Before our first baby arrived we would sometimes sit around in the evening watching our bunny run about, doing his thing, and we wondered what he would think of the new baby. We envisioned cute scenes with all of our family members here and there, doing this and that.
Some of our visions made it to reality and others not. We don’t dwell on them too much, since we can’t even remember anymore what it’s like to sit around in the evening.
One thing for sure is whatever perverted concept of the future we had, it was only a tiny fraction of the reality that befalls us now. Our rabbit’s old lifestyle, as well as our own, became a casualty of having children, but this should not be construed necessarily as a negative thing-quite the contrary. But it is utterly different. The major changes in our bunny’s lifestyle came in four areas: 1) affection, 2) discipline, 3) safety, and 4) maintenance.
We love Vic just as much as always, but we are not as “close” to him because we have less time and emotional energy to cuddle him. As a result he is less receptive to displays of affection. On the other hand, the kids are available as inexhaustible energy sources, but it’s important that they are channeled so that their energy does not get discharged in dangerous surges (see “Safety”). We do not want to encourage the children to try to pick up the rabbit, and, therefore, we do not do it ourselves. Physical contact is limited to gentle petting and rubbing noses. We allow the kids to follow Vic (and vice-versa) as long as he has a safe place to hide if the games get too tiring. At times of peak activity, bunny generally keeps a low profile. But when the kids are down for the evening, Vic comes out and reclaims his territory and is, in fact, more assertive than we can remember. This is Vic’s time to demand attention. He’ll stretch across the middle of the floor, kick up his heels, jump on the sofa (and desk, table, etc.), and maybe knock over a glass or two. It seems as if he appreciates his domain more than ever before.
Discipline and Safety
Now, we have a household of individuals, each with their own agenda, yet most activities need to be carried out in the same limited square-footage. It’s apparent that there is potential for conflicts to arise. Without some discipline the situation would soon deteriorate. It would be nice if each member would be conscious of everyone else, but as the children and the rabbit are sometimes less than sensitive, we must enforce conscientiousness. Namely, we have to make rules.
The only bunny rule is not to chew and/or mutilate the kids’ toys (into sharp bits of plastic). This is not only dangerous for rabbits and children but expensive for parents and grandparents. Usually a simple “no” will do the trick, but if Vic is especially persistent, then he spends a little time in the cage with his own toys. As for our kids, there are plenty of rules which vary somewhat with the child’s age.
Infants-when they reach the age of mobility (let’s say 6-12 mos.)-need to be supervised for their own sake, but the rabbit needs to be only moderately alert to avoid danger. It’s important at this stage, however, to implant the idea that the rabbit is something to be treated carefully and with reverence.
When children start to walk, they are more of a threat to themselves and the rabbit. They can get in close enough proximity to offend bunny and get themselves scratched, so it is important at this stage to reinforce the idea of being gentle. We have found it useful to take the child’s hand and show him how to sit quietly next to the bunny and pet gently.
If the occasion does arise that the child gets scratched, try to get your money’s worth. Sit down with him and explain what the rabbit found offensive, and show him a better way to approach the rabbit next time. Explain that bunny is smaller and might feel scared. This prevents hard feelings of the child toward the rabbit and may prevent mishaps in the future.
Somewhere between the ages of 1 and 3 comes the “age of the stick,” which is a time when a child has the physical capacity and the inclination to pick up something long and bash things indiscriminately. At first, bunny may seem to the child as merely “a ball that hops and bounces funny.” During this time it’s mandatory to work with the child on the distinction between things alive and things not. It’s a difficult concept at first and will take some time to reinforce, and in the interim, bunny will appreciate his caretakers taking some precautions.
First, don’t leave the child unsupervised with the rabbit, and just in case, always provide the rabbit with a “safe place” where the children can’t get to him. In our case, we have Vic’s cage situated so that he can sneak in, but the access is thwartingly difficult for kids. If the child does try to abuse the rabbit, be very firm that this is a bad thing, and don’t let him get away with the slightest infraction in this matter. It often helps if the child has a certain time when he is allowed to play with bunny-make it part of his schedule, like lunchtime or reading time. He will consequently have higher regard for his time with the bunny.
Choose a time of day when the child is on a low ebb and not in a “hyper” phase. Watch out for playmates who have not been indoctrinated with the appropriate protocol, since they can be a risk in themselves and can tempt your own kids to abandon their good habits. (Mob mentality rules.) It’s best to put the rabbit in his cage if chaos seems to be the prevailing force.
In order to be complete, we need to mention something about household maintenance (i.e., janitorial work), even though it may seem rather mundane. With children, it is an important consideration that affects your quality of life, since a large portion of time is spent cleaning. We found ourselves thinking about things that would have made us laugh five years ago, like what kind of cleanser is best to wipe the table; where should wastebaskets go; what kind of material should they be made from; and so on. Not that we are philosophical about these issues now, but if you make the wrong decisions it costs you time.
The main thing is to get a routine. Make it as easy as possible, since you will probably be doing more of it than you like. With regard to bunny, this means putting his cage and/or litterbox in a location where it is difficult for the kids to disrupt and yet has easy access for cleaning.
Remember, if the routine gets too difficult, you will begin to look at your rabbit as just one more mess-maker. We had Vic’s cage for some time in the kids’ room, but this didn’t work out since he often thumped at night and woke the kids up, who woke us up (so much for consideration, huh?). Also, without daily vacuuming, the rabbit hairs went all over the room and made the kids sneeze. Now the cage is downstairs in an area without any fabric or carpet and is much easier to maintain. Vic has access to our entire house, and this is mostly because of his impeccable personal habits. If he tended to leave markings all over, we would have to limit his running area. (It’s somewhat disconcerting to see a nine-month-old baby with a few rabbit nuggets stuffed inside his drooling mouth). His litterbox, as well as his food dish and water bottle, are inside his cage, and the kids generally don’t mess with them.
Once a system is defined that works well for the rabbit, children, and adults, it can be a lot of fun to behold. And it can be the most fun for those who put all the pieces together.
Bill & Amy Harriman
House Rabbit Journal Volume II, Number 7