By Tom Hennessy
Originally posted at Contra Costa Times.com
With Wasabi, it was love at first sight.
Wasabi captured the heart of Tom Hennessy’s daughter and her family.
During a morning run last October, my daughter, Diana, passed a cage in a yard near her home in rural Forestville. Something moved inside the cage.
The next morning, she took a closer look. The cage’s inhabitant turned out to be a rabbit; white with black spots, a breed of bunny, as she would later learn, called an English Spot.
Diana and her husband, Randy, are animal people. They share three acres with two Sicilian donkeys, three Jack Russell terriers and a cat named Boulder. Why not add a rabbit, she thought?
The condition of the cage drove her into action the next day. She knocked on the door. The man who opened it spoke little English. “I tried to explain that the bunny needed water, food, and better living conditions.”
Bottom line: the man gave her the bunny. “I think he just wanted to get rid of me. Later, I was told they were probably raising the rabbit for food.”
She cleaned the animal, took it to a veterinarian, who judged it to be six months to a year old. And she learned the many things people should learn before adopting rabbits. That included rabbit-proofing their house by keeping electrical cords out of reach and teaching it to use a litter box The latter took little effort.
They named the rabbit Wasabi, not realizing it was also the name of a Japanese horse radish. Randy simply thought the “w” sound had a rabbit ring to it.
After devouring the House Rabbit Society manual, they joined a rapidly rising number of people who live with house rabbits, people like actor Clint Eastwood and his wife Dina, who have adopted a rabbit “son” named August.
Rabbits, in fact, are now believed to rank third, behind cats and dogs, on the list of popular mammal pets. And the phenomenon is worldwide. On the Internet, Diana has found a “rabbit family” in Durban, South Africa. Their pet’s name happens to be Wasabi.
House rabbits come in a variety of breeds and an even greater variety of imaginative names. Five minutes at the computer turned up such handles as Sir Bun Buns, Major Hiccup, Rascal E. Rabbit, Humphrey Bogart, and Nibbles Feldman.
Life with a rabbit
When I ask Diana how her family’s lives have changed since Wasabi moved in, she says:
“It is wonderful in a way that is hard to describe. You have to spend a lot of time with a bunny to establish an initial trust. We spend hours just watching Wasabi, whether she’s grooming herself, doing a “binky” (a rabbit dance of joy where they leap and spin in the air) or thumping to warn us of some unseen danger. Everything she does is a delight to witness.
“One curious thing about bunnies is that for the most part they are silent. So you learn how they communicate with body language and you learn what they mean by some of the funny little noises they do make.”
She recommends spaying and neutering, saying it “greatly reduces behavioral problems. If not spayed at an early age, female rabbits have a high risk of ovarian cancer.”
It should be noted that we are talking here about rabbits bred to live indoors, not field rabbits.
So popular are pet rabbits that some organizations have established programs in which the animals can socialize. On Sundays, for example, Diana takes Wasabi to nearby Petaluma, where Humane Society volunteers run a bunny playground.
Says Diana, “Its main purpose is to socialize bunnies, including some up for adoption. Carpets and blankets are put out in a large room along with tunnels, boxes and toys. There is even music for the rabbits. And there is nothing cuter than a room filled with bunnies hopping about. It’s a great way for people to observe bunnies in action and find out more about house rabbits.”
A house rabbit is defined as a domestic rabbit kept as a pet for companionship, one that lives inside the home with its human companions.
The bunny playground can also inspire rabbit romance. That was attempted recently when, amid breathless anticipation by the humans, Wasabi was introduced to a male name Lenny. Alas, the prospective lovers took to biting each other immediately and the affair never got off the ground.
Are there points about which prospective house rabbit owners need to be informed? “Yes,” Diana says. “Take your bunny out of a cage and out of the backyard hutch. Once a bunny is allowed the freedom to move around inside the home, you will learn what extraordinary creatures they are.
“Also,” she says, “rabbits absolutely must be spayed or neutered. Females have a high risk of ovarian cancer if not spayed, and will die at a much younger ago. And spaying and neutering greatly reduce behavioral problems. If people knew this there would be fewer rabbits surrendered at shelters.
“And because they are prey animals, most bunnies do not like to be picked up or held. But they will snuggle with you on the couch or on the floor.”
They will even watch TV. Wasabi often cuddles up to Randy to join him in watching TV tennis or the San Francisco Forty-Niners.
For more data on adopting a house rabbit, Diana suggests three Web sites:
Alas, the growing popularity of keeping rabbits as pets has been paralleled, although not equaled, by a rise in the popularity of eating them, a practice not endorsed by the Rousseaus. When Sunset magazine recently ran a feature on rabbit recipes, Randy fired off a letter to the editor:
“I was very disappointed to see Sunset advocating the eating of rabbit as a fashionable trend among meat eaters. We live with a house rabbit. Our Wasabi is a wonderful being … If you were to live with a rabbit, you would no more likely eat one than you would eat your dog or cat.”
Sunset’s editor wrote back. “Thanks for your comments. We’ll share them with our food team.”