*Dedicated to the memory of Quincy*
by Lisa Denkinger, former adoption director for HRS Chicago (parts here and there by Amy)
This month, we're going to talk about love. It's just that time of year. The weather sucks, so we need a little romance to warm things up. Well, your bunny, if he or she is an only bunny, just might like someone to cuddle with, too (besides you!).
A pair of bonded bunnies (AKA bunnies in love) are a beautiful sight to behold. They cuddle, they groom each other, they play, they sleep all huddled together. One bunny can be happy, but two bonded bunnies are undeniably happier together than they were apart. So...how do you go about getting a friend for your bun?
First, it's important to know what type of rabbit is likely to bond with your rabbit most easily.
Many people make the mistake of believing that a baby bunny is the best choice as a companion for their bun. Unfortunately, baby bunnies tend to get along with everyone until they reach puberty, between 4 and 6 months. At this point they can suddenly decide they despise the rabbit they've been living with for months. This can be disastrous, if they decide to start a vicious fight while their humans aren't at home. After the young one is spayed or neutered, the whole bonding process is back to square one.
Another common mistake is that people often believe that a female will get along best with a female, etc. This is untrue in the world of rabbits. A spayed female and a neutered male will usually be the easiest to pair. Other combinations are possible, but often more difficult to achieve.
So, you've decided what type of rabbit you think will be a good match for yours. Well, bunnies can be very territorial and they don't always like the friends us humans pick for them. However, my friends, who have bonded or helped to bond many pairs of bunnies tell me that almost all male neutered/female spayed pairs can be coaxed into the state of true love by a highly structured bonding process and a lot of patience. This process is well explained in the House Rabbit Handbook, 3rd edition, by Marinell Harriman (from Drollery Press). Check House Rabbit Society homepage for ordering information...or try Amazon.com
If your bunny is not spayed or neutered, you should consider it before going ahead and getting a 2nd bunny -- for obvious reasons. There are enough baby bunnies in this world already, and your goal shouldn't be to increase the population! In addition, neutering or spaying will calm your bunny and make the bonding process much easier and less stressful on BOTH bunnies. In addition, there is a significant risk of cancer for unspayed female bunnies and new evidence suggests that male bunnies may be at risk, too (though not to the degree female buns are). In addition, a whole slew of behavioural problems can be prevented by neutering/spaying, including spraying urine, agressiveness and excessive mounting.
Sometimes, bunnies will fall in love at first sight. And this is what you want...cause it's less stressful on all concerned (you and your bunnies!). But how can you arrange this if you go to the shelter and choose a bun? Well, you don't do it this way! The best thing you can do is find a shelter, humane society or chapter of the HRS (check the website for the closest location to you).
The HRS is unique...you can work with their adoption counselor to select appropriate candidates for your bunny. Most HRS chapters have experience in pairing rabbits and will be able to help you choose a bun who's likely to develop a bond with your current rabbit more easily and can provide you with helpful hints on how to make the relationship work. Also, if the pairing doesn't work, even with some time and energy put into it, HRS will find another rabbit for you to try.
If there's no HRS chapter near you, try calling one of the animal shelters in your yellow pages. But be prepared: they may have the experience and willingness to help people find that perfect rabbit, but most simply don't. If you are working with such a shelter, it's important to discuss the possibility of returning the rabbit if necessary. HRS chapters usually have the knowledge necessary to assemble a good group of prospective rabbit partners. In addition, check the shelter thoroughly before looking at any one rabbit to ensure it's a clean, well-kept place where the rabbits are treated well.
I usually discourage people from trying to pick the mate for their rabbit by how much it appeals to them. I think it's best for people to be open to any rabbit that their rabbit gets along with. Behavior is the primary key. This will almost always make things easier later on.
The initial meeting may be at a specially determined location at the foster home or shelter, or it may be in your home. If you're working with an experienced adoption specialist, let them show you the ropes. If the meeting is to take place at your home then try to use a neutral spot that your rabbit hasn't claimed as his own, find at least one other person to help you supervise the meeting and be prepared to break up any vicious fighting that may occur.
The pairing process doesn't stop there. You're going to have to be ready to spend time supervising meetings like the first one. Try to set aside at least 30 minutes daily for these sessions. You may find that you let them out together and they won't be able to stand each other for even five minutes at which point you'll want to split them back up. Other times they may be willing to be together for longer periods of time. What often happens is that rabbits will begin to get used to one another and tolerate the presence of the other. You'll need to be patient and persistent; the entire pairing process could take days or even weeks to be successful.
While all of this may sound surprisingly difficult, you'll know it's very worthwhile when you're able to pet your two happily bonded buns with just one hand.
Final note from Amy: We're currently in the process of bonding Newton with Quincy, a former HRS foster bunny. Because of allergies in the home, we felt we had to have a Mini Rex bunny, and we wanted a boy, to make pairing with our girl, Newton, easier. Quincy, the only bun that fit these criteria, came from HRS Massachussets -- a 12-hour drive from here. And, of course, we didn't have the opportunity to have Newton check him out before committing to bring him home. Now, we don't regret it, because he is an absolute doll and we adore him. But Newton doesn't, at least, not yet. We're continuing the bonding process and are confident that ONE DAY, they'll calm down enough (especially Newton) to love each other. In the meantime, we have supervised visits, daily, and just try to keep our patience intact. So don't ignore Lisa's advice...it's based on many, many adoption success stories.
And if we ever adopt another bunny, we'll make sure the present ones like the new guy first, and then give it the sniff test, before we commit to adopting.
One last final note: Quincy died February 28, 1997, at a vet visit for a runny eye (he had an immediate severe reaction - anaphylaxis - to an injection of penicillin and couldn't be revived). We have a strong suspicion that this prolonged attempted bonding process was too much for him and caused an underlying infection to come to the surface. So we strongly urge you to follow Lisa's direction...though we are so glad we had Quincy, even for a short time, we wish we hadn't put him through so much stress. We hope he'll forgive us.
- January 1997: Your Bunny's New Year's Resolutions (AKA diet and exercise hints)
- December 1996: Holiday hazards facing your bunny
- November 1996: Pet stores and your rabbit
- Sept/Oct 1996: How to bring your outdoor rabbit inside for good!
Disclaimer: Amy is not a vet. She is a person who loves rabbits. Please consult a qualified rabbit veterinarian when making any changes that will affect your rabbit.