Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bunnies and Young Children

Although I do seem to have acquired the nicest, most friendly bunny on the planet; still, I have never thought one should press one's thoughts about one's bunny on others, or boast about him in everyday conversation…just as one should not do with one's children…but it is quite difficult not to just mention what a good bunny he is every now and then. Except I am now going to do more than that. Feel free to make a graceful exit now. It's just that I feel a solemn duty to counter some of the information you might find online about bunnies. I do not claim to be the world's leading expert on bunnies (that would be boastful) (and I was not, till recently, a bunny owner), but I have loved them for many years, you know, and I have studied them quite a lot since getting one.

This is the trouble with what some people say about bunnies: it's wrong. Because I read many, many sources that said: "You should NOT have a bunny as a pet if you have young children." This is written by bunny-lovers who, presumably, imagine a harrowing life of fear and suffering for a bunny at the hands of these hypothetical young monsters. "Perhaps you might consider getting a bunny for one calm, responsible, older child (10 and up), with constant adult supervision. But NOT if there are young children around. Certainly not if there is MORE than one child! If you have more than one child, consider getting a fish. A bunny is not for you!" they say. (I'm not entirely sure they approve of even HAVING multiple young children at all, these people. The very idea seems to hold a kind of horror for them. If they had known we were getting a bunny to come live with us and our six children, they probably would have gone down in sorrow to their graves. And then turned over in them.)

I understand. They want to protect bunnies (as do I). They want bunnies to have happy, stable lives (as do I). But in their well-meaning-ness, I'm afraid they give the wrong idea. They make it sound like the very existence of bunnies and small children in the same room is asking for total disaster. When in reality, kindness and love and gentleness can be taught to young children with bunnies—just as it can to young children with babies. Of course it takes effort and time. And of course I wouldn't turn the entire care of a bunny over to a four-year-old. But a loved, well-cared-for bunny is not only good for children—but they are also good for him! Our Nutmeg loves the children. He plays with them and hops around them and snuggles in happily when they pet him, and he misses them when they're gone. He likes his big family! 
How do I know he's happy with us? Well, he does all the things a happy bunny does. He comes running to greet us after we've been gone. He hops around and around our feet in circles and follows us around until we trip over him. He leaps straight up in the air and turns sideways while he's leaping. He bounds around the room and then boings up next to us onto the couch and bops under our hands with his nose until we pet him. I honestly can't imagine a happier bunny.
And now that we have had him all these months, I sort of feel like I need to evangelize for pet bunnies. They are such delightful, good pets. I feel bad that in years past they were mostly just thought of as the boring kind of animal you put outside in a hutch and forget about, because they can be so curious, and loving, and playful. I know I've only had one of them, but one is enough for me to see these things.

And in saying this, I understand that some people get tired of their pets and don't treat them with love and just give them away when they're tired of them, and maybe for crabs and lizards that's okay, I don't know. I feel instinctively that that would be wrong for a bunny, but I know pets don't always fit their owners. I'm not an expert on the morality of animal ownership, and I never really wanted other pets anyway, because it would be one more thing to do. And I don't want anyone to have a bunny who won't take good care of him, of course, but I'm afraid that maybe people are being scared off by these "NO-BUNNIES-AROUND-CHILDREN" sources when they could be enjoying and loving a sweet bunny of their own. So let me tell you some things that are good about bunnies. And why you (and your young children!) could love one.

First of all, they are clean. They are SO easy to litterbox train and they LOVE to be clean. It's my favorite thing to see Nutmeg washing his little face and paws and ears.
Also, they are so quiet. They do make some tiny noises, we've discovered (tiny squeaks and little teeth-grinding sounds like purring when they're happy) but they will never keep you up at night yowling or barking. Thank goodness. But at the same time, Nutmeg, at least, seems to tolerate our general bustle and noisiness quite well. If there is a LOT of running around he will retreat to his little bed or withdraw into one of his cardboard boxes (he loves boxes), but then he will happily curl up and sleep there without being bothered at all. Even when the blender goes on, he usually just perks up his ears a bit and then settles back down. Maybe because he has been getting used to us from the time he was a baby.
And as far as the children scaring him? Ha! He is made of sterner stuff. He will run easily away from them if he wants to escape their tender ministrations—but more often HE is the one hopping toward them curiously, hoping they might have something interesting to sniff, or good to eat, for him.
And they do love to give him a carrot or a sprig of mint or an apple—though Goldie usually has to be talked out of eating it herself first.
And you know, when a bunny lies on his side like this, that he feels safe and happy. They don't let their guard down enough to sleep so…languidly? unless they are sure there will be no hawks (or scary, toddling babies!) coming to get them anytime soon.

I suppose I should mention, for fairness' sake, that bunnies can like to nibble things. It's in their little bunny natures! So you have to watch them when they're out and about, to make sure there are no cords and things for them to nibble. Nutmeg will sometimes get nibbling our carpet and if he gets very absorbed in what he's doing he'll start wanting to yank out the long fibers, and we have to become very stern and stop him. But he does that much less now than he did when he was new, and if you give him lots of things he CAN nibble (phone books, wood toys, boxes, etc) then he is mostly content with those. Some bunnies are worse than others about this, I guess. But it's really not such a VERY bad thing, and he won't tear apart your whole house like a dog might. There. See how fair-minded and balanced I am? :)
Another face-washing picture. I can't get enough.

Also, another of my favorite things, besides paw-and-face-washing, is the way he settles in when we pet him. He LOVES to be petted, which is right and just, since his soft, velvety fur is obviously MADE to be petted. He is the softest thing in the world. Really.
He has these stages he goes through when you start to pet him: first he looks like a little bunny loaf, and then he sort of scootches his front and back feet out slightly so he gets even lower to the ground, and then, if he's VERY calm and happy he will lie all the way down with his feet back and out to the side—only—since bunnies can't really lie down normally because their back legs are so long and their front legs are so short (which is the same reason they have to hop instead of walk!)—he CAN'T just gracefully lie down, so he has to just flop himself over all at once. It looks like he's falling sideways off a chair or something. It is the funniest and cutest thing to watch. Sometimes he's so excited about being petted that he flops immediately, and we all love it and take it as a great compliment when that happens. Sometimes a particularly enthusiastic or sudden flop will make him roll all the way over to his back so that his white tummy shows…after which he usually seems a little bit sheepish and tries to convey an extra sense of dignity as he rolls back the correct way to be petted again.
Flopped=relaxed and happy. I especially like it when he puts his chin down on the floor like that.

Another thing we like is when Nutmeg plays what we call "The Tree Game" with us—I don't know why "The Tree Game" except that it sort of seems like he thinks you are a tree or a maypole to hop around. How it works is, you stand somewhere, and then Nutmeg comes and hops around you in circles like a madman—first clockwise, then turning around and going counter-clockwise, then skidding to a stop and going clockwise again, then going through your legs in figure-eights for a change of pace, then skidding around in circles again. And then you sort of quickly step over to a new location and he careens after you until you hold still, and once you're in place he starts hopping around you again. He especially likes it if you move from place to place very fast—he seems to consider this an exciting challenge and sometimes gets so enthusiastic in following you that he runs right into a wall or a chair—or gets under your feet instead of next to them—after which he sometimes flips his ears and shakes himself a bit as if to say "What? I didn't feel anything." He will also play this game with two people at once: weaving in and out between you and making eights around both sets of legs (or, if you stand right next to each other, going in a bigger circle around both of you at once) until you get dizzy just watching him! After a rousing round of The Tree Game he is often totally tired out and he'll nibble at your ankles until you pet him and he flops by your feet. We tried to read about what this behavior means, and all we could find was someone suggesting it was "mating behavior," but he was neutered several months ago and he still does it all the time, so I think it's just exactly what it looks like: a happy bunny playing with his family. I always knew I liked bunnies but I never knew they could be so FUN!
He loves soft things and seems to think they are all his little bunny friends. Abe made this impressive citadel of bears the other day and immediately Nutmeg hopped up on top and started licking, licking, licking. Just snuggling in and grooming them like it was the most natural thing in the world. (Can you even find him in this picture?)
This grooming behavior is pretty sweet when it's with stuffed bears, but when he starts doing it to Sam, I just can't stand the cuteness! It's like he thinks Sam is another bunny. When Sam lies down on the floor, Nutmeg will sit and nuzzle Sam's hair and lick his forehead and sniff his nose for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, and it's SO funny! Sometimes Nutmeg does this to me or to one of the kids too, but usually when the kids are around he's more playful and wants to run around rather than sitting there grooming.
Well. I have probably said more than you ever wanted to hear about bunnies. But, O Future Google-er of "bunnies and small children?," take heart! Such a thing is possible—and could, indeed, bring you great joy. Just remember what it says in the book Marshmallow:
A bunny's a delightful habit
No home's complete without a rabbit!

3 comments:

  1. I felt the same way when I was trying to pick a dog breed to fit into our home. According to the internet NO DOG IS A GOOD CHOICE FOR CHILDREN. According to the internets, no child under the age of 10 should be allowed animals.

    I was surprised, as I pretty much grew up believing that the point of a pet was to bond with the children and amuse the adults with their antics. My pet chicken didn't seem to mind that I was underage--nor did my pet horse, come to think of it.

    The barn cats . . . well, cats are not emotive so we'll assume they loved us as much as we loved them.

    I do think caution should be used in picking a pet to be around small children. I would never pick a Rottweiler or pit bull because we just don't know enough about dog training for that to be safe, but other than the obvious common sense rules I think the internet is a bit off on this issue.

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  2. I am so pleased to hear that bunnies and kids can mix. And I'm thrilled to hear that Nutmeg likes being petted. For some reason, I was under the impression that bunnies didn't like to be touched (perhaps touched but not held?) Now, if I could just be sure a buddy could get along with our cat.

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