People often think of cats and dogs as the only pets who should roam freely about the house, and that all smaller critters belong in cages. But rabbits aren’t so different than your indoor cat: most love to exercise, explore, “chin” (rub their scent glands on items to claim them as their own), practice “binkies” (exuberant, high, sideways hops of joy) and play throughout the house. They can also be trained to use a litter box.
Dr. Tracy Ksiazak is a licensed psychologist in Iowa City who recently started her own private practice, Extraordinary Potential Psychological Assessment (EPPA). Ksiazak has also been a volunteer at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center for nearly three years, instructing other volunteers on how to work with the shelter’s rabbits.
“In addition to being great for the rabbits’ physical and mental health, enrichment and socialization, activities help them to become better family members for potential adopters,” Ksiazak said. “Who wouldn’t be charmed by a small animal that has developed more confidence, learned to be a polite family member and acclimated to a variety of people?”
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find opportunities for shelter animals to truly stretch their legs and let loose. And without these opportunities, it’s difficult to get a sense of their personalities — Do they prefer to run around or relax? Will they play with children and other pets? Are they prone to chew objects around the house, fear the drone of a microwave or make “nests” with strewn sweaters? This information can be invaluable for shelter staff and volunteers hoping to place pets in a compatible home.
So, in October, Ksiazak approached Iowa City Animal Center Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Bragg with a proposal: She would purchase supplies — an exercise pen, rug, litter boxes, toys and food — for her office and, one at a time, take the rabbits to work for a “Bunny’s Day Out.” At the end of the day, she’d return the bunnies with a “report card” describing their behavior “to help potential adopters imagine how a particular rabbit might fit into their family,” Ksiazak said.
“I would pick up a rabbit on my way to work, commute together and spend the day as coworkers,” she explained. “It’s an ideal place to offer shelter bunnies a chance to meet friendly people, take ‘hop-abouts’ for exercise, and get used to home-like noises such as a vacuum cleaner running, people talking and cars passing by the building.”
Thus far, the program has proven effective.
“Three Bunny’s Day Out alumni rabbits have been adopted within the past month,” Kziazak noted. “The shelter staff who care for the rabbits daily tell me that the bunnies are happier, more confident and cleaner in their cages after taking field trips to my office.”
Kzaizak said EPPA has benefited from Bunny’s Day Out as well. Her clients — primarily gifted children, as well as those with learning disabilities and other educational concerns — have the option of including the rabbits in their counseling sessions, and many do so enthusiastically, even scheduling appointments to coincide with the visits. Kzaizak said the bunnies’ presence can decrease anxiety and build trust with clients.
“Having my lagomorphic guests at the office also makes me a better psychologist,” she added. “Interacting with a small animal reminds me to pay attention to body language, slow down and appreciate simple joys.”
Two bunnies who have enjoyed days out are still available for adoption at the Iowa City Animal Center. Kzaizak shared Didi and Celeste’s report cards with Little Village.
Didi is a 2-year-old male New Zealand rabbit, neutered, with an outgoing, sweet and silly personality. His adoption fee is $50. Didi had his Bunny’s Day Out on Nov. 1. Here are Ksiazak’s notes from the day.
Didi did over 30 binkies (hops of joy) while exploring the large waiting room space! He loved having a lot of room to exercise and flopped contentedly after long hop-about sessions. He was also highly motivated by treats, and his favorites were pieces of dried banana. He would be delighted to find a home that provides daily hop-about time in a stimulating space so that he can exercise his body and mind.
Didi did well meeting a friendly 10-year-old and adults. He showed a preference for spending time with me (a female volunteer whom he knows well) and hopped back to me several times to “check in” during his exercise sessions. Didi responded especially well to new people when they offered him treats. He was much more social after he had exercised.
Didi was highly curious about the sights, sounds and smells of the office. He was initially nervous about the vacuum cleaner but acclimated to its sound. He required close supervision because he wanted to chew carpet and furniture. Didi would be most successful in a home environment with good bunny-proofing and supervision of his daily hop-about exercise time! He did not want to get back into the carrier at the end of the day, which I interpreted as Didi having so much fun that he did not want to leave the office environment.
Celeste is a three-month-old female rabbit with white fur. She is spayed, and has an adoption fee of $50. Celeste visited the EPPA office on Nov. 30. Here are Ksiazak’s notes.
Celeste loves to have her head petted and melts into a puddle of bunny contentment. She would be living her best life with an adopter who would get a set of pet steps up to the couch and pet Celeste for hours while watching TV or reading together! Celeste also enjoyed exploring the office and gradually built up her confidence to fast-hop and play.
Celeste met friendly adults today and happily accepted petting. She is very polite about nicely taking treats from people’s hands and was especially enthusiastic about dried papaya. Celeste liked to sit under my desk to be near a friendly person. She listens attentively to conversations and likes watching everyday office activities. She was able to relax and even stretch out to sleep with people talking in the room around her.
Celeste was initially cautious about the new environment but became braver about exploring as the day continued. She was very respectful of the environment and did not try to chew or “bunstruct” anything. Celeste had excellent litter box habits and kept her exercise pen area neat and tidy. She loved having a large cardboard box hidey.
Bonus: Bid bon voyage to these bunnies!
The bustling small animals room at the Iowa City Animal Center is steadily becoming roomier, as the community responds to calls to adopt bunnies. Recently, the shelter found adopters for three rabbits who also enjoyed successful “days out” last month. Congratulations on your new homes, Fuzzy, Josie and Maverick!
For more information on adoption, visit the Iowa City Animal Center website. You may meet Didi and Celeste any time during the shelter’s open hours, and are encouraged to join the center for Holiday with the Hounds on Saturday, Dec. 6 from 10 a.m to 2 p.m., the shelter’s annual open house and donation drive.