Still a ways away, but don’t give pet bunnies for Easter

I was going to save this column for spring, to mark the one year anniversary when I rescued my rabbit Thomasina at Allan Yorke Park.

She died unexpectedly last week, which I guess means this is going to be more eulogistic than I had originally anticipated.

It all happened right before the candlelight vigil for BLPD Officer James Larsen and Bonney Lake resident Zach Roundtree on March 6. I was prepping my camera to shoot in the dark when I noticed a gaggle of children on their hands and knees around a bush. I think I asked an adult what they were looking at, and they replied they found a bunny that folks have been trying to catch for the last several days.

I walked over as the kids found something else to amuse themselves with, assuming I’d find a wild rabbit scared out of its wits.

Instead, it was a small white and black bunny, obviously domesticated, just loafing under the bush.

I kind of stuck my hand out, clicked my tongue a few times like I used to do when I had lovebirds, and she hopped straight for my lap.

Mind you, I’ve never had a pet bunny before, and I’m allergic to most things with fur (and boy, can rabbits shed). But as soon as she made contact with me, I thought, “****, I touched it last. Now I’m responsible for it.”

Amazingly enough, she let me pick her up. Next thing I know, I have my phone in my hand, and I’m texting my wife Kathryn, “Do you want a pet rabbit?”

She replied, “You better not be joking,” to which I responded with just a selfie of me and the bun held up to my face.

Unbeknownst to me, Kathryn had just spent the day telling her students how much she missed her childhood bunnies and wished we had room in our apartment to get one. She told me that as soon as I got back home, and that was when I realized there’s no way we’re going to re-home her with someone else; we were meant to find her.

But until then, I was quite confident I’d find the owners or someone who knew how to take care of rabbits, and I spent the rest of the event trying to balance the bun in one arm and take photos with the other.

Kathryn and I waited three days after posting on various lost pet Facebook pages, asking if anyone knew of someone losing their rabbit, before officially claiming her. We learned someone had let their two rabbits into the wild just a few days previous; we never saw the other one, which is unsurprising, given I know of some bald eagles that nest in that area.

We named her Thomasina, not after the Disney movie (which I had never heard about) but after the play “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard.

The play covers both the present and the pre-electricity past. In the past, one of the protagonists, Thomasina, gives her math teacher Septimus an equation and told him it was a rabbit. Septimus, confused, said it had no resemblance to a rabbit. Thomasina replied that if she had room to expand the equation, it would.

Thomasina also dies unexpectedly in the play, but Septimus finishes the equation after a guilt-driven lifetime of isolation. In the present day, a group of historical researchers found the equation and plugged it into a computer.

It was, indeed, a rabbit.

But I digress — my intent is not to entertain with a story about my bun, but to educate about their common mistreatment and abuse through ignorance and misunderstanding.

Tracking down reliable bunny abandonment statistics is difficult, but a Metro article reported 80 percent of rabbits bought as Easter gifts either die of neglect/abandonment or are given to shelters. A survey done by the nonprofit rabbit education group Make Mine Chocolate! estimated 59 percent of rabbits that enter shelters were given up after less than a year of ownership.

Rabbits can be great pets, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheap, easy to care for, or low maintenance.

While an unaltered bunny may live a few years (60 percent of female rabbits over three years old develop malignant tumors in their uterus) but spayed or neutered rabbits can live up to 12 years.

Bunnies can’t live on just pellets, but need a balanced diet that also includes fresh greens and unlimited hay. Their cage needs to be spruced up at least once every two days, and completely emptied and scrubbed at least once or twice a week. And while they need just as much veterinary care as cats and dogs, you will most likely have to search around for an “exotic animal specialist” (Pine Tree Veterinary Hospital in Maple Valley is awesome) in order to receive proper care.

Added together, all this food, bedding, and professional care means rabbits are expensive pets. The House Rabbit Society ranks them as more expensive to own than guinea pigs or cats.

Rabbits also need a fair amount of companionship. They can’t just live in their crate (so get a play pen and make sure their area has no wires or anything remotely chewable), and it’s important for them to have regular human interaction. And since they’re so fragile, parents can’t expect their kids to be able to provide all that attention, which means an adult should be the primary caregiver.

But if you read the signs right, having a bun can be very emotionally rewarding. They’re easily litter-box trained and if you keep their crate clean, don’t smell. They’re practically silent animals that love to cuddle and socialize, and you can tell they’re happy and content when you hear (or feel) them grind their teeth together. Thomasina herself was extremely curious. If we laid down on the ground, she’d hop onto us and sniff around, and would even help groom us if she felt we weren’t doing a good enough job ourselves.

Having a dog in the house was not problem. We think our 12 pound mini-Australian Shepherd thought Thomasina was a pet for her — they would lick each other through the play pen, and occasionally, our dog would attempt to stick her paw through and pat Thomasina on the head.

I knew none of this when I first picked Thomasina up, but thanks to the shortsighted, irresponsible, and ignorant people who abandoned her, I quickly learned how amazing rabbits can be, and was able to spend ten happy months with mine, giving her the life she deserved.

Rest in peace, little bun.

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