A little over a week ago we took our rabbit speed-dating.
Autumn had been gone for a week. Leopold was still noticeably muted in behavior aside from an increased eagerness for petting and cuddles. Normally one big frolicking stomach, he would eventually finish a carrot but without much visible joy.
We packed him into a carrier and took him with us to one of our nearby shelters. I love the look on all the shelter volunteers’ faces when they realize the people with the carrier are here to get another pet rather than surrender the one they’ve brought with them!
They set us up right away in a (clean) single-occupancy bathroom, brought in an x-pen (think portable animal corral), and asked us who we’d like to meet first. Rabbits on average prefer opposite sex partners, even when both are spayed/neutered, so we decided to start with the adult females before moving on to the males (two males are more likely than two females to bond).
The first bunny was super sweet with people — she even liked to be held, which is rare for rabbits, who usually range from tolerating to hating being picked up even if they are hugely affectionate sitting on or right next to a person. But her only answer to Leopold’s inquisitive nose poking between wires of the fence was to try to bite it. Repeatedly. Next!
The second was much more promising. They both displayed non-aggressive behavior for long enough (45 minutes, perhaps?) that it was time to see how they would do in the same space. We moved back the barrier bisecting the bathroom and… Immediate fireworks. Not the good kind. We quickly separated them with the x-pen and decided not to rule her out completely but to try the others to see if there was a better match to be had.
By this point, Leopold was clearly wearing out. The car ride alone was a lot for one day, not to mention the unfriendly reception from the only members of his species he’d seen in a week on top of the loss of his partner. The cumulative effect had him retreating to his carrier, completely uninterested in meeting anyone else. So that’s where he was when the third rabbit entered.
The third was a lively little thing who jumped into Owlet’s lap for snuggles moments after being set down without even pausing to sniff hello first. Then she explored her half of the room, sometimes in quick bounds, sometimes with a funny little walk where her hind legs alternated in a way I hadn’t seen either of my rabbits ever do before. She continued to punctuate exploring with sitting in Owlet’s lap for awhile. Leopold maintained fatigued disinterest. I decided this should probably be his last visit for the day.
Finally, after we turned his carrier around to face the new bunny through the fence, he came forward to say hello. He was visibly more apprehensive than he had been with the first two, but she was friendly and gentle. When they startled each other from time to time it was out of nervousness rather than aggression.
After a long series of only positive interactions we finally put them together, tightening the x-pen around them so they wouldn’t just go lie down on opposite sides of the room. No trouble ensued. They weren’t exactly grooming one another yet, but had clearly already formed a friendly acquaintanceship. The volunteer brought fresh veggies for them to share and dropped them into the middle of the pen. Tentatively the rabbits moved closer together under the lure of tasty treats.
Over an hour had passed without rough behavior of any kind, and I felt pretty confident about taking them home together. I filled out the necessary paperwork and after some discussion with the volunteer we decided to load them into the same carrier to facilitate bonding through the stress of the car ride.
When we got them home we set up our x-pen in the backyard so they would be in neutral territory, and they did really well! Fiona immediately named the new rabbit Bronwyn, and Thor, Platypup, Granny, and I all agreed it was a good choice. Our cat Cricket spent a lot of time watching them curiously.
We separated them that night by setting up the pen inside part of Leopold’s home enclosure, put them in neutral territory on the lawn again the next day, and separated again the second night. The following day we folded back the x-pen, and voila! Pair, bonded.
This is that first morning in Leopold’s territory together, the pen and carrier still at the ready in case separation and/or neutral territory was called for — clearly it was not!
Much cuteness ensued. Both bunnies are really affectionate with people, and Owlet has been loving it. Below is the first photo I took that really shows their size difference — Leopold is a Rex and big for a bunny, about the size and almost the weight of our cats. And Bronwyn, well, she is what they call a Netherland Dwarf.
Welcome to the menagerie, Bronwyn!