What's Up With The Bunny Rabbits At the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo?

Resting bunny face.
Resting bunny face. Photo by Kate McLean
Of all the barnyard animals, bunny rabbits have the uncanny ability to fascinate. The sweaty hand of a six-year-old pressed against the glass, her face transfixed in awe. The contagious smile of a wheelchair bound gentleman gently petting a velveteen mass of fur. The blank look of an immature thirty-something reporter who can’t figure out how they got so big. Who can resist that mischievous twitch of the nose, those big floppy ears?

Louie (who declined to give us his last name, saying he doesn't want it on the internet) has volunteered for 19 years at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. He explains the rabbit display was created due to popular demand. Prior to 2001, bunny rabbits could only be seen during the two-week long animal competition.

“For years people would ask, ‘Where are the rabbits?” It’s not ‘Where are the restrooms?’ It’s ‘Where are the rabbits?” he says.  The HLSR developed a solution; a proper stage for these animal celebrities that would last all rodeo long. With 44 bunnies spanning 20 different breeds, there is a lot to learn.

In a private interview with Louie and his wife Denise (who also didn't want her last name used)the Houston Press was able to get to the bottom of some pressing questions. Here are ten things to know about rodeo bunny rabbits:

They aren’t terminal:
 Which means, unlike all the other animals at the rodeo, they get to go home afterward. Rodeo bunnies featured at the rabbit display belong to breeders, and most of them are people’s pets, Denise explained. (Although, the future doesn't look as sunny for those participating in the "meat pen rabbit" category.) To enter the rabbit competition, they must have their inner ear tattooed. Heads up, the HLSR can tell if it’s a sharpie. Liquid eyeliner though?

They aren’t allowed to play together: “Bunnies aren’t like dogs, they don’t necessarily ‘play together.'” The Houston Press asked if babies were a "given" when a girl bunny and a boy bunny were left alone in a cage. “In 28-31 days, you’re going to have babies, if they are old enough to have breeding cycles,” Denise confirmed.

They don’t like loud noises: A man's voice on the overhead speaker vibrated throughout the spacious hall. “I don’t think there is one animal in here that likes this place,” said Louie. “Most of them are fine, but if they had their druthers, they’d be somewhere else,” he added.

They prefer Keebler ice cream cones to sugar cones: While their diet consists mostly of rabbit pellets, they really love snacking on Fruit Loops and ice cream cones. They also like carrots— it isn’t a myth. Lettuce, however, gives bunnies the runnies. Denise adds that fibrous food, like hay, helps with digestion. Pretty much they have the diet of an 80-year-old man.  And Louie confirmed, they aren't just vegetarians Monday through Friday, they don't accidentally crush a box of chicken nuggets at two in the morning. “Oh yeah, they wouldn’t know what to do with meat.”

Some appear to be overweight: There are, in fact, some breeds that are just big boned. “They are actually judged on bone structure,” said Denise. The French Lop is one of the "big boned" breeds. “It looks like a basketball with a head stuck on it,” she adds.  “If you felt the rabbit, you would realize it isn’t fat, it’s muscle,” says Louie. “Depending on the rabbit.”
click to enlarge Taking a rest. - PHOTO BY KATE MCLEAN
Taking a rest.
Photo by Kate McLean

Bunnies feed once a day: “Normally owners will feed them once a day, they don’t free feed, you don’t want your bunnies to get overweight," says Denise. Looking around the rabbit display, there are definitely some chubby bunnies. “There is one rabbit out there now, our daughter’s school rabbit, they feed him a lot.” Sometimes owners can't help but spoil their pets, and when given the option, bunnies definitely lack self control.  “But why make the rabbits starve?  Sometimes they act like their starving.” said Louie.  Sounds like Louie has a hard time saying "no" to his pets.

And it's not a double chin, it’s a dewlap: Mother rabbits will actually tear off dewlap fur to make a warm nest for their kits.

click to enlarge Continuing to rest. - PHOTO BY KATE MCLEAN
Continuing to rest.
Photo by Kate McLean
A bunny is not a rodent, it’s a Lagomorph:  "Most people don't know that, it has to do with their teeth," says Louie. When kept in a wire cage, occasionally they'll sharpen their teeth, which grow about half an inch per month.  Though they are nocturnal, they don't sleep upside down or suck blood, so that's good.

Bunnies get sunstroke: Yes, bunnies get sunburned. Sometimes their hair will turn brown when they've been exposed to too much sun.

Bunnies bring happiness to all: “You should see how their faces light up,” says Louie.  People aren't allowed to to hold them, but sometimes exceptions are made.  Mesmerizing really, how the world seems to melt away when observing that massive ball of fur just straight up chillin'.

The rabbit display at AGVENTURE located in Hall A of the NRG Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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