Tuesday 22 January 2013

Rabbits As Childhood Pets

We had lots of pets when I was growing up. We had so many that my French teacher would audibly groan whenever she asked me “Avez-vous des animaux?”. We had guinea pigs, fish, cats and rabbits. Over the span of my childhood we had Cat, Waif, Oscar, Tiddles, Nancy, Bet, Dinky, Doodles, Charlie, Sylvester, Moby, Floppy, Chips, Thumper, Snowy, Speckles and, I must admit, I’ve totally forgotten the names of my other fish.

A quick glance at that list will tell you the following things:
1. I liked animals
2. I was not very good at looking after said animals
3. I continued to acquire more animals even after realising this

Most of the animals came from pet shops. We would head out to the pet shop, select the animals that we thought were cutest, hand over our money to the pet shop owner (who seemed to have no affinity with animals whatsoever and would probably have preferred that all his cages were filled with money instead). But the rabbits were different, we never bought a rabbit. We never intended to get a rabbit.

My Uncle, through some hair-brained scheme and a desire to make more money, had ended up with a rabbit at his pub, “For t’kids to play we.” he explained. Sadly, it turned out that rabbits are not fond of being petted by hordes of strange children, and so my Uncle was left with an unwanted rabbit named Floppy. My Mum brought Floppy to live with us.

Floppy immediately overtook me and my sister as my mother’s pride and joy. He had a hutch, but it was only ever locked at night. My Mum doesn’t think it’s right to cage animals, and so Floppy had the run of the garden (and next door’s, and next door but one’s gardens too). Obviously we got a bit of a name for ourselves because soon we had acquired even more rabbits. Chips was given to us by a school friend who moved to Australia. And one morning, a knock on the door revealed an angry looking rabbit being held (at arm’s length) by a man who said “Is this your rabbit?” and then ran away before my poor Mum could say no. She still has the scar from the stitches on her arm after a particularly nasty bite from Speckles, the angry rabbit. I don’t remember where Snowy or Thumper came from now. But, no doubt, they too were unwanted pets. 

I think sometimes parents just run out of ideas. Their children have lots of jigsaws, and a bike, and plenty of V-Tech toys, and some craft supplies. What else can they possibly want? Oooh how about an alive toy, I bet the child would LOVE that! And so the parents go through a list of possibilities. Not a pony - they’re expensive. Not a dog, they need walking. Not a cat, they’re scratchy. We need something easy. And so, without bothering to find out if rabbits actually are easy (which they’re not, by the way), a rabbit is decided as the pet of choice.

At first the rabbit is great - toy of the moment. But then the child gets a karaoke machine, or winter comes and it’s not longer fun to spend time outside with the rabbit, or maybe the rabbit falls out of favour because it doesn’t do much. Whatever the reason, more often than not, that rabbit will end up neglected. The rabbit doesn’t get cleaned out often enough, is never played with, and sometimes goes days without anyone noticing it has no water. The parents don’t want to accept that they may have made a bad purchase here, and they certainly don’t want to accept that their child may be neglecting the rabbit, and so the situation remains unchanged. Eventually, said rabbit dies, or is handed on to a new family “Oh, you have Peter Rabbit, really, our child has tired of him anyway.” And so the suffering continues.

I enjoyed having rabbits as a child, they are fun animals to interact with, but I never intended to have any as adults. But then came Dot.

Dot was the spitting image of the Pets at Home rabbits you see in the strange glass boxes in store. She was white with brown speckles, a lop eared rabbit, absolutely beautiful. She was bought for a child who then tired of her and passed her onto another child. When I took her on, she looked very miserable indeed. She had an infection in her eye, her fur was dirty and she was very, very thin. My Mum, still carrying that torch for Floppy, took us straight to the vet. They said Dot would die, and suggested we put her down. I said I’d like to see if she improves, I think she might be unhappy because of how she’s been living. The vet, trying hard not to laugh in my face, said ok.

Just a week later, Dot was unrecognisable. Her eye infection had cleared up, she had put weight on and started cleaning herself again. The vet was visibly impressed. The vet inspected her mouth and said that she would need some dental work. To cut a long (and depressing) story short, Dot had been fed the wrong type of food her whole life. The rabbit food sold by the big supermarkets (the multi coloured flakes etc) is actually unsuitable for rabbits (who should be fed pellet food) because it doesn’t contain enough fibre. Because of her bad diet, Dot’s bones were weak. Having a weak jaw bone, meant that Dot’s teeth shifted slightly over time, this had allowed food to get trapped around the teeth and this had caused an abscess. Dot’s (completely avoidable) dental problems would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Dot joined our family just over three years ago. Sadly, Dot passed away two weeks ago, leaving behind her bunny mate, Sweep. Sweep is also a rescue rabbit. He is white with black speckles, just like the baby bunnies you see in pet shops. There are rescues up and down the country, bursting at the seams with rabbits. If you are considering buying rabbits (plural - you should never have a rabbit alone) for your children, please don’t shop at a pet shop, and instead contact your local sanctuary. But most importantly, remember that animals are not toys, they are part of the family and deserve to be treated as such.

You may think having pets is an important way of teaching your child about responsibility, and how to care for animals. But if you allow that animal to be neglected, what kind of a message are you sending to your child?

Choosing an animal from a sanctuary is the first step in teaching your child the real value of animals. They are not commodities to be bought and sold, and by rescuing a rabbit in need, you can turn their life around.

Find your local rabbit sanctuary here. For advice on how to look after rabbits, click here.

This post is in memory of Dot, the world’s bravest rabbit.

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