Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tru Wuv - AKA Rabbit Psychology 101

The Impressive Clergyman: And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva . . . So tweasure your wuv . . .

I'd be willing to bet money that if I asked you if you thought rabbits were capable of strong emotion you'd say not in a million years. A year ago I would have agreed with you. Two years ago I would not have expected any more emotion from a rabbit than I'd expect from a post. But now I know differently.

I'm about to tell you two rabbit stories that will sound very much like I poached them from one of those touching emails people pass around but they happened to me and my very own rabbits.

These are my first two rabbits, Merrie and Pippin. (Merrie has the darker face.) They are siblings and in the picture are young enough to be kept together. Later, when they had to be separated I put them in side-by-side cages. They were never particularly affectionate, to each other, I mean. I never caught them sniffing noses or even sitting next to each other separated only by wire. About the only thing you could possibly ascribe to an outward show of affection was that they pooped in the corners of their cages nearest each other. In my world that would really indicate the opposite sentiment, but they are rabbits, after all.

Anyway, time passed and I got more rabbits and eventually I changed everyone over to stacks of three cages one on top of another and side by side. Nine in all. In the process of relocating everyone Merrie ended up on one level and Pippin on another. I didn't think anything of it and for awhile nothing seemed to change.

Then, slowly, I noticed Pippin wasn't interested in food and he grew more listless. He didn't hop around at all just laid in his cage wheezing. I know he has a small tumor under his jaw and I thought maybe he was riddled with cancer and I just didn't know it. I didn't expect him to be with us long. He was barely pooping at all (in rabbits that's like being on your death bed.) I started the usual treatment (IV fluids and Critical Care.) Twice I brought him back from the brink of death and he started to eat a little but then he'd head downhill again.

I felt sorry for him - dying of cancer as I supposed - so I let him have extra time in the hoppy pen. That was when I noticed something strange. In the hoppy pen he acted perfectly normal, hopping around, still not eating or pooping, but certainly not laying on the floor wheezing like he did in his cage. Then one morning when I came down the stairs there was Pippin sitting up on his hind legs looking into one of the cages as if he was having a chat over the garden fence. Amused, I said, "So, Pippy, who are you visiting with?" As it hit me (like a two-by-four over the head) that it was MERRIE he was "chatting" with it also dawned on me to wonder if he might be MISSING Merrie. I figured it couldn't hurt anything if I moved him next door to Merrie so I did.

Originally his hay rack was hanging on the cage on Merrie's side and one of the first things he did was rip it off the wall (several times) until I finally put it on the other side. From the second I put him in that cage he started acting like a normal rabbit again. No more wheezing, no more listlessness. He started eating and pooping and drinking. Today he's probably the healthiest rabbit I have.

If I hadn't gone through this experience I may never have realized what was wrong with Fergal. I had put him downstairs with the other rabbits in the fall and at first I thought he was happy. He never seemed particularly unhappy. But slowly he started to exhibit the same behavior Pippin had when he was pining. Fortunately I suspected the trouble and realized he was pining too, but Fergal was pining for ME. He missed living upstairs. So I trundled him upstairs, gave him plenty of attention, and slowly he got his health back and now he's happy as a lark.

"I never realized rabbits were smart," I said to Dr. Bruce, my bunny vet, one day.

"Oh, they are," he said, "very smart. But they're subtle. They're not like a dog or cat. They won't tell you what's wrong. You have to be very observant."

Truer words were never spoke.

I'm considering a career change. I'll find a little couch and become a rabbit psychologist. I'll keep a bowl of baby carrots on my coffee table and take my notes on lettuce leaves while I ask, "And how does that make you feel?"

Not Oprah, perhaps, but maybe better.

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