1 Love and loss
The day we brought our first bunnies home, the nice man in the pet shop gave us a free booklet. It listed the diseases that Flopsie and Fluffy might suffer from: myxomatosis, viral haemorrhagic disease, red urine and fly strike were some of the more colourful varieties explained therein. And if you didn’t take steps to avoid these plagues – by paying your vet enormous amounts of money – your lovely bunny could grow a giant head, haemorrhage blood and have maggots eat her from the inside out. While Sam cuddled his baby bunnies, I worried. I dreamed about rabbits with giant heads. But long before they were old enough to be vaccinated, baby Flopsie fell to a hideous diarrheal disease that wasn’t even on the list. According to the very expensive vet, it was probably caused by giving her a new food, or because she got a fright. As we discovered, rabbits are sensitive souls. Sam cried himself to sleep that night, but soon cheered up when we brought home Flopsie Two. Five days later, she escaped because someone forgot to lock the hutch properly. Through his sobs, Sam announced, “I don’t think Flopsie is a good name for a rabbit. Can I have another rabbit, and this time can we call her Lucky?”
2 Let’s talk about sex, baby
If you’re not sure when to have the sex talk with your child, don’t worry – rabbits will take the matter out of your hands. Forget the birds and the bees, it’s impossible to keep rabbits without having to face the question of sex: “Mummy, what is Lucky doing to Fluffy?” Rabbits are designed to have lots of sex. It’s the whole point of rabbits. It’s why you never hear about a global rabbit shortage. They start when they’re four months old, and they don’t stop – ever. In the wild, females have 500 babies a year. And don’t think you can dispense with all that rabbit-mating nonsense by simply buying two girl rabbits. Not a bit of it. Bunnies mate with anything – their food bowl, your hand, your child’s foot. Within weeks, Lucky and Fluffy were at it like, well, rabbits. They had a sapphic love hutch thing going on. Experts say it’s the dominant female’s way of saying “I’m bigger than you and I was here first,” but mainly it’s because rabbits just really like sex. Sam asks, “Is Fluffy gay? I don’t think Lucky is because she keeps running away from Fluffy.” Interestingly, the Victorians were the first to keep rabbits as children’s pets. What they made of all the sex is anyone’s guess.
3 Being different is OK
Here’s an important rabbit fact: their idea of fun is different from a child’s. Child: “Oh, a lovely bunny. I’ll pick him up and give him a hug to show how much I love him.” Rabbit: “Eeeeek. Arrrrgggh. A giant strange-smelling predator has got me!”Rabbits are prey animals. They hate being picked up. They think a hawk has got them, or the fox, or one of the hundred other things that like to eat bunnies. So when you pick up a rabbit, they scrabble, or maybe even get a terrible disease and die. Fluffy was picked up too often, and eventually she went mad. She started growling and attacking small children. She became a pit bull of a bunny, so she had to be taken to the rabbit rescue, where she gets to hop around and have sex with her food bowl in peace. The other day, I covered up the run because it was raining, and Lucky and Cloud (Fluffy’s replacement) were sitting in the wet. “Let them sit in the rain if they want to. Maybe they like it,” said Sam. You can see how far he’s come since we’ve had rabbits.
4 Zen and the art of rabbit-keeping
Sometimes everything can get a bit much when you’re six years old. All that school, homework, and having to pay attention for minutes at a time. Rabbits offer an escape from life’s grind. When Sam sits with his rabbits, his troubles fall away and he becomes at one with the moment. That’s because rabbits only have the moment. Many rabbit-keepers will tell you that rabbits are intelligent. Compared to what? They’re probably smarter than a slug, but it’s part of their charm that they have a brain the size of a pea. “Rabbits are clever in a different way from us. They just know other things,” says Sam.
5 The meaning of life
Rabbits are designed to live for a couple of years, eating what they fancy, sleeping when they like and having outrageous amounts of sex. Then they die. Millions of years of evolution has decreed that this lifestyle is a bunny’s idea of bliss. In captivity, we protect them from foxes, inoculate them against rabbit diseases, then neuter them so they don’t mate with our children’s feet. As a result, they live for up to ten, very expensive, years. But at what price (and I don’t just mean the vets’ bills)? They’re cooped up with the same view day after day, have only packet food to eat and the odd foot to mate with before they have their sexy bits removed, so that even that small pleasure is lost. And Sam’s picked up on this. “Do you think it’s a bit like being in prison? A nice prison, where people are kind to you, of course,” Sam asks as he is locking them in their hutch one day.
More parent skills from Junior:
Wedding day etiquette
Eight ways to a stress-free morning