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The Dating Game
By Susan Smith
(Wisconsin House Rabbit News, Vol. 8, No. 1, March 2001)
Bunnies, like people, are social beings who crave daily interactions with companions. You may play with Bunny when you’re home, but who does he snuggle with while you’re at work or asleep? Rabbit couples spend much of their time together: laying side-by-side, pausing for mutual face grooming, or following each other to explore and play. Thirty-five years of house rabbits have convinced me that even my own, thoroughly spoiled rabbits are more relaxed and happy with a second rabbit. Many of our members agree! About half of Wisconsin HRS adoptions are for second rabbits.
The other keys to success are patience and flexibility. We humans are very particular in the companions we select for ourselves, and so are our bunnies. Indeed, they can be quite stubborn. Rabbits have their own mysterious, wonderful language that is only understood by other rabbits. They seek to fill special needs that we humans are not privy to. They do not share our human biases as to size, appearance, and breed. Rabbits know who they are seeking in a companion, and the human who insists upon “this lop” or “that dwarf” will be likely disappointed. We need to keep as open a mind as our rabbits do.
The Singles Scene
What do we look for in a date? Just like with people, we seldom see “love at first sight.” More typically, Thumper and Bugs will ignore each other. They may chase and mount; this is not sexual and instead it is an outlet for their excitement in meeting other rabbits. Other couples seem to ignore each other, but the careful eye reveals radar ears tuned to each other’s movements. Some mirror the others’ behavior, washing faces or grooming in unison. Rabbits show their dislike for each other by boxing and growling; we immediately separate such rabbits and don’t try them again. Overall, first dates seldom last more than fifteen minutes; beyond that, bunnies get stressed and cranky and tend to snap at each other.
For stubborn couples, more drastic measures may be necessary. Mutually shared, gentle stress is a good bunny adhesive. Techniques that work include placing both rabbits in the same transport carrier: during a vigorous car ride; when swung in a slow, gentle arc; or atop a washing machine during its spin cycle. Swap their cages (including litter boxes) every day or two; this acclimates them to the new smell and teaches them that the new rabbit is not threatening. However, never, ever let a loose rabbit come in contact with the caged rabbit; this encourages aggression and biting through the cage wires. All exercising must be done in a separate room where the rabbits cannot contact each other’s cages.
Finally, remember that rabbits are sensitive to human moods. If you are stressed, they will be stressed and may reject their suitor. Some rabbits may be jealous of this new stranger. This situation can be emotionally difficult for you, especially if you are not willing to share your rabbit with his new companion. This means putting some emotional distance between you and your rabbit, temporarily, so that he accepts this new comfort in his life. He won’t love you any less; instead, you’ll have two rabbits teasing and nudging you, instead of just one.
Tails from the Dating Scene
Alfie was a “mama’s boy.” Why have a girl when he had a human? His first companion didn’t last long; he had no interest in Misty and drove her off. When rabbit #2 arrived, Alfie was ready. Yet Buttercup didn’t retaliate; she had no incisors due to malocculsion and thus didn’t fight him. His wise human reduced the time she spent with Alfie, and over the next several weeks he learned to trust this odd rabbit. Gradually he even learned that he could nudge her for attention. It took two, patient months, but Alfie discovered that he had, not one, but two girls who would give him attention. He needed to learn that his human didn’t reject him; his mom’s “tough love” directed his understanding that a rabbit companion did not threaten his happiness.
When Anton’s brother died, he was inconsolable. He dated several foster rabbits, yet even after several months, none of them interested him. Anton wasn’t aggressive; they weren’t “right” and he ignored them. Out of desperation, we introduced him to Samantha, eight pounds of big girl versus his four pounds of mini-rex. He approached her, sniffed, and then licked her nose. She licked back. And that was that. Eight years later, they are the most tightly bonded couple we’ve ever seen—and the fastest.