A Bonding Experience

by Gretchen Kunze-Fahrney

I am so, so happy to say that it is finally over, after eight long months. The story goes like this: My husband and I work 40 hours a week, so we decided to find a friend for our rabbit, Hop Along Cassidy (Cassidy). I contacted several rescues and Zooh Corner was the first to return my call. We talked about Cassidy and possible rabbit friends, and I made an appointment for our first “bunny date”.

The first bunny we tried was Charmer, a little white mini lop who had survived three days alone in a cage with a boa constrictor, but she was a little too aggressive in her attempts to get affection. She scared Cassidy, so we decided to try another bun and see if that went better. Alex suggested Peter, a fairly new arrival at the Zooh, but right before they were to meet, Peter had a heart attack (upon necropsy it was discovered that Peter had an extremely weak heart wall)! We waited a bit longer and one day Alex called me and asked me, “How about two rabbits?” She had a bonded pair of fuzzy lops, a mother and daughter, who were at a foster home. I said sure, but I had to talk my husband into two, and when he finally said okay we brought Cassidy to Zooh Corner for a weekend date.

The date went so good (The bunnies never even tussled! They just immediately got along like long-lost buddies, cuddled and groomed for the entire weekend… – Ed.) that on Monday night Alex brought the three bunnies back to our house. Cassidy…Mischief and Shadow. The at-home dating was going good, until one night a fight broke out between Cassidy and Shadow and we had to take poor Shadow to the emergency room to have her ears stitched up. We were too nervous to continue the sessions right away, so things were put on hold until the stitches came out.

Dating resumed in an extra bedroom and occurred only a couple of times a week. I would spend the date time sitting in the same area with them, so that I could be there in case a fight broke out and also so they could get used to me and I could learn about their personalities. I learned that Shadow was the shy one, although she is also curious. She was once found trying to exercise on the Orbitrek (exercise bike) and another time teetering on the top of the two joined x-pens (she has great balance). She would come up to me and bump me with her head, and she was Mischief’s little “shadow”. Mischief didn’t get her name changed from Mommy for a month and a half. She is the most mischievous of the three. She gets into everything and anywhere. She has even been found in the trash can! She is the leader of the gang. And of course Cassidy, our baby, is the lover. He loves to give kisses (to us) and is very submissive to the two girls. Everytime they fly by he puts his head down in hopes of a licking. Cassidy likes being up high. He can always be found lying on top of his cage or on the back of the couch. Things were going fine for a couple of weeks and then the rabbits started excessive marking of territory, so the bonding sessions were switched to the bathroom. After about a half hour in the bathtub they would all lie down. I then decided there wasn’t enough room and not as much interaction, so I moved the dates to the kitchen. Things were going well, until about a month later when we rescued and fostered some feral kittens, who stayed in our bathroom (adjacent to the bunny room) and that affected the bunny dates.

Little fights began to occur and fur would fly, so we decided to end the dates until the kittens were adopted out and then start again with a clean slate. That put us into August. It had already been approximately six months, so I knew I had to come up with a solution. Alex had said it many times: needed to be more consistent. So I started back up in the kitchen doing long “dates” every night. And when things were going good there, I moved them down into the bunny room (family room) in an extra X-pen, in the middle of their common area. I knew I needed to really dedicate myself to this bonding process and I made sure that they were in there every day for one to five hours. Even if I got home from art class at 10pm I sat down there for at least one hour. I did sessions at night and I sometimes came home at lunch and did sessions as well. After a couple of weeks I rearranged the bonding area so that it was sharing a common wall of the x-pen, their regular enclosure. When that was going fine, I opened up their regular x-pen areas into the extra x-pen area, so they could wander through each other’s cages as well as the bonding x-pen.

My only problem by this point was that Cassidy was still not used to this long hair that Mischief and Shadow have. He would groom their only short hair area, which happened to be around their eyes. This was very nerve wracking to my husband and me and we worried that Cassidy might injure them. They would jump back and sometimes box at him. Alex kept telling me that either Cassidy would learn to be gentler, or that they would learn to tolerate him, but that they needed to settle this part themselves, that it would just take time…and eventually, the fighting-due-to-bad-grooming ceased and things were good – so I took the final step.

One Saturday morning, I put the three bunnies in the extra X-pen, while I thoroughly cleaned their cages and put them in a new arrangement that made the two individual x-pens into one big one. I then let them back into their newly combined area and I stayed in the room the rest of the day. They wandered around and checked out their new digs. They were fine the whole day, but just to be sure, my husband and I slept in the room with them to make sure everything went okay during the night. Morning came and everyone was just fine and I am so happy to say, that after eight long months, I have helped pave the way for this happy trio of bunny friends.

Lessons Learned

If things are going really badly, taking a break to calm down and regroup can be good. Take things slow, at the bunny’s pace and as things progress, change the location of dates to get closer to non-neutral territory. Most of all BE CONSISTENT! Consistency is the most important part of a successful bonding experience. This is of course aside from having two spayed or neutered rabbits to start with. Good luck on your bonding experience and ask Zooh Corner for suggestions if things aren’t going well.

Ed. – Gretchen is a very dedicated and often over-worked Zooh Corner volunteer. We hope she will write many more articles for us in the future.

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