Every Easter thousands of rabbits die. This is because so many people will buy small children rabbits for Easter, mistakenly thinking that bunnies make excellent trouble free starter pets, that require little maintenance When this turns out not to be the case, these rabbits are given away, turned in to over crowded shelters where they will likely be euthanized or just released outside to die.
This Easter I would like you to read about MY first bunny, Blueberry. Unlike so many other bunnies out there, she has beaten the odds. Here is Blueberry’s story:
Sometimes you have an animal companion that changes your life. You may have had one of these yourself. That special animal that you connect with on such a deep level that if it were a human, the only way you could describe them is as a soul mate. I have one of these. I think of her as my Heart Bunny.
Her name is Blueberry, and today she is a spoiled, demanding, self assured diva of a rabbit.
She wasn’t always that way though.Blueberry was born into a nightmare. There were hundreds rabbits in that house. They were not well cared for and pampered family companion animals, they were the victims of a hoarder.
The environment she grew up in was one where they did not receive the proper food, and certainly not enough food for all of them. I picture a bag of pellet food sliced open and just dumped out onto the floor. Then, picture hundreds of insanely hungry bunnies, with sharp teeth, and with untrimmed sharp claws having to fight each other in order to eat. That is how she had to stay alive. Fighting her siblings and other rabbits, just to eat, just to stay alive.
Picture all of these rabbits being sick with respiratory illnesses, suffering from urine scald, having infected wounds from having to fight each other. And picture dozens, and hundreds of rabbits dying due to these conditions. Blueberry lived through horror, but it wasn’t a movie, it was real life. She managed to stay alive though. She beat the odds.
One day there was a raid, and all 400 rabbits that were still alive were rescued. (Yes….there were 400 rabbits in one house) For half of them though, it was just too late. They were too damaged, and too sick. The only humane thing to do was to end their suffering. Blueberry survived this culling, and was taken in by Rabbit Rescue Inc. She sure beat the odds.
Blueberry was checked by a vet, and went home with her new Foster mom. It was not an auspicious beginning. Within the first week, she had bitten her foster mom, and refused to come out of her cage. It wasn’t that she was aggressive, it was that she was just so scared, and traumatized, that it was her only way of being. It was all that she knew! Another lady took her home to foster, Lynn. Lynn was amazingly patient with her, and helped Blueberry on her long road to healing. BB spent the first two weeks hiding in her cage, refusing to come out, even with the top removed from the cage. Finally, Lynn forced the issue. Blueberry did not like it, but she began to see that outside of her cage was not dangerous. Over time, she began to slowly open up to Lynn.
There were setbacks. Once Lynn touched her with a piece of hay while she was filling her manger. This scared BB so much she ran away to hide. She also had an accident while jumping to try and reach a plant. The plant had been moved, so the platter it had been resting on was no longer anchored and flipped over on her…..it scared her so badly she would not jump anymore, at all.
I did not learn this until much later, but she used the same techniques that later on I used as well. Lynn would sit in her pen with her for hours, just being with her. She tempted her with treats and bits of food, especially greens, to slowly build that trust. She even had her husband and nephew do this as well, so that BB would get used to other people. When BB first arrived at Lynn’s house, she would pee everywhere. Lynn taught her what a litter box was, and how to use it, and for the first time in her life, Blueberry did not have to live in her own filth.
Blueberry ignored toys, because she just didn’t know what they were for, but would attack a paper roll filled with hay. She also loved to “find” hay purposely left in corners of the room. Maybe it made her feel clever. In short, she started to come alive.
And then, she came home with me. I had wanted a rabbit for many years. I did a lot of research on rabbit care, and really thought I knew what I was getting myself in to. I picked Blueberry to adopt based partially on her looks (I am a sucker for a pretty redhead), and partially on her bio. When I went to see her, it really only took one look at her to know that she was going to be my bunny. I expected a curious, affectionate, comical bunny rabbit, just like the ones I had seen on YouTube, or the ones that lived with people I knew. I didn’t get that at all.
When I brought her home, she immediately reverted back to the total fear state she had been in the day she was rescued. This was somewhat to be expected, because it was a big change for her after several months with her foster mom. Add to that, I smelled male, just like the hoarder who had traumatized her so badly. It did not begin well.
Blueberry would not approach me, or even be out in the open if I was in the room. She hid under my bed, and wouldn’t come out for anything. As the days when on, the situation did not change or improve. Although her bio told about her background, I asked for more detail, and Rabbit Rescue told me more about the horrible horrible situation she came from.
I know a lot of people would not have been interested in having such a damaged and emotionally crippled animal especially as their very first bunny. Frankly, I wasn’t too thrilled with it either. I couldn’t return her though. The idea of discarding her, just because she was not the bunny I expected would mean that I was not any better than the man who made her like she was in the first place. I might never get through to her, but I had to try.
The first thing I did, was disassemble my bed so that she could no longer hide under there. I put the box spring right on the floor. I also provided her with an area in her condo which she could hide in when she got too scared, and also a cardboard box with a hole cut at either end that she could go to hide.
When this new set up was done, I lay down on the floor to have a conversation with her. She was in her cardboard hidey box, and I could only see her little nose deep in the shadowy darkness inside the box. I made a deal with her. I told her that I would never hurt her, and I would never starve her, and that I wouldn’t push her faster than she could go. I told her that her part of the deal was to try. I said I knew it would be hard for her, and that she would often want to run back to the safety of her box, and that that was ok. I told her that her cardboard box was HERS, and I would never bother her when she was in her box. (I don’t think she believed me) I also told her that I would not give up on her. Ever.
Next came several months of painfully slow progress. Every night when I came home from work, I would lay on the floor of the bedroom. I wouldn’t try to approach Blueberry hiding in her box, I just lay on the floor reading a book, or watching a show on my tablet, or just having a nap. For weeks I tempted her with treats. I had started this back when she was under the bed. I would put the treat at the edge of the bed. At first she would wait until I was out of the room to retrieve it, but then would creep slowly, keeping an eye on me the whole time…snatch it, and run back under the bed to nom it.
As the weeks went on, I put the treat closer and closer to me, as she got more used to me, and started to understand that I would not hurt her if she came within my reach. We broke a barrier together when I got her to take food directly from my hand. It was suggested to me by a friend to “be the guy with cilantro”. It worked. She wanted the the yummy stuff so badly that she took a risk. With fits and starts she slowly edged closer to me, stopping and sniffing for danger, and finally strettttttching out her neck to delicately grab the stalk while still staying as far away as possible. Every day after that, I hand fed her her supper, one piece of lettuce or cilantro or parsley at a time. More weeks went by. She got comfortable enough to sit on her big fluffy back feet and eat the pieces in front of me, instead of running off with them to eat them in her box.
More weeks passed. One evening I was laying on the floor, pseudo napping. I felt a funny little tickle on my back, where my shirt had pulled up. It was a little Blueberry nose and whiskers sniffing me. I did not react, and she started to sniff me all over. She wasn’t accepting me yet, but she felt that she was safe enough to at least investigate me.
Months had passed by this time, and we had made a lot of progress together. I think she knew by this time that we were a team, working through it together. I still could not pet her though, touching her was off the table. If I tried, she would run away and hide in her box until I left the room. More months past, and we got to the point where I could take 1 fingertip, and gently brush down her flank. More than that though, and it was into the box.
Then came…”The Incident”. For safety sake, I had to be able to pick her up. If there were a fire, or she had a medical emergency, I had to be able to pick her up and put her in a carrier. I worked up to it slowly, and one Saturday morning gently put a hand on either side of her. I did not try to pick her up, I was just touching her. What happened though, was she screamed. If you have never heard a rabbit scream, you are a very very lucky person. A rabbit scream sounds like a piglet being tortured. It is unnerving, and sends shivers up and down your spine. I think I may have jumped higher than she did. She scared the pants off me with that scream, and scared herself even worse.
It was a pretty low point for me. I despaired that I ever would get through to her. That very same evening though, something miraculous happened. I was sitting on the floor in the living room, watching a movie on tv. I had left the gate open to the bedroom. I did not think she would come out, considering what had happened earlier. Suddenly though I felt a bonk bonk bonk on my back. It was Blueberry. She had crept up behind me, and gave me a soft series of nose-bonks. It was her way of apologizing for over reacting that morning. She understood that her reaction to being touched was out of all proportion to what had happened. More importantly though, it was the first time she ever initiated contact with me.
It was a turning point for us. It still took yet more months to get there, but after that day, there was a beginning trust there with her. She knew from that moment on, that I was not going to hurt her, and that I was a friend. There were other challenges to face together, and other hills to climb.
I taught her how to jump again by installing a ramp on to my bed to let her come up and down from the bed, so she could get used to heights again. As she got more comfortable, she would only use the ramp to run up, but would jump down. Then later, she would ignore the ramp and just jump up whenever she wanted to come see me.
A year after she came to live with me, I went on some new medication, which caused severe nightmares as a side effect. Blueberry knew something was wrong. In one of the bravest little acts I have ever seen,she did NOT run to hide from whatever noises or thrashing I was making, instead she jumped up on the bed, and did everything she could to wake me up. It worked. I woke up, and found her up on her back legs, tucked unto my shoulder. Her front paws were scrabbling on my bare shoulder, scratching me, and her little head was furiously bonking me. I will never know what she was thinking, but she had no thought of her own safety, she just knew she needed to help me, by waking me up. I pet her and soothed her and told her I was alright now. She stayed right there until I fell asleep again, tucked into my shoulder. She wanted HER person to be safe…in her little mind, she was protecting me.
Today she is sassy, independent, demanding of affection and attention, and a complete diva. She is so full of confidence that she is dominant bunny with her boyfriend Benji, who was also rescued from the same hoarder. She is also affectionate with me. When I go in the room now, she immediately runs up and stands on her back legs. She wants me to pet her, and gives me affection right back. When I pick her up, she melts into my chest, because she has complete faith that I will not drop her, and she can relax and enjoy the cuddle.
As a group, the bunnies rescued from this one rescue, collectively known as the Sudbun’s (The rescue was officiated by the Sudbury Ontario SPCA), have had a higher than normal mortality rate. In the two years since the rescue a number of them have passed away, far too young, from conditions that should not have been fatal. This is likely because of the extremely poor nutrition they had as kits. It stunted their development, and their immune and digestive systems did not completely develop properly as a result. They have all been exposed to deadly rabbit diseases and are likely all carriers.
What this means is that Blueberry will likely not live to the normal rabbit age of 10 or 12 or more years old. Each day with her is therefor a gift. With every day that I wake up, and this scruffy little redhead greets me, expecting a head rub and a treat before I leave the room, she beats the odds.
She lived in nothing but terror and fear and darkness, but every day now she loves life, and lets everyone around her know it. Every day, she beats the odds. Whatever time I do have with her, I cherish. She is my little miracle, my heart bunny. Man, it has taken a long time to get here.
Happy Easter everyone.
There are still Sudbuns who have not found their forever
homes. For information on these and many other currently
available rabbits for adoption, please follow the link