Harriette the Happy Harlequin

Harriette just turned eight, and her birthday present was a wellness check-up at the vet. We really don’t know her exact age, but she was estimated to be nine months to a year old when she went to live at Tidewater Rabbit Rescue from Norfolk SPCA.

She came to join our family from the rescue in November 2004.

For reasons unknown, Harriette was not adopted. When we first met her, she had just been bereaved for the second time. She appeared to be depressed. So we took her home as a foster with the objective of trying to cheer her up. I am retired, so I have time to spend with rabbits, including a free-roaming bonded pair living downstairs in our home.

We had also just fostered 4-year-old Mocha, a black mini-lop, from TRR. Mocha showed signs of hostility and we fostered him to help him undergo an “attitude adjustment.”

Our attempts to bond Harriette to Mocha resulted in total failure. So our bathroom became Harriette’s separate home base. It is a large room with an area originally intended as an exercise area (running around tending to all the rabbits’ needs now provides my exercise).

To contain Harriette’s “products” we first put a Neat Sheet® down on the carpet. Very conveniently, a puppy pen configured to a 4’ x 6’ fit perfectly just inside. We first kept Harriette confined there overnight. Her free-roam territory included our adjoining bedroom. Recently we started to allow her out at night, confined only to the bathroom where she remains safe. Now the puppy pen is never closed.

Within the pen she has her litter pans (with hay on top), a grass hay basket, water and feeding bowls. Thinking the Neat Sheet® would be uncomfortable for her, I bought her a fake sheepskin rug. She lies on the Neat Sheet and uses the rug as a litter box!

Harriette, a chewer, has tasted every wire in the bedroom. We once had a tug-of-war when I caught her chewing on the legs of pants hung over a chair. Thankfully she has done minimal damage to carpets and baseboards. I have had to draw on more resources than I believed I had to outwit her— we have an array of bunny-proofing devices throughout the rooms, and add more as she becomes more creative.

Harriette sleeps in a back corner of the carpeted ledge, where she can admire herself in the mirror.

She has a few favorite hang-outs, including a prime snoozing location in a bamboo plant stand in the bedroom. She only just fits inside, so we often see her asleep with her chin propped up on a bamboo rail.

In an alcove of “her” bathroom is a whirlpool tub. It is set into a base with a narrow carpeted ledge on all four sides, 18 inches above the bathroom floor. The back wall has a full-width mirror. At night, Harriette sleeps in a back corner of the carpeted ledge! Occasionally we’ve seen her admiring herself in the mirror.

She jumps on and off the whirlpool ledge with great agility, so it’s hard to believe that Harriette is eight. She does sleep a lot, but when she’s active, she’s very active.

She loves attention so much that she becomes demanding. First thing in the morning she has to have her head cuddles. She takes only a few minutes to cram down a big bowl of salad, then she’s out demanding more cuddles. She camps out on the shower mat, waiting to ambush us when we get out of the shower. She is insatiable!

During the mornings and evenings when she gets her turn for attention, she typically runs to greet me. Sometimes it’s about food, of course— rabbits don’t need watches to know when it’s meal or snack times! Most often she will put her face into mine or press the side of her head into my hand—there is not much ambiguity about that gesture. After several minutes of strokes around the head, ears and shoulders she will often reach a state of ecstasy as evidenced by body posture and particularly by some extraordinary noises: A combination of grunts, pants, wheezes, moans and groans. The message is unmistakable—she loves it. It takes her several minutes to return to this dimension after her massage.

Although she is gentle with us, she clearly is aggressive to other rabbits. In general I believe that a paired relationship is better for most rabbits. But I am not  convinced enough to subject Harriette and a candidate partner to the stress of attempted bonding. We now have a stable arrangement that is working well.

Harriette normally has one ear up and the other one down and sometimes forward. She can put her ears into a variety of configurations; sometimes it appears that she is trying to communicate with us by semaphores! The one drooped ear gives her an air of sadness. Perhaps she is being really smart and being cute to get attention! She has adapted so well to being a limited free-roam rabbit after living for so long as a rescue in a cage with (of necessity) limited freedom. Despite the look of her unconventional ears, I would have to say that she is a very happy bunny.

Notwithstanding some of her youthful behavior, Harriette is a senior bun. I can well understand people preferring to adopt a young rabbit, so that they can anticipate a long life together. But Harriette has taught us that there is an equally valid argument for adopting an older bun. Although she initially was a foster, we have now formally adopted her—and Mocha, too.

We hope Harriette will continue to enjoy her home with all the extra “facilities” and much attention for several years. She has brought us great joy and a lot of satisfaction too. I would not hesitate to recommend adopting an older bun.

By John & Wendy Ealding

HRJ Vol. 5, No. 7, Spring/Winter 2011