Easter's coming, Cadbury bunnies are clucking away on TV, and pet stores are full of cute, cuddly rabbits. Parents buy a bow-tied bunny for their kids, who love the rabbit for a day and then throw him in the hutch in the backyard and forget about him. The bored bunny gets mad and mean and scratches the kids when they try to pick him up. Within six months, bunny puberty hits, and that once-wonderful ball of love starts scratching, spraying, digging, chewing and humping everything. Playing with a problem pet isn't fun, so the family rids itself of the nuisance.
"Easter rabbits are the biggest problem we face," says Janis, who would rather we not use her last name, because she lives in a deed-restricted neighborhood that might not approve of her nine rabbits; she's also afraid a crazy reader might find her house and eat them. Janis so loves the little furballs that she helped found Bunny Buddies, a group that finds homes for orphaned bunnies and serves as a support group for rabbit-a-holics.
"People need to know what they're getting into," says Alex Irvine, another Bunny Buddy. So the group is hosting a $5 tour of five of their houses to show prospective pet owners how to peacefully coexist with the rascally rabbits by bunny-proofing an in-home habitat. One of those houses belongs to Janis.
"All my bunnies were rescued from death," Janis says, walking past a bunny thermometer, a bunny welcome mat, bunny pictures and an "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from My Rabbit" poster.
The first bunny you'll meet resides in the living room. He's caged because he doesn't get along with the other rabbits and he eats the cat's food, which is bad for him. When Janis got Elwood, his teeth had grown into elephant tusks, and he couldn't eat anything. (Rabbits' teeth continue to grow throughout their lives and sometimes need to be filed down.) The vet had to pull Elwood's teeth, so Janis now feeds him pureed salads and canned pumpkin.
A red-eyed white Californian hears her voice and hops over. Harley Davidson is Janis's baby. She has spent more than $1,000 on his vet bills in the last year (to remove an abscess and treat kidney problems). She scoops Harley up and heads into the kitchen where Boone and Bramble live.
"Bramble was too horny for his own good and humped everything and everyone," she says, explaining how she got the Chinchilla. "We were gonna just neuter him and send him back, but in foster homes he would stress out and get depressed. He wanted to live with me."
So Janis got him a girlfriend and gave them the kitchen. It's usually a good place for bunnies, she says, because the floors aren't hard to clean.
Four more rabbits are running around at the other end of the hallway. "What are you doing, Harvey?" she asks a 12-pound Flemish Giant. He's eating hay, digging hay, trying to tear apart the hay basket. Harvey's bigger than some small dogs. Janis recommends big rabbits for little kids: The bigger the rabbit, the more mellow it is.
Harvey's girlfriend is a fluffy Angora named Roger. "A lot of rabbits are gender confused," she says. Size and breed don't matter to rabbits, either; Lops love Rexes just the same. Almost all of Janis's rabbits have lovers of some kind. She thinks it helps them live longer.
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In the bathroom are two almost identical white rabbits. "They don't want to be a part of the group," Janis says. She hopes someday her rabbits will all love one another and live together ... but it hasn't happened yet. "Somebody always picks a fight."
Sound like more trouble than you thought a snuggly Easter morning surprise would be? If you're not up for it, stick to chocolate Russell Stover rabbits.
-- Wendy Grossman
The Bunny Buddies Home Tour is Saturday, March 20, from noon to 5 p.m. Call the Bunny Hopline, (713)686-0073, for more info. $5.