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?

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I Made a Rabbit Hutch

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Last year, my dear old bunny-friend Stanley passed on to the great timothy grass pasture in the sky.  Through her and her life companion Alfalfa, I learned the immeasurable joys of house rabbits.  Being a bunny momma became a part of my identity, a reason to get up in the morning.  Since Stanley’s passing, I settled into a new house, traveled here and there, and planned for the day I’d be a bunny momma again.

I’d resolved that with new bunnies would come new, fantastic lagomorph living quarters.  Stanley and Alfalfa seemed quite content in their wire-cage chambers, but being the creative fashionista I pretend to be, I wanted something snazzier, more integrated into my decor, and –most importantly– something that would save space in my tiny bedroom.  After careful internet research and conversations with maker friends, I settled on the transformation of existing furniture, such as this entertainment center:

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$40 entertainment center from Craigslist

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inside, pre-gutting

I was processing difficult emotional trauma as I began to work on this project. The initial gutting, tearing, and breaking, combined with power tools and the presence of my friend’s large dogs, provided much needed relief for a healing soul. Working in an unheated garage in Wisconsin winter proved how tough we were (although I owe much to my insulated canvas work suit).  My friend worked on her own carpentry project at the same time, and our “Build ‘n’ Bitch” sessions made the winter quite bearable.

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shelving and one wall gutted, doors removed

I drafted a basic build plan after the initial gutting, during the long breaks between workdays.  I purchased about $50 in materials, such as grout, tile adhesive, latches, and carpet scraps.  Other hardware either my friend or I had laying around from prior building endeavors. The entire project took roughly 30 hours from start to finish, including sewing, painting, and other post-construction details.

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jagged jigsaw fun: hole between two floors of rabbit hutch

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busting out door panels

I decided to leave one section of the lower compartment separate from rabbit access.  This would be a shelf in which to store food, treats, extra chew sticks, and other rabbit supplies.

I used hardware cloth (which is not cloth at all, but a wire mesh) to replace the wood panels on the entertainment center’s doors.  If we didn’t already have this laying around, I probably would have used something a little less fine.

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after nailing on the hardware cloth using small staples; DIFFICULT with plywood

I added smaller ceramic tile to the floors of the hutch for basic water-proofing, easy cleaning, and the cuteness factor.  I’d seen this done with other furniture-hutch conversions online and made many trips to the ReStore searching for the coolest tile.  Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to install the tile, nothing awesome had been donated. Stuck with common beige, ah well!

Not having ever worked with ceramic tile before, and not owning fancy (and relatively expensive) tile-cutting tools, I played it by ear for this part.  Since the tiles were for a rabbit hutch and not human weight or aesthetics, I was okay with the risks of trial and error, which ended up being a handful of useless tile shards. That’s why I bought plenty of extra!

For bits of floor where a full tile would not fit, I needed smaller tile pieces to fill the space.  For the top floor, I was able to break enough tiles in half to look mostly rectangular.  I tried this first by setting tiles over a wire hanger and slamming down on it with the heel of my shoe.  That didn’t work great.  I did find, however, that placing the tiles in a bench vice and smacking them sideways with a hammer seemed to do the trick well enough!  (Wear your safety glasses, folks!) I ended up with several bits of odd-shaped tile in the process, some which I used for the bottom floor edge, mosaic-style.

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laying out the tile indoors, as adhesive & grouting needs above-freezing temperatures to set

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bottom floor mosaic edge, post-adhesion, pre-grout

For grouting, I followed the instructions that came with the product and watched a few You-Tube videos for technique.  I won’t share the particulars about this because I probably did it wrong!  (I also cut myself rather deeply on edge tiles; wear gloves, folks!)

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my first grouting experience; looks decent, don’t it?

I attached a carpeted ramp between floors using a hinge.  The hinge system will come in handy if I have two rabbits who need to be separated for a short period of time, or a single territorial rabbit I need to block off as I clean the hutch. I’m able to fold up the ramp and attach it with a hook to the bottom floor’s ceiling, effectively quarantining the two floors.

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measuring & cutting carpet to glue to the wooden ramp between floors

stairway to heaven... or at least the hay loft; note the hinge attachment for potential floor separation

stairway to heaven… or at least the hay loft; note the hinge attachment for potential floor separation

I understand that my rabbits may tear this carpet apart and gnaw on the ramp, so I will need to watch them carefully their first days in the hutch.  I plan to provide them with all kinds of toys to chew and dig, so my hope is that they’ll leave this part alone.  If you’re thinking of building something similar, untreated pine is perfectly safe for rabbits to gnaw & digest.

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re-attaching doors using the same hardware I saved upon gutting

To keep the doors secure from rabbit escape, I attached silver latches to each set of doors.  Silly me didn’t realize that said latches would not work on the bottom doors, which fold outward in the middle.  I added a metal bracket inside the doors to prevent them from folding, but the latch is still rather weak. I will fix this eventually, but in the meantime, an elastic hair tie around the door knobs works just fine.

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Whoops, this latch will not work with outward-folding doors! Doh!

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completed hutch, pre-decoration

I decided early in the process that my hutch’s “theme” would be Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A partner and I often spoke of naming our future bonded rabbits after characters Quark and Odo as we watched DS9 and snuck popcorn treats to Stanley.  Due to time, budget, and ability constraints, the theme morphed to a more general “space.” I still painted wormholes on the door knobs and snuck in a Cardassian space station and Starfleet’s USS Enterprise into the starscape that became the hutch’s ceiling.

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painting wormholes, like you do

I wanted my decor to be both stylish and safe for bunnies.  A cloth backdrop suspended from a spring-loaded curtain rod decorates the back wall with planets and moons.  I’m sure this will be nibbled at some point, but it is not deathly toxic.  To provide lighting in the dark hutch, I installed holiday lights through holes poked in a large piece of space cardboard (cardboard painted to look like space, nothing fancy).  The entertainment center was designed with various openings at the back wall for ventilation and plugs, so it was easy for me to slide the string of lights back to an outlet, all out of a bunny’s reach.  An old bike basket became a hay loft, from which a rabbit can pull out hay for snacktime.

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Fini!

So there you have it!  I look forward to watching bunny and/or bunnies test my work.  I’m sure there will be some improvements and changes as those adorable lagomorphs settle in and make a happy mess of the joint.  ‘Til then, I’m preparing with plenty of chew sticks, timothy hay mats, toys, and bunny puzzles.

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).