Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Misunderstood Souls (Cage-Aggression)

I have met hundreds of bunnies in my life, most of whom are down on their luck. They get dumped in parking lots, swamps, parks, school campuses, shelters and pet stores. The trend these days seems to be moving out and leaving your pet to fend for his or herself. Many of the bunnies that I meet are cage-aggressive. They can't help it, it's their way. Think of it from their perspective.
...Your eyes and facial structure were designed so that you could see and elude predators chasing you, so you can't see what's right in front of your face. A giant creature, all gangly and grabby and 20 times bigger than you, reaches its appendage right past your face. It could be a predator. It could be another rabbit, trying to assert itself. It's coming right at you, but you can't even see it. You and the creature don't speak the same language, or even behave the same way. Now, add to the mix that feeling of being abandoned and scared in a new place. Everything you know seems to have turned upside-down.
How would you react?
You'd want to defend yourself. To keep from getting hurt anymore.

Cage-aggressive bunnies aren't mean. They aren't stubborn or stupid. They are misunderstood.

Cage-aggression can be rooted in any number of problems. Is the rabbit used to being handled? Was it recently abandoned or re-homed? What has its confinement area been for its whole life [a hutch, cage, pen, stall, none?] How is the rabbit usually approached? Does he/she have a healthy social life [not being bullied]? The most common causes I see for cage-aggression are a rabbit who has just moved from a quiet home into the noisy, smelly shelter; or a rabbit who is picked up/fed/dealt with through the front of a kennel or cage, instead of through the top. What it always comes down to, though, is a simple miscommunication. Humans think that because rabbits "attack" them that it means they're mean, evil, rotten-hearted, stupid, stubborn creatures. When really, all the rabbit is doing is saying,"hey, don't do that. Don't shove your hand in my face and move all of my stuff around. Don't s
care me when you're trying to pick me up."
Abbey and Bella are both cage-aggressive. They came to me [and stayed with me] because of it. Bella's owner had long ago decided that Bella was an evil little critter and got fed up with not being able to go near the poor bun without getting her hand gnawed off. Bella, I'm happy to say, hasn't bitten me in over a year. When she does get startled she will "mouth", like a dog nips. Nothing that will break the skin just a little touch to say "yikes! where did you come from?! don't scare me like that!"
Abbey has never bitten me but she did used to lunge. After getting bounced between three foster homes, two shelters and two adoptive homes [all in 2 years] Abbey started to get very cage-aggressive, to the point where she was not considered to be adoptable anymore. After 6 months of having her I think she is 100% adoptable. She still lunges sometimes, and the other day I was holding a pellet of hay stretcher out for her and she nabbed my finger instead, but no one is perfect.

Cage-aggressive rabbits hold a special place in my heart, because even in the rabbit world, not everyone quite understands them, and not everyone has the patience for them. But I feel like I do. Figuring them out is a lot of guesswork and trial-and-error, which for some reason I enjoy.

This November I am remembering Benner, and celebrating my three-year Bellaversary.

Friday, September 17, 2010


My rabbits and personal life seem to keep creeping into my cavy care blog, Tasha's Tails. I would really like to keep these things separate, thus I have created BellaMonster's Lair.

We were
My life with rabbits began at the age of twelve when I acquired Blizzard, a baby Holland Lop, from a family friend who is a breeder. Blizzard didn't have the a perfect life, as we didn't research proper rabbit care further than the Xerox'd sheet of paper the breeder gave us--No iceberg lettuce, regular out-of-cage exercise, the occasional carrot. My little lop died tragically at the young age of four, of fly strike. For months following her death I read several books and browsed websites on rabbit care. I found The House Rabbit Society and located the nearest chapter--T.H.E. Rabbit Resource. I became instantly smitten with Anniken, an red-eyed white angora in foster care. I got all set up to adopt him, bunny-proofed my room, built a big C&C cage, got the proper foodstuffs, I even had plans to sew a special carrier bag for him so that I could tote him around comfortably. A week before I was set to pick Anni up, his foster mommy emailed me to say that Anniken had unexpectedly bonded with his neighbor-bun. She wasn't willing to part with either of them at the time.
No worries.
My second choice was a pair of big New Zealand Mix brothers, Benner and Newman. We set up a new transport date and a couple of weeks later, my mom and I drove to Utica, NY to pick up the guys. I fell in love with them. They were so big! And real! And... squishy!
Benner and Newman lived a happy life at my house for a whole seven months before Bella came into the picture. Bella came to me from a bit of a neglectful situation. She lived in a space in my basement known as "the bunny room" that I had constructed that past summer for the boys when it was too hot above ground. She was happy for about five minutes. Since then, Bella has never been afraid to make her opinions about every little thing known to the world. Bella had an on-again off-again relationship with the boys until Benner died suddenly and unexpectedly early one morning nearly a year after Bella's arrival. A few weeks before his death he had a bout of stasis, but had been eating and playing perfectly well for a week before his death. Necropsy results were inconclusive but I suspect heart disease. Newman was quite torn up by the loss of his brother, as was I. In an effort to ease my Newma-Bean's pain, I moved Bella into our room. The two bonded fairly swiftly.
A few weeks into my second semester of college, the opportunity arose to move out of my mother's house and I took it, toting with me my respective pairs of guinea pigs and rabbits.
The next year and a half was rather hectic for us. Our family grew, and then grew again. The animals moved back in with my mom while I was on a work-related trip in Texas, and shortly afterwards we crammed into a tiny, over-priced room in a local hippie's house.

We are
Now living in a yellow house with a friend, we're nine strong, with our newest addition being a beautiful black bunny named Miss Abbey. Originally taken in as a foster, hopefully to be bonded to The Beast, I couldn't bear to part with this soul and adopted her on my birthday last month. Both Abbey and Bella have lasting behavioral issues which spring from stress and past trauma, and both have improved by leaps and bounds since being in my care.
Bella and Abbey are both great about coming when they're called, and Bella is very good about letting me pick her up. A pet on her nose gets her to "bow" like she would if a mate were grooming her, and she doesn't struggle at all when being lifted. I'm hoping to get Abbey used to this practice, but it may take a while as she is a large, naturally bony rabbit, and being picked up is probably not very comfortable for her.

We will be
In the near future I hope to foster a couple of rabbits, since it looks like my financial situation is going to stabilize very soon. I would really like to adopt a dog but I'm not certain that my rabbits would be comfortable with that, and I can't guarantee that the next place we move to will have room for a dog, or that I will/would have the time for a pooch. As much as I'd love to, I want to do what's right for all of us.

Oh, and by the way, this blog isn't gonna be all about rabbits. There will be other stuff too. Like recipes. And me blathering on about my personal life. [But not too personal.]
But rabbits are a HUGE part of me, bigger in fact than cavies. I love my porcelli, but I wouldn't be whole without rabbits in my life.