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.