Rabbits on the Road

One of the most common reasons given by owners surrendering animals to shelters or returning rabbits to House Rabbit Society foster homes is moving. Often the problem is not so much that of finding a landlord who will allow rabbits, but rather that some people seem to feel that moving would be so strenuous for the rabbit that giving her up to an uncertain future is actually kinder. Others may decide that moving is complicated enough without the additional burden of pets. On the contrary, moving with rabbits (and other animals) need not be a traumatizing experience for either the lapine or human contingent, and certainly the companionship each has given the other is worth the inconvenience of including them in family plans.When our Peaceable Kingdom hit the road last summer, we showed it can be done on a grand scale. In addition to a houseful of furniture and books, we also moved nine animals—dogs, cats, and a hamster in addition to three house rabbits—from Bloomington, Indiana to Jackson, Mississippi, a trip of almost 800 miles.

The key to our success lies in careful planning. We knew well in advance when we would leave, and had plenty of time to make decisions, test ideas, and discard flawed plans before they could backfire on us. Having decided to rent a van for the furniture and tow our old car behind the van, we needed, first of all, transportation for the animals. A panel van, rented from the same place as the moving van, proved ideal. With a cargo area 5′ x 9′ and no separation between the driver and the “cargo,” the animals stayed moderately cool and I was able to reassure them easily and check on them as needed. For a smaller animal contingent, any passenger car would work as well.

The next step was making sure well ahead of time that the cages I had selected would fit in the van. I measured the dogs’ crates, cats’ large carriers equipped with litter boxes, and rabbits’ traveling cages, and determined the best way to arrange them so that I would be able to reach each one quickly in case any problems arose. When moving day arrived, we used bungie cords to fasten the cages securely to the walls of the van, having first spread furniture pads on the metal floor to lessen the noise of metal on metal. The possibility of a move like this is one of many reasons never to discard an old cage; even the small, seemingly useless ones can come in handy eventually.

One of the most important aspects of our move was planning for any possible emergency. I made careful lists of every conceivable item we might need, including extra food, hay, and water, medical supplies ranging from syringes to rolls of cotton gauze and elastic wrap, and even tongue depressors to use as splints. Because of rabbits’ intolerance for heat, tendency to do poorly when stressed, and propensity for digestive disorders, I packed Lactated Ringer’s solution to give subcutaneously in case of dehydration, lots of ice packs and towels to soak in cool water, acidophilus and enzyme powder, and a supply of my favorite antibiotics. Melissa, incidentally, was on Baytril at the time for her chronic bacterial infection, and received injections twice a day during our trip. Since Marc and I would be in two separate vehicles, I made short typed notes for each van giving emergency instructions. If either of us had an accident, my parents in Nashville would be notified and the animals cared for if we were unable to do so. An additional precaution would be to “tattoo” a telephone number in the rabbits’ ears with a non-toxic felt marker. The marker wears off eventually, but does provide temporary identification similar to that worn on the collars of cats and dogs.

I discovered two important things during the move. First, there is no reliable way to provide water while on the road. Assuming that water bottles would work, I gave them to the rabbits and offered the other animals water at regular intervals. When we stopped for the night, the rabbits’ cages were soaked and the bottles empty. Second, I was right to be concerned about dehydration. I did not observe any of the three rabbits drinking at all from the time we left Bloomington until we arrived in Jackson, and although they did not become truly dehydrated, another day would have spelled trouble. The next time we move I will take along some infant rehydrating solution (available at most grocery stores) to mix in the rabbits’ water and give them by mouth If necessary.

Since an overnight stay was necessary, we brought along plenty of extra litter, newspapers, paper sacks, and a whisk broom and dust pan. Fortunately, my parents’ home in Nashville is conveniently located between Bloomington and Jackson, so our “Critter Caravan” stopped there for the night (raising quite a few eyebrows at my father’s 6Oth birthday party). Needless to say, we made every attempt to leave the two rooms we used as spotless as possible.

Of course, a relative’s home is not always handy, and we were prepared to deal with a motel If necessary. For a stay of one night, our plan would be to find a motel chain that accepts dogs. Tactfully refraining from mentioning the word “rabbit,” we would request a ground floor room with an outside-access door, located at the back of the building. The rabbits would stay in their cages except for short exercise periods in the bathroom, and the “Do Not Disturb” sign would remain on the door at all times.

During the long drive, I only had one tense moment on the road. Caught in an interstate traffic jam near Memphis, I watched in growing panic as the temperature gauge on the van rose higher and higher. Knowing there was no way I could get help, no way I could get the van to an exit, and no way to cool the animals If the van overheated and the air conditioner failed, I turned on the heat to draw the heat off the engine. Alternating heating and air conditioning, I managed to keep the van running until traffic cleared and I could get to a service station. I wet down the animals, offered water all around, and heaved a sigh of relief.

The arrival in Jackson was almost more stressful than the trip, since the electricity had not been turned on yet (despite three long-distance calls to make sure it would be). Without air conditioning or fans the August heat was deadly, but I was ready with ice packs and cold towels, and managed to keep the animals cool until an emergency call to the power company got action. Once their respective rooms were bunny-proofed, Jeremy and Melissa (residing in my office) and Charlie (living in the bedroom) settled in as if nothing had happened. Despite my concerns for them (which had been, if anything, more extreme than for the dogs and cats), the rabbits were by far our best travelers. Two of the cats developed minor stress-related problems after the move, but Jeremy, Melissa, and Charlie just looked around, said, “Well, same old stuff; same old people,” and went on with their lives. Other than the annoyance for three free-running rabbits of being caged for almost a week (from the time things became chaotic in Bloomington until it was safe for them in Jackson), the move really did not seem to bother them much.

I won’t say that moving with nine animals was easy; it wasn’t. It certainly required more planning, energy, money, and inconvenience on our part than if we had moved without them. But won’t say that moving with nine animals was easy; for us there was simply no other option. Just as we accept the love, joy, and amusement our animals give us, so we must accept the minor difficulties that living with them may entail. They are members of our family as surely as Marc and I are, and as such, they will go with us to wherever the winds of change take us, now and always.

Elizabeth R. TeSelle

House Rabbit Journal Volume II, Number 10