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What Rabbits Want: Ask Not What Your Bunny Can Do For You
Michele Lockers
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Introduction by Amy Espie
Do you ever get the feeling that articles about companion animals are required by law to mention that petting a rabbit/cat/dog lowers our blood pressure? Another inescapable truism extols the unconditional love bestowed on us by these our steadfast companions. On first, fourth, and perhaps fourteenth reading, these appear to reflect well on us; but eventually we discern the decidedly less admirable note that is the underlying message: what's in it for me? Michele Lockers takes a much more interesting, generous, and mutually rewarding approach with her long-eared pals. -a.e.

So, that's what you like!" How many times I have said that to my rabbits, over the 12 years that I have had these wonderful creatures in my life. They have brought so much pleasure to my days, and I have always wanted to return the favor, by finding out from them what would make their lives as enjoyable as possible. I have lived with four rabbits in those twelve years. Each arrived with his/her own unique personality, and these changed little throughout their lives.

Mr. Bunny the Music Connoisseur
Mr. Bunny, a dapper gent in a velvety coat of white and brown, came to live with me when he was a year old. He was affectionate from the start, and loved to be petted and paid attention to, when I let him out to play, or whenever I went to sit in his pen. He loved to cuddle right next to me, as close as possible; we were best buddies right from the start. I noticed pretty quickly that whenever I had the television on, Mr. Bunny would sit entranced, looking at it with his ears straight up. It didn't matter what was on, he just seemed liked the sound of human voices. The only time he was scared was when a show about old ships had a sailor blow a loud ship's whistle. The high-pitched sound frightened Mr.Bunny, making him run and hide behind the sofa. I had to turn the TV off in order to coax him out.

One day, when he was running around my living room, I was listening to a Mozart CD. As the opening bars to the Piano Concerto #5 came on, Mr. Bunny's face lit up! He immediately lay down, turned his ears toward the stereo speakers, and listened to the full concerto. Now that I knew my bunny loved classical music, I kept his tastes in mind when choosing my CDs. He is the only one of my bunnies who showed interest in music, or TV. I was ever so proud of my little connoisseur.

Ms. BonBon the Kitchen Maven
I adopted Ms. BonBon, a petite girl dressed in silvery gray, from the Southeastern Pennsylvania House Rabbit Society. She had previously been in two homes, but had been returned both times because she did not get along well with people. She had a very nervous nature, and would barely let me touch her, so I didn't get much chance of petting her, as pretty as she was.

What could I do to make her little life more enjoyable? One night, by chance, I discovered what she liked. I had let her out to run around my home, and I decided to wash the dishes in the kitchen while she got some exercise. As I started up the water, she came running into the kitchen. She parked herself under the table, and watched me intently. I talked to her while I soaped up and rinsed each piece, explaining to her exactly what I was doing. She seemed spellbound by my activity in the kitchen, and we continued this way for many evenings, which made this clean-up chore more fun for me, too.

Once, Ms. BonBon sat and gazed at me for an entire hour while I washed my crystal stemware. I explained to her the difference between a white-wine goblet, a red-wine goblet, and a drinking glass. She was utterly captivated, and I was happy for her company.

Lil Pete the Lettuce Gourmet
Lil Pete was a handsome fellow, whose good looks were admired by all who saw him. After I had him for a year, there was a great deal more of him to admire; my vet told me I had to put Lil Pete on a diet. I was to give him limited amounts of chow and carrots, and increase his grass hay and fresh greens. I got the HRS list of approved vegetables, and headed out to the grocery store, hopeful that Lil Pete would like what I found for him.

I decided to start with the mixed greens, a by-the-pound combination of seven different types of lettuce. Lil Pete could taste-test many different greens at once. As these mixes are a favorite of mine, I knew they wouldn't go to waste if Lil Pete turned up his nose at them. I brought some home and placed a large handful on the floor of his pen. Instead of gobbling it right up, Lil Pete proceeded to inspect the different types of lettuce, trying a leaf of this one, and then of another. I noticed that he went right for the fancier, more expensive greens, the ones whose names I wasn't even sure I knew. The less exotic romaine and red-leaf lettuce just sat there. Had he been reading Gourmet Magazine, or watching the Food Network when I was out of the house?

One day I gave him some basil leaves. He really went crazy; he stuffed his mouth so full, I feared he might choke. I begged him, "Lil Pete, please slow down, there is plenty of basil for you, I won't take it away." He didn't listen, but thankfully he didn't choke, either. I decided to grow some basil, which really got his fresh-herb habit going. He would get all excited from just the scent of basil and start his little "Feed Me" dance. I eventually found that he liked fresh mint and fresh thyme leaves, too. My little gourmet was happier and healthier with these special greens, so it was worth it, for both of us.

Cookie the Gymnast
I adopted pretty Cookie from HRS three years ago. She had been found wandering the streets in the fall, probably an Easter bunny, thoughtlessly discarded when the novelty wore off. She has the prettiest, plushest coat, in an irresistible shade of milk-chocolate brown. Fortunately for both of us, she loves to be petted.

Of all my rabbits, Cookie has the highest energy level. She escaped from her pen three times while I was out at work, yet the gate was always firmly secured when I got home.

One evening, I saw her inside her pen, eyeing the 28-inch kitchen cabinet that bordered part of her pen. She seemed to be making a mental calculation of sorts; she reminded me of a gymnast about to execute a difficult floor exercise. Suddenly, from a sitting position, she leaped onto the top of the cabinet, and then jumped down to the floor beside the pen. Aha! So that was her secret! I closed off this escape route with 12-inch laminate shelving, nailed to the top of the cabinet.

When I allowed Cookie out of her pen to get some exercise, I once again saw that look as she considered the small sofa in her room, where I usually sat while my rabbits ran around. I figured that she wanted some more places to exercise, so I repositioned the sofa cushions, giving her a multi-level playground.

Cookie loved this new arrangement. She had no fear of heights, and she loved to sit up on the upper cushions, like a queen on her throne. This suited me, too; I would to sit on my side of the sofa, and she could jump up and sit next to me, for some nice, cosy petting time. She would even perch on the upper cushions, behind my shoulders, and look over whatever I was reading.

The funny thing about the sofa-jumping was that now, when I allowed Lil Pete out to run around, he, too, started to leap onto the furniture. It took quite a lot of effort for him to get his pudgy body up, but he learned. When he saw Cookie taking her flying leaps, he had to get in on the fun. Before Cookie came to live with us, he had shown absolutely no interest in the sofa.

Over the years, these are the different ways my bunnies have taught me about their likes and dislikes. I have gotten an education in rabbit behavior from the experts. In their own unique ways, they have brought me many moments of fun and enjoyment, which I will always treasure.

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