It was an unexpected use of human space—not at all in the plan, or at least not in my plan. Yes, we wanted our adoptable-bunny areas to have the look and feel of a private home rather than an institution, hence we left the carpeting in these rooms. But the hallway, I thought, would be free of the occasional (or not so occasional) marbles that appear when rabbits claim and reclaim territory. After all, the bunnies had their own rooms and spacious habitats to run around in and lots of fun things to do. They didn’t need the extra space of the hall outside their rooms. But Susan Stark, our shelter director, didn’t see it that way.
Soon after the post-quarantine, health-screened bunnies moved into the adoption section of the building, Susan let them take turns romping in the hall. This made it necessary to close all the doors to the adjoining rooms, so that only one bunny or bonded group of bunnies would be in the hall at any given time.
The stimulus to exercise in the hallway is undeniable. There is something about a long hall that propels a bunny into action. Is it being able to see down the road to a goal at the end? Or is it the challenge of finding out how fast the space between the two ends can be transversed? Are they secretly contesting the highest leap or how many kicks from side to side can be packed into the sprint before the end of the hall is reached?
Maybe a long narrow space induces running to the end, whereas a short wide space prompts running in a circle. Whatever it is about the hall, it has a magic way of bringing out activity in even the shyest bunny. Intrigued by their various responses to “hall time,” I set up my video camera on a tripod and just let it run. During the next two hours my camcorder captured a delightful collection of exercise behavior on videotape.
Eight-pound feisty Spike included swivels in his routine, while Sasparella, with a side kick now and then, ran in a straight path, hugging the wall to the right. Cody and Sissy, incited by each other, took to the air, leaping in choreographic unity. Pugsley and Ginger spent more time on foot, darting from tunnel to tunnel, then repeatedly running the hall from end to end. After shooting through the cardboard tube, Jeffrey settled on a more lumbering gait for the rest of his journey down the hall. Speedy Roslyn covered the length of the hall in record time, even with leap kicks added to the race. After many hall-exercise styles had been recorded, my tapes were filled, and we hadn’t even gotten through a full day. How much time out does each bunny have? Susan doesn’t measure it exactly, but when she sees that the bunnies are tired, she figures it’s someone else’s turn.
Ok, so we must let the bunnies play in the hall. Susan sees to it that they each have a turn. So how did we deal with all the hall doors that have to stay shut? The bunnies who are “out” are not allowed into the other habitat rooms to torment the bunnies who are awaiting their own time out. And we certainly can’t have roaming bunnies in the un bunny-proofed computer room or editorial office. But with all the hall doors shut, we had a stuffy dark, uninviting walkway.
Susan found an answer for that, too. She enlisted volunteer Rob LeClaire, who has done all kinds of useful things around the building, to saw the hallway doors (except the bathroom) in half and re-hinge them in two sections. The lower doors, at bunny level, can be closed, while the upper doors remain open, allowing for ventilation, light, and observation of the bunnies in the habitat rooms.
A hall-exercise system for multiple rabbits does require more cleanup, even though a litterbox is kept at one end. Sweep up is the fee we pay for the entertainment. Each bunny, in turn, dances in the long hall, keeping us amused and, at the same time, forcing us to explain to uninitiated, potential adopters, “Bunnies don’t normally drop marbles like this. They are only reclaiming territory from the other rabbits. This is no indication of the way they will behave in your home.”
Whether they believe it or not, adopters and other visitors to the HRS Rabbit Center can see an aspect of bunnies that they may have never seen before. They can see them in live action. They can see individual displays of “uncaged” behavior and personalities. With broom in hand, we are nonetheless proud to bring these wonderfully spirited presentations to the public-thanks to the use of the great long hall.
House Rabbit Journal Fall 2001: Volume IV, Number 6