The Licking Lesson
Or, what happened after our author finished eating
Several months ago, Bugsy’s back legs had given out; so when Maxie came at him with his sharp incisors showing, Bugsy couldn’t do what he and the other two rabbits had been doing–which was RUN.
Bugsy’s only response was to lick Maxie with all his might. Maxie decided, this is great! After that he went around trying to induce the other two to lick him as well. No way did they want to get close to that nippy little mouth. Up ’til then, four-pound Maxie even had eight-and-a-half-pound Bradley buffaloed. Bradley’d get this expression on his face that read, “He’s little and he’s MEAN!” I began feeding the four of them together-with LOTS of supervision. I also moved Maxie’s enclosure into the bunnies’ room.
Between fence fighting and lying-side -by-side divide by an X-pen-and regularly scheduled, carefully managed meals together (which sometimes ended in mouthful of fur for dessert)-Maxie’s animosity wore down, and he attacked Connie and Bradley less and less.
The little squirt even began sneaking up behind them as they dozed or ate, thrusting his head under some body part (so they wouldn’t realize who was there) to simulate affection. The-goody-on -the-other-one’s-head trick has served me well over the years. I tried putting banana or cracker crumbs on Bradley’s, Connie’s, and Bugsy’s heads to encourage affection on Maxie’s part; but being half as big as everyone else in the room, the two ambulatory buns would see him and run away before he clued in that there was something tasty for him to (delicately) nibble; and they’d clean up Bugsy before Maxie noticed that Bugsy smelled extra good. One morning I inadvertently undid weeks of progress with Maxie when I accidentally dropped a dollop of applesauce on his head. My immediate hope was that Bradley would lean over and lick it up. Oh dear, when Maxie felt that tiny, wet mass on his head, his eyes bulged with indignation, and he lunged his whole mouth at Bradley’s leg. By this time, Bradley had gotten kind of used to Maxie not being a pain in his side, so he was really startled to feel Maxie’s entire dental pattern. His face read, “What’d I do!?” as his body skidded away as fast as confusion allowed. Over the course of weeks, months, trust was learned on all sides.
It didn’t hurt that, at some point, Maxie realized Connie was a girl, a really cute girl, and he developed a crush. It didn’t seem to matter that he’d been NEUTERED two years before. So he began following her around all lovesick, or [insert euphemism here]. At first, he’d try to climb on, but she’d just get up and leave. When he did master getting on board, he was so small in comparison to her he couldn’t accomplish what he thought should come next. After a bit, Connie realized this part felt kinda nice, sorta like an all-over body massage, so she’d stick around. After awhile, Maxie would say to heck with it and go thrust his head under her chin for a round of licking. Having done her part, Connie, of course, would then stick her chin under his, expecting reciprocation. After a long period, Maxie caught on and learned to lick Connie–and the others–in return. The three boys and a girl became a closely bonded quartet. Bless ’em all.
After some rumination I realized that Bugsy’s illness was responsible for teaching Maxie that being licked feels really, really good.
House Rabbit Journal Fall 2001: Volume IV, Number 6