Bunny Love: What My House Rabbit Teaches Me About Relationships

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bunny momma

Adoption Day Portrait by my human

I’m a real sucker for weirdos, both human and non-human. Last April, I arrived at the Humane Society’s rabbit adoption center thinking, “alright, this time, I’m going to adopt a ‘normal’ rabbit.*” After eight years with persnickety rabbits and two difficult years of lagomorphic elder care, I wanted an “easy” bun, a bun to snuggle on my lap, to offer affectionate licks, and to relax upon being picked up. I was shown such a rabbit, a soft gray buck that lay docile in his cage staring up at me with big black eyes.

But I was distracted. A large black bunny was going nuts in the exercise area, digging potential escape routes and sassily kicking up her heels. “She doesn’t get along with other bunnies; I don’t think she’ll ever be bonded,” the volunteer warned me. Diamond Diva had been overlooked for most of a year at the center, with a brief adoption failed due to her aggression towards other animals. This fierce beast was smart, the only bun at the center who could solve a wooden puzzle that rewarded treats. She was a weirdo disconnected from her warren. Intelligent, active, independent… it was love at first sight, no questions asked.

I get myself into these kinds of relationships often. The challenging, exhilarating ones. The ones that push growth through conflict and compromise. Perhaps I subconsciously seek them out, looking for my next puzzle to piece together, striving for solutions to a happy life. At any rate, when I adopted Major Kira Nerys Diamond Diva, I didn’t realize that I was bringing a new mentor into my life, a fuzzy cotton-tailed teacher to remind me how to act with love and respect.

As I was preparing for bunny (which involved months of fancy hutch-building!), I was falling in love with a new human in my life. Having come out of two serial monogamous relationships, I was enthusiastic about my new human’s interest in an open relationship. I had spent most of my twenties in polyamorous partnerships (or destroying monogamous ones before identifying my poly needs), so I was ready to get back on track. However, those three-ish years of monogamy confused my internal wiring. Because friends, family, and lovers saw me as a mainstream, monogamous heterosexual, I internalized the roles of Girlfriend and Future Wife, and all of the assumptions that go along with those identities. I started to see the harmful effects of these mainstream stereotypes in my new human relationship that was supposed to be autonomous, celebratory, and respectful. Much of our mutual pain was a result of insecurities relating to relationships and self. I felt overbearing, greedy, and hysterical as I tried to replicate what a mainstream, big-R Relationship was supposed to look like, even as I preached alternative lifestyles. These forced expectations were not welcome on behalf of my human.

In my recovering from monogamy, it took a rabbit to identify the reasons why the new human and I weren’t getting along. In my relationship with my rabbit, I do not identify us as Owner and Pet. We are co-conspirators; I tend to her needs as she communicates them to me, and through her I gain insight, accomplishment, and a really cute bunny to ogle across the room. I don’t look at her as if she owes me anything; she is a free agent. Some days, Kira is outright miserable: nipping at my clothes, growling at my approaching hands, and staying as far away from me as possible. But other days she binkies with joy to see me, nudges my feet for attention, and does her tooth-grinding purr as she settles in for a good petting. It’s me she looks to when frightened, me she seems to trust most in her world. Kira was not always this way. Over the period of a year, she slowly, cautiously warmed up to me in ways I never expected, and our relationship is still developing. How did I create an environment for us to grow in this way? Through respecting her boundaries, giving her what she asks for within my own limits, and being patient. It hit me hard when I realized that I was not doing the same for my human.

My human and I broke up one year into our Relationship. Breaking up was the best thing for us; I feel immensely closer to him since. From an outsider’s perspective, we still act like a Couple, and often do Couple-y things together: smooching, crying on each others’ shoulders, or going on dates. But escaping that mold of Boyfriend-and-Girlfriend made all the difference when it came to the conflicts that constantly strained our partnership. Since the breakup, we have reset our relationship the way we had wanted it in the first place, built on a foundation of mutual respect and interdependent autonomy. This partnership is somehow easier to navigate without defined terms to describe it.

Like Owner and Pet, the title of Couple is loaded with expectations I am not actually interested in living up to. At this point in my life, I don’t want to get married, I don’t want kids, and I don’t want to feel obligated to a partner’s family or vice versa. I don’t want it to be assumed that a partner and I will share a bed every night, or that we’ll spend our mutual days off together. And I don’t want to be asked in small-talk banter, “So how’s your human doing?” assuming I’m in constant communication with them. The Couple title seemed too much for me to navigate when talking with friends, family, and coworkers who are more conservative or mainstream. The power of this one word, this one concept, seemed to negate my experiences past, present, and future.

What I do want is intimacy, security, and support, and all of these things need not come from a single person. I wish to foster these conditions using all of my relationships, not only lovers, but friends, family, housemates, coworkers, and animal familiars. I want to establish relationships based on particular shared visions with individuals, not governed by what the latest TV dramas, blog articles, or dreamy Instagram photos assume I should be doing at 31 years old.

As with my bunny, I am very close to my human. I strive to treat him as I do with any other animal companion: to give him space when he needs it, to give him special treats, to enjoy the experiences we share together, and to celebrate interests of his that lay outside of our relationship. There is little obligation beyond basic care and respect, and this seems to work well for my bunny, my human, and myself. Through ensuring their general comfort, I’ve found confidence in communicating my own needs to them. In house rabbit care, there are times I need to invade Kira’s space to clean up messes. She is upset, but this assertion on my part leaves us both in a healthier, safer space. I can only hope that the times I’ve brought conflict to my human will prepare us for healthier, safer spaces into the future, for as long as we keep our un-Coupled conspiracy active.

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Major Kira Nerys Diamond Diva

 

 

* We all know “normal” is a construct that doesn’t actually exist, right?

A Bunny Obituary

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I said goodbye today, to a furry friend of many years.  Ms. Stanley “Stannis Bunratheon” Bunny has been with me since I moved to Madison in 2006.  She is survived by her previous adopted parent Sara D., papa Kurt, Grandbunparents Mary Ann and Steve, and step-dad Jon.

A lot can happen in a bunny’s life in 16 years, and I am happy to have been around for half of it.  She was a stalwart character in the many places I’ve lived with her.  Always feisty, always disapproving, always excited for popcorn, greens, and yogurt drops.  In the years since her bunny friend Alfalfa passed, she’s slowed down, chilled out, and started relying on me for cleaning, comfort, and safety.  In return, she would lick the tears from my eyes when I was sad, or show concern by thumping when I was *ahem* violently ill.  Stanley was a fan of digging holes in the dirt and relaxing under broad-leafed chard in the garden.  She loved her dark, enclosed hiding-place under my desk, the most difficult to extract her from when it came time to put her back in her cage.

It was difficult towards the end, having to provide hospice care for the old lady, the Energizer Bunny who was so stubborn as to defy death time and time again.  She refused to be still, practically dragging her arthritic legs just so she could keep exploring, to reach those tasty dandelion leaves a few inches away.  I learned a lot from her undying spirit.

I will miss coming home and singing to her, her snuffling snoring sneezing sounds, the feel of her infinitely-shedding fur between my fingers as I groomed her.  She was a good bunny.

Stanley and Alfalfa, on one of our first nights together (2006).

Stanley and Alfalfa, on one of our first nights together (2006).

Uncle Joshua reading to the bunnies shortly after moving into the Anthill (2010).

Uncle Joshua reading to the bunnies shortly after moving into the Anthill (2010).

Stanley's 16th birthday, celebrated at Topskurtistan (2013).

Stanley’s 16th birthday, celebrated at Topskurtistan (2013).

A Farewell to my Twenties

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Today I turn 30.  I’m not big on counting numbers or playing by the unspoken rules of society’s standards. Although I’m just starting to enter middle age, I like to think I keep a certain vigor and optimism about me often associated with youth, even with the cynicism creeping in.  I strive to be energetic, yet chill, spontaneous, yet responsible, impulsive, yet cautious.  I love defying people’s expectations at every turn.

On this third of April, I wish to share feats both large and small accomplished in my twenties.  It was certainly a decade of coming-of-age, of change, of finding my own feet and taking off running.  And stumbling, picking myself up, and running in some other direction.  I’m a person of motion, of adventure, and of new experiences, and I look forward to what a new decade will bring for this little Hobbit.

Twenty-nine Triumphs & Turmoils of Tops’ Twenties:

  1. Science!  I used to be a research assistant in genetics, and I’ve even had some work published.
  2. I wrote several songs on my guitar, possibly at least one about Harry Potter.
  3. Rock-climbing and contra dancing.
  4. Anarchism and biocentrism.
  5. Polyamory, and many lovely & not-as-lovely relationships.  I learned how to have good sex.
  6. Bicycle mechanics!  I built my first bike and my first wheelset.  Haven’t had to true those wheels since!  Seriously.
  7. I graduated college with a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Biological Sciences, minoring in Chemistry.  I attended graduate school in a PhD program for Genetics.  I dropped out when my passions waned.
  8. I went on my first cross-country road trip, with my dad.  Best memory: waking up on a bare mattress in the middle of the badlands surrounded by a herd of buffalo.
  9. I rode and helped organize my first alleycat races in Pittsburgh and Madison: the War-Haul, Rub-a-Dub, Pussy Cat, Madtown Maidens, Scaredy-Cat, and many more.
  10. I moved to Wisconsin!  Cheese, beer, brats, and old-fashioneds!  I still miss Pittsburgh pierogies, though.
  11. Hitchhiking.
  12. Bunnies and chickens.
  13. I got involved with many community/activism groups: FreeWheel Community Bike Shop, Drumlin Farm, Food Not Bombs, Madison Infoshop, Critical Mass, GrassRoutes Caravan, Beehive Design Collective, Madison Free Skool, Muffin Club, Grassroots Leadership College, Groundwork, Bash Back! support, and the list goes on….
  14. Fertility Awareness.
  15. I wrote a few zines, including “Poly Oly Oxen Free: a zine about polyamory,” which was used in workshops around the country.
  16. I was arrested twice.  Once as a zombie, once naked.
  17. I spent half of a decade working with teens at DreamBikes, and found the work rewarding and fun.
  18. I visited a prison in my “neighborhood,” and started writing letters to some of those within.
  19. I participated in an entrepreneur program and wrote a viable business plan for a small bicycle repair shop.  I also started an Etsy store for bicycle cross stitch and bike zines, a store which I still occasionally maintain.  How capitalist of me.
  20. Bicycle tours: Madison to the Twin Cities with 40 people, Milwaukee and back, Iowa and back, the Maine coast, Seattle to the Mississippi River, and many shorter trips around southern Wisconsin.
  21. Celebrating my inner nerd: WisCon, steampunk, Ring Game, Harry Potter, and too many costumes to count.
  22. I lived in the small rural town of Ashland, Wisconsin for almost two months.
  23. I learned how to better manage my anger, mood swings, and occasional obsessive/compulsive behavior.  Or maybe I just grew out of that emo phase….
  24. I lived collectively in various anarchist-oriented houses.  Dishes were always a problem.
  25. I maintained semi-successful vegetable gardens, and learned how to put food by: pickling, fermenting, canning, and freezing.
  26. I tanned deer hides and started hunting again, slowly learning traditional archery.
  27. I finally got my drivers license and even owned a car for a year.
  28. I saw my widdle brother get married, becoming the most loving husband I’ve ever known.  What a guy he is!
  29. So many good friends, many of whom live all over the country now, one of whom has passed away, and all of whom I miss dearly.