We currently share our home with two rabbits. Biscuit and Muffin occupy a rather imposing “bun-dominium” in our family room. Since I provide daycare for five preschoolers, the children and the rabbits interact frequently. I am vigilant to see that the relationship is never at the rabbits’ expense. I want the children to have the experience of helping to care for, and love, our rabbits. I also want the kids to learn to think from the bunny’s point of view. To foster this, we have used the following methods. Our first rabbit taught us how she wished to be handled. Sniffles was 14 pounds of intelligent, matronly rabbit, who took no guff from anyone. She was exceptionally friendly and would merely push your hand away when she’d been patted sufficiently and needed to go about her business. She would growl if something bothered her (the sound of the blender or food processor, for example!). She lived a long and happy life–and was big enough to defend herself firmly against young eager hands. We still miss her.
When we got Biscuit as a six-week-old Netherland dwarf, we knew he would need more protection. With Sniffles, the cage door was always open. We also knew we would need to tailor Biscuit’s participation in daycare to his more vulnerable size and sensitive temperament.
We started with his cage in a room where the children played, but up on a table and back against the (protected) wall. This allowed the children to see Biscuit only if lifted. He had a chance to get used to their happy noises without being subjected to sudden touching. (We were giving him cuddling and supervised free-range roaming after daycare hours.)
After several weeks, we began to let the children pat him gently on the face while he was held by my oldest daughter. Only one child was allowed to stroke the bunny at a time. We used quiet “indoor voices”–a standard rule in my daycare anyway. The children and I discussed what the bunny was seeing and how big we all were compared to him. One little boy even said, “I’d be scared of me, if I was bunny-little!”
Several more weeks passed. Now that I knew the kids were able to be gentle and quiet, I began to let one child per day give Biscuit a small treat. Each child had to learn to feed the rabbit in the dish, never through the bars of the cage. (In my experience, this can contribute to bunnies biting errant fingers.) The children loved to watch how a rabbit nibbles, and kept rigorous track of whose turn it was to do the feeding.
When we acquired our latest furry friend, Muffin, we used essentially the same techniques. The children were calmer and eager to make his acquaintance. Being a Holland lop, at only five months he is already larger than Biscuit. Muffin seeks the children out. His head usually is out the open door of his cage, looking for anyone likely to provide a nice face rub. He also loves to perform for the children, showing off his best “bunny antics” to their gales of laughter. He is quite the showman. We now can seat the children on the floor in front of the beach towel-covered sofa, which becomes a perfect eye-level bunny stage. Muffin delights in doing twirls, flips, and leaps for them. He also licks everyone’s nose as if to say, “Thank you for coming!”
Our rabbits are very special to us. I believe that with care and a gradual approach, bunnies and small children can enrich each other’s lives.
House Rabbit Journal Volume III, Number 4, Winter 1995