Many animal shelters see a sad trend in late spring and early summer: an influx of rabbits, bought from pet stores during the Easter season only to be abandoned after the novelty — along with the leftover chocolate bunnies — was gone.
This isn’t the case with every bunny currently housed at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center, but all six still await a permanent home.
Is a rabbit right for you? That question may require you to dismiss the common myths about bunnies as pets and consider their real needs, costs and singular qualities. Luckily, Tracy Ksiazak is chock-full of bunny knowledge.
Ksiazak, an Iowa City Animal Center volunteer and mother to seven rabbits herself, started the Bunny’s Day Out program in October 2018. A Bunny’s Day Out consists of taking shelter rabbits for a day-long field trip to Extraordinary Potential Psychological Assessment, Ksiazak’s private psychology practice in Iowa City (where many of her young patients have come to excitedly anticipate the visitors).
“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,” Ksiazak told Little Village. At the end of their day out, the bunny receives a “report card” written by Ksiazak describing their behavior, personality and responses to various stimuli. Two current shelter bunnies have had “days out”: Rocky and Snowman.
Some bunny facts
While enclosures can offer bunnies shelter, privacy and comfort, most rabbits enjoy freedom for at least a few minutes or hours a day. If you let them roam the house — and in Ksiazak’s case, the office — they can hop off some energy, treat you to a binky (exuberant, high, sideways hops of joy) or a dog-like zoomie, and perhaps even crash with you on the couch.
Bunnies are great pets for people in apartment buildings or other close living arrangements, Ksiazak says, because they are small and naturally quiet animals. They are also crepuscular, meaning they’re most active in the morning and evening, resting at night and through the afternoon — a schedule that suits most 9-to-5 workers well. Another benefit: like cats, bunnies self-groom.
Want to test your bunny’s health? Offer them a raisin first thing in the morning. If they refuse such a tempting treat from someone they trust, they might be having digestive issues. GI stasis is extremely common in rabbits and potentially deadly.
A rabbit’s enclosure should be big enough to allow at least three full hops, and include bedding, a shelter or hidey-hole of some sort, something wooden to chew on, plenty of water (in a bottle or heavy dish) and food. Rabbits eat an extremely high-fiber diet, and will consume their body size in hay every day, Ksiazak said. Staff and volunteers at the Iowa City shelter feed the rabbits plenty of Timothy hay, compressed hay pellets and “salads” of greens and fruit. True to form, bunnies love carrots, but they shouldn’t be given too many, as carrots are high in sugar. They cannot digest nuts or seeds of any kind.
Rabbits poop more than 300 times a day, according to Ksiazak, but can be trained to use a litterbox. The current shelter bunnies are in the midst of this training process, which involves putting hay and pellets in their litter box — rabbits like to eat while they relieve themselves. Another fun (and possibly TMI) fact about bunny droppings: they make great fertilizer for your garden!
Without further ado, let’s meet the buns of the hour.
This fluffy boy arrived at the Iowa City Animal Center on June 7, and enjoyed a Bunny’s Day Out on June 14. Ksiazak wrote on his report card, “Rocky loved playing in the office’s large waiting room and running through a crinkly tunnel toy. He alternated between hopping a few feet and then doing joyful binkies! When he is in binky mode, he looks like an adorable dancing cloud! He would love to find a home with a nice human who will give him ample time to explore and play, and he promises to entertain that human with his dancing skills in return. His favorite treat was dried papaya and his favorite toy was a jingling ball that he could roll around his pen.”
“Rocky is a reserved rabbit who appreciates people who show steady patience to earn his trust. … He is the type of bun who is looking for his human soulmate and will bond intensely with that person when he finds them! He would love to be someone’s reading, study, or TV buddy.”
The youngest bunny in the Small Animal Room at six months old is Snowman, who Ksiazak reports was confident and social on his Bunny’s Day Out on June 13.
“Everything this enthusiastic boy does, he does with gusto! Snowman is an energetic explorer who was delighted to do zoomies and binkies all around the office’s large waiting room. He also took every opportunity to hop up onto higher vantage points to survey his kingdom. He thrived on novelty and was happy to ‘chin’ every object in the office. He would love to find a home that provides daily hop-about time in a stimulating space so he can exercise his body and mind. His favorite treat was freeze-dried blueberries and favorite toy was a hay twist that he could chew and toss.”
“Snowman enjoys watching people’s activities. He seems to believe that humans are his pets rather than the other way around!”
Piper is one of two Rex rabbits at the shelter right now, characterized by their “rexed” fur — short, dense and plush. She feels like a brand new and extremely soft stuffed animal. (Remember Ty Beanie Buddies?)
One-year-old Piper is extremely cordial, and her previous owner reported she was friendly with their cats. When Ksiazak went to pick up Piper and put her back in her cage, Piper didn’t flinch, but jumped into her arms — a sure sign this bunny will make a good companion for snuggles and couch cuddling, Ksiazak said.
After I pointed out Piper’s fur pattern looked like a Rorschach test, Ksiazak chided me, “Don’t say that! I’m a psychologist, I’ll say I need the Rorschach bunny!” She urges you to adopt Piper and remove this temptation.
Another soft and gorgeous Rex, Oreo is 1 years old with long and curious ears. Oreo’s former owner reported she was “sweet” with family, strangers, children and other animals alike. She’s a big fan of papaya treats and would be a great choice for a family environment.
Ksiazak was sure to caution, though, that rabbits should never be the sole responsibility of a child to care for. Like any pet, rabbits have specific needs adults need to be sure are met; unlike a dog or cat, rabbits tend to be more fragile, so Oreo and her ilk should only be pet or held by a small child with adult supervision.
Lucy has the charming look of a wild rabbit combined with the white, fluffy belly of a house bun (though Ksiazak said wild and domestic rabbits can’t interbreed because of some quirk of genetics). She was wary of the other rabbits, and is relatively reserved. However, Lucy was kind and curious with the humans in the room.
Lucy is quite comfortable in her enclosure, and is a homebody, which I found more than a little relatable. She’s one of the more mature rabbits in the room at 3-6 years old, but has years ahead of her: Rabbits of her type have a life expectancy of about 10-12 years.
The only lop-eared bunny of the lot, Phoebe laid comfortably and casually in her cage until it was her turn to roam the room, when she accessed a store of energy.
Similar to cats, rabbits will rub their facial scent glands on objects or people they wish to claim as their own. With some bunnies, Ksiazak said, getting “chinned” is a great honor, a sign of love. Well, Phoebe is either unusually affectionate, greedy or possessive (or some combination), because she chinned everything she came in contact with, from food to toys to gates to our photographer Zak’s shoes and camera.
“Chin it to win it,” Ksiazak said simply.
All adoptable bunnies at the Iowa City Animal Center are spayed or neutered, fully vaccinated and have an adoption fee of $50 (At many shelters, the spay/neuter procedure alone tacks $50-75 onto an adoption fee, in addition to other costs.) Visit the center website for more information on adoption, and feel free to visit these wonderful buns at the center (3910 Napoleon Lane) Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., or Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The center also offers small animal handling classes once a month, if you’re interested in learning more about rabbits as well as guinea pigs, ferrets, hamsters, etc. These courses fill up fast, so be sure to check the calendar early.