a shelter. Nigel stank, and he shit in my bed; like a fairy from another world, Nigel left me little pellets to discover under my pillow. I got over rabbits.