It was love at first sight for the entire family. Smiles hovering on their lips, Gabrielle and her grandparents looked at the dark brown rabbit. The Netherland dwarf was finally in her forever home.

As I sat quietly watching the family become more deeply acquainted with the small adult rabbit, I couldn’t help but muse about the first day I saw her.

My initial feeling had been sorrow. The little rabbit had lived for more than a year in a cage in the darkened corner of an elderly woman’s house. The cage was cleaned weekly by a granddaughter who visited, but the rabbit had never been outside of it. She did not have a name, she received no caresses, she hadn’t a friend.

Though I had planned to simply see if the rabbit was adoptable, I ended up bringing the bunny home with me. I set up a temporary pen in the downstairs recreation room, away from my other rabbits. Standoffish and seemingly afraid of humans, the small rabbit shied away whenever I approached. But when I released her from the pen, it was as though I was seeing a different rabbit! She ran the perimeter of the room for about fifteen minutes nonstop, flopped over on the floor (I worried she’d had a heart attack), then bounced up and ran some more.

This is the first time this bunny has run and stretched her legs, I realized.

I spent as much time as I could socializing her, increasing her chances of adoption. After one week she put her head down, inviting me to pet her. By the end of the second week I was able to hold her, and we enjoyed some television time together.

A peal of laughter brought me back to the present. Gabrielle, a twenty-year-old who had always wanted a rabbit, was obviously thrilled with the one sitting in front of her. I was glad my initial impression of the young woman was correct.

I had been put in touch with her through the nature center where she worked with animals. After meeting her and her grandparents, I felt they would provide a perfect home for the rabbit. Now they were meeting one another for the first time.

“She’s so sweet and cuddly that I’m going to call her Angel. She even looks like one,” Gabrielle said.

“That’s a perfect name,” her grandmother responded.

angel_rocking_chairI thought so, too. Angel had the most luminous brown eyes I had ever seen. Her velvety fur was a mix of gray, black, and brown, accented with a cute white nose and two white-tipped toes.

“What’s wrong with her leg?” Gabrielle asked.

“It was broken.”

I explained that Angel had been spayed in another city. On the day she was to be returned to me, Angel had evidently panicked and gotten her foot caught in the wire of her cage. The people monitoring her did not see the incident—it happened too quickly. Angel had been rushed to a vet hospital, where her leg was set and put into a cast.

“The vet cast her leg straight so now it doesn’t bend properly. She might be a special-needs bunny all her life,” I concluded.

“I know people with special needs and understand perfectly,” Gabrielle said with confidence. “Angel’s condition won’t change how I feel about her.”

Her quiet composure and sweet attitude made me thankful to have met her. What a lucky rabbit Angel was!

Before leaving the gracious family, I reviewed the bunny’s food requirements and showed Gabrielle how to perform physical therapy on Angel’s leg. To ensure that each movement was done with proper form and in the right sequence, Gabrielle took careful notes.

I visited frequently during the next months and was amazed at how confident and outgoing Angel had become. It was obvious that everyone loved her, as Angel freely asked for and received affection and lap time from everyone in the family.

Even more touching was the day I visited and saw that Angel’s “bad” leg was completely healed. Gabrielle had faithfully performed the daily physical therapy and now the leg flexed as normal. Angel wasted no time in showing me how she could jump, run, and play!

During our phone calls, Gabrielle’s voice was often filled with laughter as she described her rabbit’s most recent antics. Angel had stomped her foot when a guest sat in the chair that she was lying under. One morning she chewed on the Bible, leading Gabrielle to quip that since Angel could not read, she had wanted to ingest the words.

Gabrielle also shared the fact that Angel had a calming influence on her grandmother, reducing her high blood pressure. And when her grandfather was recuperating from knee replacement surgery, Angel was close by his side or on his lap. The family’s relationship with Angel was strengthened even more after the death of Lucky, the cocker spaniel who had been a faithful companion for twelve years. Angel’s presence made the loss easier to bear.

Basking in the family’s warmth and high spirits, Angel has come to appreciate human contact. The responsibility has been good for Gabrielle as well. Angel and Gabrielle are a perfect example of the mutual bonds of companionship, affection, and trust between loving humans and their rabbit friends.

Warm thanks to Janelle Dietrich and Justine Roberts for providing information for this story. –Marie Mead

About Rabbits: Relationship Building

Establishing a good relationship with a rabbit requires a human to be trustworthy and to regularly spend time with the rabbit to create and maintain that bond of trust. With love and patience, the most shy, fearful, or aggressive bunny can usually be turned into a little charmer who tolerates being picked up and welcomes the pleasure of human company. In return, the family will enjoy the benefits of cuddling time with a sweet companion who eases away the troubles of the day.

One must remember, however, that rabbits are ground-dwelling prey animals, with a potentially different response than that of a dog or cat (predators) to some common actions. For example, most rabbits instinctively like the security of having their feet on the floor—meaning that being picked up and held can be stressful. However, it is important that a rabbit become familiar with being handled (e.g., for grooming, regular physical checks, and vet trips). It is the caregiver’s job to bridge the gap between the two different needs by consistently using words and signals that the rabbit connects to being picked up and held. This trust-building exercise includes proper handling of this little creature, as his or her body can be quite easily injured.

It is important to think about prey psychology when living with a rabbit. The fact that everyday things may appear suspicious or threatening to a rabbit sometimes means that he or she may be more reactive than a cat or dog to noises, fast movements, and unfamiliar sights and smells. To reduce a rabbit’s stress (which can negatively affect health), a caregiver can monitor the companion bunny’s responses and learn what his or her particular fears are. Taking steps to make a rabbit feel safe and secure help in building a relationship with this special creature.

by Marie Mead

© Copyright 2014 by Marie Mead. Used by permission. All rights reserved.