Watching my pet rabbits’ ‘friendship’ makes me feel better

It starts after breakfast. He lies down, his girth overtaking their communal mat. She nuzzles, then reaches that hard-to-see space under his ear, the one that always itches. He returns her kisses, then they lollygag for a bit, until she’s done.

On it goes, this platonic romance between our Holland Lop mix of three years, Kiki, and her new best friend, Eeyore, a honey-colored velveteen rabbit that came to us five months ago.

We adopted Kiki early in the pandemic, when everyone in my family was home to watch the bunny learn to use the litter box and chew new toys. But these days I’m the only one here all day to watch Kiki and Eeyore’s burgeoning relationship, and it’s become something of a balm for me — my own live-action rom-com.

Better than that, their bond fascinates me, moves me and makes me temporarily forget that bunnies are messy fountains of need that will chew all your cords if you let them.

The months leading up to Eeyore’s arrival were an anxious and depressing time for me.

I went to three funerals for friends who died unexpectedly, all way too young. One of our daughters was in the hospital for a week with a stomach ailment, and I was still dealing with the effects of an emergency hysterectomy that triggered sudden menopause as well as occasional pain. Ukraine and Israel, two nations where my family has ancestral ties, were both at war. And I’m an environmental journalist covering a burning, melting, sinking world.

So maybe I was ready for a boost when I got a text from my neighbor Karen: “I don’t know if you heard, but I rescued a rabbit and I’m looking for a home for it.”

As a former House Rabbit Society volunteer, Karen knew that many shelters are not set up to take in rabbits, and bunnies raised to be pets lack outdoor survival skills.

When she couldn’t find the rabbit’s owner, Karen asked if I wanted to adopt it and offered to foster and take care of neutering the rescued rabbit until we were ready for him.

Save for fish that died quickly, we were a pet-free household until three years ago, when our children begged for something furry after their cousins got a pandemic puppy. Our kids researched the options and presented a PowerPoint on why we needed a bunny, and we brought home Kiki a few weeks later.

Kiki was easy. Soft and sweet, she moved into what had been our children’s playroom. I moved my office there because I’d read rabbits don’t like to be alone. Our children soon began asking for a second. Bunnies need friends, they pointed out, and Kiki was probably lonely.

We said no. We had harmony in the house, or as much harmony as one can have with a tween and a teen in a pandemic. Bunnies may like company, but they also don’t automatically get along. And people seeking a bunny partner are supposed to take their pet to meet other rabbits and see whether they bond, experts say. We had no time for that.

Plus, despite Kiki’s easy temperament, rabbits are not the simplest of pets: “Rabbits can make great pets, but they require a gentle touch, good knowledge of proper care and plenty of attention,” according to the Humane Society of the United States. This is one reason so many people abandon pet rabbits purchased as a whimsical Easter gift, rescue societies say.

But it was one thing to seek out a second rabbit, another to have one fall into our laps. I thought we should at least meet the little guy. I told my husband that if we adopted the rabbit, he could pick the name. He said I might as well investigate.

The “little guy” turned out to be huge, six pounds to Kiki’s dainty three. He had a cotton tail and big floppy ears — and I wanted to keep him. My husband asked why. The children weren’t begging for a rabbit anymore. At long last, things were sort of … easy.

I pondered before answering. It would be one good deed, I said. We couldn’t rescue the world, but we could rescue this rabbit. I’m not sure I made sense, but my husband said okay and named our new pet Eeyore for the bunny’s hangdog face and floppy ears.

Navigating the early days

On Kiki and Eeyore’s first date, a cage separated them. She was interested; he wasn’t. For the second date, where touching is allowed, rabbit experts advise a new, neutral space. We chose our bathtub. She initiated; he accepted, if grudgingly. For the third date, we put them together for a few hours.

They then enjoyed a bunny-moon in Karen’s basement. They ate from the same bowl, drank the same water, slept in the same litter box. They came home to us a week later, a bonded pair.

Eeyore is not easy. His appetite occasionally necessitates late-night grocery runs for collard greens. He fears loud noises — he lost it when Santa came by on the firetruck, calming only after Kiki soothed him. He noses Kiki out of the way when the treat bag opens and occasionally takes a biscuit from her mouth.

He also wriggles out of my arms when I try to brush him, sometimes scratching me with his giant paws. When we traveled out of town and our neighbors fed him, he was so distressed he escaped and peed all over our older daughter’s room.

But watching my two bunnies, I’ve begun to wonder whether, when it comes to love, easy is overrated. It sure seems so to Kiki and Eeyore. Maybe we could all learn something from them.

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