2012-04-01 / Viewpoints

Off The Cuff

By Keith Salisbury Citizen Editor

As Easter nears, rabbits hop again to the forefront of our national conscience. Images of delightful rabbits in general, and the Easter Bunny in particular are everywhere these days.

But in the Salisbury household, rabbits are on our minds 365 days a year, not just around Easter.

You see, My Favorite Spouse and I have had the good fortune to be the beloved caretakers of no less than seven house rabbits over the past 11 years or so. Not all at the same time, though, thank goodness.

We picked up our first dwarf rabbit in the summer of 1999. Marshmallow was an educational experience for us. It took our little three-and-a-half pound quite awhile to get his humans trained to his way of thinking.

We chose a rabbit because My Favorite Spouse is allergic to cats, and we lived in a rented house and weren’t allowed to have an indoor dog. We thought a rabbit would be a good choice, and he was, but we had no idea how complicated our lives were going to get.

Marshmallow was supposed to be my wife’s pet, but for whatever reason, he chose me as his number one human. He enjoyed spending time with “mom,” but when he was scared or needed comfort, it was “dad” he turned to. And he was scared of so many things. When My Favorite Spouse vacuumed the living room, Marshy came back to my office to be with me because he was afraid of the vacuum cleaner. He hated going camping because barking dogs made him nervous. Thunderstorms? Yup, we’d have a quivering mass of white fur. I eventually taught him to hide under his ledge during thunderstorms so he’d feel safer when we weren’t home. I know. He was already under the roof of our home, and the roof of his cage, but that one more layer made the difference for him. We later decided he had been raised outside where he had learned to equate barking dogs and thunder to physical danger.

A couple of years later, we added our second bun to the family when our great-niece bred her female rabbit to her grandmother’s male rabbit and raised a litter for the county fair. She wanted us to take one of the babies because she wanted to know at least one was going to a good home. As her father later said, “that little bun’s going to be living at the rabbit country club.” And he did.

My Favorite Spouse was at first resistant to the idea – until the day she saw and held the little furballs, their eyes not even open yet. Somehow she and Butterscotch seemed to pick each other.

And Butterscotch was the exact opposite of his adopted brother, Marshmallow. Where Marshy was afraid of everything, Butter was afraid of nothing. He’d grown up around dogs who were used to rabbits, and didn’t consider them a threat. In fact, he liked to go with us to my sister-in-law’s and tease her Saint Bernard and our niece’s Great Dane. Watching a little four pound rabbit hopping along on the outside of the fence completely oblivious to the two excited dogs on the other side was hilarious.

Camping? What rabbit wouldn’t love to go camping and have mom and dad all to himself for a weekend.

Somewhere along the line, though, somebody forgot to tell Butter he was a rabbit. He thought he was a puppy. It was so much fun watching him follow My Favorite Spouse around the house, coming when she’d call him.

And make no mistake, for Butter, the world revolved around her. I was definitely a distant number two on his list. Butter was a great caretaker bunny for my wife. One year she fell and broke a kneecap. In the evenings, I’d get Butter out and he’d lay on the back of the sofa by the hour, keeping mom company. Occasionally he’d come back to the computer room and check on me, then back to the sofa he’d go.

Much too soon, we lost Marshmallow. He wasn’t quite five years old when he died of kidney failure. Shortly after he passed away, I was surfing the internet one night and found a website for a rabbit rescue shelter in Northville. They played a dirty trick on susceptible suckers like myself – they posted photos of the rabbits. And there was one little brown Harlequin rabbit who seemed to call out to me across the web. We made arrangements to go down and check her out one day and ended up bringing Tabby Jo home with us. The day we went down she was scheduled to visit the vet to get “fixed.” That missed vet visit turned out to be significant. She had been abused and eventually tossed out into the cold. She’d ended up on a neighbor’s back step, was taken in and eventually turned over to the shelter. A couple of weeks later we found out why she’d been thrown out when she delivered four little pink squirming bundles. In checking the nest, we found Tabby had actually birthed five babies, but one was dead.

Since Tabby wasn’t a year old herself, as near as anybody could tell, we weren’t sure what kind of mother she’d be, so from the start we were checking the babies’ progress. We weighed them each night to make sure they were growing, and of course I was taking their pictures constantly. As a result, they all had their eyes open a full week before they should have. And because they were born just a couple of weeks before Easter, we had so much fun with them. For the Easter issue of the Tri-County Citizen that year, I put the four babies in an Easter basket, took a couple of hundred photos, and picked one for the front page of the paper.

At that point, we had six house rabbits residing in our living room. Needless to say, Butter was less than thrilled with the whole prospect. In the first place, he thought there were five rabbits too many. And he didn’t like Tabby – he thought she was pushy. But she dearly liked him and spent most of her free time trying to figure out a way to get into his cage.

And then about the time she had her babies weaned, Tabby died of a heart attack at the vet’s office, when we took her in for that much delayed check-up. After spending all that time raising the babies, and then losing Tabby, we couldn’t give up our little grandbunnies – probably the only grandchildren we’ll ever have. We would never have set out to raise bunnies in that manner, but we’ve certainly enjoyed the experience, and T.J., Tanner, Thunder and Tiny have given us years of unconditional love.

We’re down to four rabbits now. Butterscotch was almost nine when we had him put to sleep last year. He had developed health problems. He’d been blind with cataracts for a couple of years, but had learned to get around the house fairly well. But he also had seizures that slowly increased in frequency. After one particularly bad seizure that left his head turned to the right and his little eyes vibrating, we knew it was time to say goodbye.

From all that I’ve written, you might think rabbits make nice pets, and you’d be right. But they’re not right for everybody. Rabbits are much different than dogs and cats. While they can be litter trained, they are also messier and require just as much attention. The House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org) has lots of useful information about choosing rabbits as pets, in particular at Easter time. So many rabbits are purchased for Easter pets, and soon after end up in shelters around the country when people discover how much work is involved. If you’re seriously interested in a rabbit as a pet, check out the website. If you’re only casually thinking about a rabbit as an Easter present, follow the House Rabbit Society’s slogan and make it a chocolate one.

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