Why I Adopted Rabbits – Facing Gain in Loss

Why adopting rabbits is the best choice I could’ve made.

I think I was 4 years old when I first started begging my parents for a dog. I was relentless, in the way children are when they suddenly decide they need a MASSIVE and expensive lifestyle change and nothing else will satisfy them. To be honest, I don’t even think I fully understand what having a dog would entail.

Eventually, they gave in, and we made a long journey to a farm in Pennsylvania. My mother, having looked into hypoallergenic breeds for quite some time, decided to select a Bedlington Terrier.

We brought our puppy home after she fell asleep in her arms. We had her for longer than most, but it wasn’t enough time.

Allergies were a huge issue. I’m deathly allergic to cats, despite loving them. I’ve been hospitalized a few times thanks to sleeping over in rooms that had them. My dog allergies are slightly less severe– as long as I stay away from dander, and wash my skin obsessively, I’m usually okay for a few hours at a time.

Paisley was “hypoallergenic”. There’s no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic pet, but you can get pretty close. Bedlington Terriers have a specific curly fur pattern that locks in dander and prevents it from becoming airborne easily. As long as she didn’t go on the furniture (we only allowed her on one chair), and I washed my hands after touching her, everything was kosher.

Weirdly enough, I’m also incredibly allergic to chickens. Like, I can’t be in the same house as a chicken. I found this out by attending a get together at an acquaintances house and realized my breathing went to shit abnormally quickly. I sat on the doorstep in -30 weather, wheezing and checking the prices for an Uber to the nearest hospital. I was totally baffled– he only had two dogs and a cat, and they were being kept in a completely different part of the house. That’s when he revealed that he also had chickens in his garage (because why the fuck not? Chickens are surprisingly loving pets). Mystery solved, and another mystery found.

Maybe I’ll write one day about losing Paisley and more about her life. I think she deserves an entire section for herself.

Not having a dog in my life was a huge adjustment for me. Even today, as I have two wonderful bunnies that I wouldn’t change anything for, I miss having a dog in my life so much. I force Sean to take creeper shots of dogs he sees around Montreal. I still freak out every time I see a dog IRL to the point of sometimes borderline crying in joy. I tear up from puppy gifs and smelling Greenies at the grocery store. I know this reads in fairly insane fashion– but they’re just perfect beings, okay? We don’t deserve them.


I have quite a few friends in the homeless community in Montreal. That might sound strange to some people, especially if you live in an area where people can’t afford treatment and your first concern with strangers is your own safety. But, (assuming you remain safe), you truly meet the most incredible people if you keep an open mind. There was this one guy who my mom spoke to quite a bit while running errands, living on a fairly popular street nearby. He had three dogs. This isn’t uncommon– most backpackers and visible homeless have dogs. They’re wonderful companions, don’t mind the cold, sleep with you and protect your stuff. They don’t care about who you are or how much money you have. Dogs just want to love you, regardless of circumstance.
One day, I passed by him on my way home, and decided to grab some of Paisley’s stuff to bring back to him. I hung around for a few minutes before striking up conversation and offering my things. He had a dog with him that we hadn’t seen before.
Case in point– this guy spent all of his money rescuing dogs. He cared far more about those dogs than I’ve seen anyone care for themselves. He has an ongoing agreement with the local SPCA for vet care & food in exchange for fostering dogs in need. Some punk kids (we have a great underground music scene and LOTS of punk folks in MTL), were hanging around previously and speaking with him. Turns out, they were adopting a bully breed he was fostering, who was with him now. Super nice people. They had been supporting him and his work for a very long time.

Oh my god. That pitbull was the sweetest little girl ever. We started talking about loss, and what happened with Paisley. He invited me to pet the pup– didn’t need to invite me twice, thanks– and she immediately jumped in my lap, covering my face in kisses. (Yes, my face swelled up. TOTALLY WORTH IT.) She was such a sweetheart. Turns out she was being kept in another city nearby in a cold, abandoned building, trapped in there, surrounded by rotting garbage, left behind by some methheads who apparently forgot about her. He had to break in through the apartment door to get her out. She was emaciated from being starved for god knows how long. Even as I looked at her weeks later, she was still incredibly skinny. What little strength she had shone as her tail whacked the curb repeatedly every time she spotted people.

Turns out, he had lost quite a few dogs over the past decades. It was nice to be able to vent to someone who felt the same amount of pain from losing their best friends. He gave me some really good advice, actually. I’d like to impart upon you what he told me.

First part– dogs can tell if you don’t want them, and it’s not fair to them if you subconsciously punish or resent them for not being like your previous. If you’re going to adopt another dog, make sure you’re genuinely okay with it and not just adopting one to distract yourself from grief. Don’t fill the void until you’ve processed everything that you’re going through. You can’t replace your best friend. You can learn to love more, though. That’s the beautiful thing about being human. The amount of love you have to give is infinite.

When you bring more into your life, the love you have to give isn’t halved. It’s doubled.

Sometimes after loss, it doesn’t feel that way. Or gain, for that matter! Some parents wonder if they’ll love their second child as much as the first. When you lose your significant other, you wonder if you can love someone else. You might not even want to. But eventually you’ll prove to yourself that every being that has touched your life can have a place in your heart.

That being said, it’s okay to process the difficult times with another creature to love. Look at rescuing, for example. You aren’t just saving a dog, and your dog isn’t just helping you through a really hard time. You’re saving each other. And I feel like that’s what happened with my bunnies.


A little while after we lost Paisley, I decided to go to the SPCA to interact with some pups. When I got there, something weird happened. I didn’t immediately go through the door to the dog section. Something drew me to the small animal section. It’s one of those moments where you can’t really tell what’s causing it, but your subconscious pushes you to do something unexpected.

Well, there was a chicken in there. Someone decided to throw a live chicken out of a car window onto the highway, and the SPCA rescued him. (Seriously, WTF?) So I didn’t stay in there for too long.

But I did start talking to one of the volunteers running the small animal section about bunnies. She offered to bring one to me in a “visiting room”, a separate room where you can interact with an animal you’re interested in.

I went to the visitor’s room and waited for a few minutes. She came in the room, holding this beautiful little Dutch bunny. “Her name is Carrie,” she told me. “She’s one of the most outgoing bunnies we have.”

Much to my surprise (this is incredibly unusual for a bunny), the second she put her down, Carrie came running up to me and nudged me a few times. Then she climbed in my lap and periscoped (standing on her hind legs), looking into my face, her whiskers tickling my cheeks. I laughed. She was so friendly and cuddly, honking as I petted her.

About 10 minutes later, it dawned on me that I wasn’t having an allergic reaction. I wasn’t allergic to bunnies! This is the first mammal I’ve encountered that I wasn’t severely allergic to! I started to cry. I’m not religious by any means, but it felt like a sign.

The girl brought in another bun– a giant, 10 pound black bunny named Harrie. She had been abused, and thus was very offstandish. Harrie came into the room and was very cautious for a good 10 minutes or so. I waited patiently. Still overwhelmed, I actually started crying in happiness again at this point. When that happened, Harrie came over and hopped into my lap. She didn’t like getting petted, but just sat there. That actually made the crying worse, haha.

I was determined to adopt her. Since I share a home with my parents, and it wouldn’t exactly be polite to suddenly bring home rabbits without warning, I brought them to the SPCA to meet her.

Unfortunately, about a week later, Harrie was gone. And so were all of the rabbits at the SPCA. They were “relocated”, apparently, either to different shelters or transported across the border to the USA. The volunteers weren’t sure where. I tried looking for her for months. Checking Petfinder constantly, Craigslist FB pages of rescues, asking rescues, looking everywhere I possibly could. I expanded my search past Quebec, Ontario, Vermont and NY, all the way to Philadelphia. I never found her. I don’t even know if she ever made it to a shelter. Bunnies are incredibly fragile, and car rides stress them out a lot. It’s possible she passed away during the trip. I can only hope she was somehow immediately adopted.


A few months after committing to adopting bunnies, I was essentially browsing r/rabbits full time. One day, I decided to just search for “Montreal”. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. Most of the results were from over a year before. But I’m glad I did, because one result had been posted a few days before. It was a small post from someone in Montreal, stating that they really didn’t want to, but had to rehome their bunnies. They were looking for resources and advice on rehoming.

I immediately replied and sent them a PM.
One of the owners had developed a severe bunny allergy and it was no longer feasible for them to have rabbits in their home. Although they loved their bunnies very much, they didn’t really have a choice at that point. They had tried Allerpet, switching hay, keeping them on another floor, medications, treatments… anything you can think of, they tried. I knew that feeling. When I was a kid, we had a number of doctors advise us to get rid of Paisley. You do everything in your power to keep your beloved pets.

One of the videos they posted of the buns.

After PM’ing back and forth for a while, we decided to visit them to meet the bunnies. They were wonderful (both the buns and the family). Boonie came up to us a few times. Jackson was much more shy, but eventually he accepted some treats from me. I was in love.

A few weeks later, we brought them home.


Boonie

This is Boonie trying to do parkour. We told her to get down because bunny parkour usually ends like this:

Boonie is much more social and confident in personality. She’s a rock. She’ll go right up to you, even if she doesn’t know you. When people visit, she’ll come by and hang out, while Jackson sleeps (or hides) under furniture. If I had to guess, her lack of anxiety is probably due to her being handraised since she was a baby.

Boonie was rescued from a pet store. Someone decided to put her and her siblings in a basket and dropped them off in the doorway of a pet store. She was practically a newborn– maybe a week old? She didn’t even have her eyes open at that point. So all she’s ever known were humans. It’s a miracle she lived. Prey animals are so fragile as babies– keeping them alive without their mother is very difficult.

Boonie, uh... that's not a litterbox!
The whole world is her litterbox, apparently.

She’s sassy, she’s smart as hell, and she’s not shy to demand attention and food. If you ignore her, she’ll start dropping random items into her water dish to demand a water change & attention.

step 1 to getting attention: grab nearby items and dump them in your water. In this case, a hay carrot toy.

That, or she’s making tea.

Sitting on Jackson’s head, because why not? He’s accepted his fate.

Sometimes you’ll call her name, and she turns and stares at you for a few seconds. If you don’t have treats, she’ll just turn back around and leave. She’s a bit messy. Loves shredding paper and digging, so we fill cardboard boxes with shredded paper to give to her. She’s so confident that she generally doesn’t need nearly as much attention as Jackson does, but she does appreciate face massages when she’s relaxing. Unless he isn’t around– in which case, she becomes anxious and clingy. She needs lots of extra love when he’s sick at the vet.

Boonie has a soft spot, the type that makes you amazed that animals have such a strong sense of compassion. She has a knack for telling when I’m nauseated or in pain. While she’s not really the type to cuddle, she’ll come hang out and sit by me. It means the world to me.

She grinds her teeth together when you pet her. That’s the rabbit equivalent of purring.


Jackson

Admitting it now– I totally fuss over Jackson. He’s very shy, very anxious, and just the sweetest little boy. Unfortunately, he gets sick pretty frequently. He actually needed surgery about a year ago to remove part of his liver. My therapist suspects I see myself in him. I don’t really disagree.

If Boonie is my emotional support bunny, then I’m Jackson’s emotional support human. It goes full circle.

Hiding under my shirt at the vet’s office. Strongbad will protect him.

Jackson has a pretty sad story. He was an abuse case before the previous owners rescued him. He was very small and his fur hadn’t completely grown in yet. (After the previous owners rescued him, he gained weight to about 2 lb. Now he weighs 5 lb). Basically, whoever had him initially treated him like crap, and once they were bored with him they dumped out into the snow on one of the coldest nights of the year and left him to die. Fortunately, a passerby found him in the middle of the night before he froze to death. They named him Jackson.

Bunny in a hamper! ♥

We wonder a lot about what he went through. Not only is he super anxious and nervous around new people, sometimes he gets nightmares and shrieks in his sleep. (Yeah, I’m starting to see why my therapist thinks we’re similar.) I’ve never observed this happening with Boonie. He’s also a carrier for Pasturella– there’s a chance he picked it up while on the streets.

Jackson, during his recovery after his surgery.

He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. If he trusts you, he’ll give you endless kisses. Sometimes he’ll come over and start licking your feet to ask for attention. I was honored to earn his trust– we’ve had him for two years now, and his trust still increases day by day. While he’s incredibly sweet, he doesn’t hesitate to let you know if he’s upset or pissed off. I’ve seen him get angry at inanimate objects blocking his way. He either flips them in rage or foot flicks at them. (Foot flicking is the bunny equivalent of giving you the finger.) It’s too funny. I don’t know how something so cute and fluffy can have so much rage towards objects.

I think we have a good system going for when Jackson gets sick. Being prey animals, bunnies usually hide when they’re not feeling well, which makes it incredibly difficult to detect symptoms. When he isn’t feeling right, he tends to get clingy. When he had liver lobe torsion, he ran up to me in panic and sneezed on my hand. That’s when I knew something was wrong (and gross).


We have free range buns. Unless they’re fighting (which has only happened twice, after a vet visit) they have full access to just roam the house full time. They don’t have a cage or hutch. They’ll sleep just about anywhere: under my parents’ bed, on my bed, under the furniture in the hallway and by our chairs are their favorite spots.
For a little while after we first adopted them, they were initially living in my room. They’d stay in there during the night and then demand to be let out to the rest of the house every morning… usually around 5 AM.

Unfortunately for them, I’m not exactly a 5 AM kind of person.

Unfortunately for me, they eventually found out that I will definitely wake up if they decide to insert their feet into my mouth. It tastes like hay. 3/10, would not recommend.

Excuse me, I know it’s 6 AM but it has come to my attention that I’m a rabbit.
Please give me strawberries.

Eventually we just decided to let them spend the night in the rest of the house. Currently, we have such a terrible cable management system going on in my room that we keep the door closed until we’ve bunnyproofed everything. They have access to the rest of the house entirely.

It does seem a bit strange sometimes to have bunnies just casually walking around your house! It makes me really thankful that they’re litter trained. But they’re surprisingly sociable, will follow you around sometimes and ask for petting, very intelligent and have such strong personalities. They’re wonderful pets. Rabbits are kind of like a mix between cats and dogs.

I can say for sure that living around bunnies has improved my mental health terribly. From not being alone in the middle of the night when I’m sick, to having little beings to dote on and pet when I’m not feeling well– it’s all a benefit.

I recently started growing herbs in the garden for them. We’ve got lettuce, zucchini (mostly for me, they’re not a huge fan of them), dill, kale, parsley, cilantro, two types of flowers, lemongrass and spinach.
I’d love to grow mint and a dozen other herbs for them. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait to move first.

Bunnies are difficult to care for. You have to be constantly alert to their needs. They need constant access to hay– they’re grazers and like to eat while they poop. (I don’t judge.) We give them lettuce & herb salads twice a day, fruit slices as snacks, seagrass mats, sticks to chew on (their teeth never stop growing– if they don’t gnaw on sticks to file them down, they’ll have to chew furniture before they grow inwards) and any number of toys & cardboard boxes to keep them occupied.

I think, in a way, keeping myself occupied is probably a good thing too.

I’d like to post later about some of the challenges that new bunny owners can expect, explain in depth what vet visits are like, a bit more about them personally, and some of the experiences we’ve had with them. I’d also like to post a bit more about my health journey.

I apologize for the lack of updates for quite some time. I have any number of posts partially written, waiting to be finished & published. Some, I’ve lost motivation for. Others are too painful to finish. Gotta get that backlog done though, eh?

With love and bunnies,

Excess

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