It can get complicated, loving bunnies.
There’s Jessica Olson on a splendid Saturday, sitting on a concrete floor with her indoor rabbit Renshi. Olson has come to a Kansas City animal shelter for a monthly meet-and-greet with other bunnies who need homes.
Renshi presently is on a “date” with one named Boo. They check each other out while Olson makes sure they don’t brawl.
And there’s Robin Rysavy, manager of the local chapter of the Missouri House Rabbit Society, playing classical piano in her living room as Freckle looks on. Even parts black and white, he was found in the garage of a vacated home.
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When the house rabbits club rescued him, Freckle lapped water from a bowl for 20 minutes.
There’s Chris Brethwaite. He has three bunnies who live in basement pens when not having the run of his home and chewing things at will.
Like most members of the House Rabbit Society, he will tell you that buying bunnies for Easter is for the most part a horrible idea.
Yet he adores his house rabbits. “Thumper, you’ve got me wrapped around your paw,” he tells one in his arms. “And you know it, too, don’t you? You know it.”
Back to the Easter issue: Rabbit lovers and sites such as NotForEaster.com urge us to resist acquiring a bunny as a novelty gift for the holiday.
Many veterinarians suggest the same, pointing out that house rabbits can live a decade or more. They crave companionship, typically rack up at least $1,000 in food and medical bills each year and are prone to nasty bouts of stomach gas if their hay runs out.
“Don’t get me wrong. They’re the cutest darned things you’ll ever see,” said Kansas City veterinarian Paul Diehl. “But this time of year is a constant source of frustration for veterinarians. A lot of people who buy rabbits for Easter don’t know what they’re getting into.”
Rysavy of the House Rabbit Society is one to know. On any given day her Cass County home serves as a shelter to several domestic bunnies dumped by their owners.
Some are found in public parks, fending for themselves. That means certain death if people such as Rysavy — known around her neighborhood as “the rabbit lady” — don’t save them.
Few critters exist lower on the food chain than a woolly Lionhead rabbit, despite its ferocious name. A Lionhead left to its own devices is a flashing billboard to owls and hawks overhead. Unlike wild rabbits, domesticated bunnies lack the instinct to hunt or to burrow to safety.
“People think they’re great starter pets for kids when they’re not,” Rysavy said. “Bunnies take a lot of work.”
Her point was evident at a recent gathering of the House Rabbit Society, which meets at Wayside Waifs the second Saturday of every month.
More than a dozen members showed up on a recent meeting, some hoping to pair their bunnies with others needing permanent homes. This is beneficial to the pet rabbit and the homeless one, as a rabbit without a companion is thought to be unhappy. By society rules, the bunny couples have been fixed so they won’t reproduce.
These two-hour sessions, called dates, tend to go one of three ways, says Rysavy:
“You might see love at first sight, but that’s pretty rare. The other scenario is they’ll sort of ignore each other, but there is no fighting.
“The third scenario is when one rabbit looks at another as says, ‘I hate you and I’m going to eat your face.’ ”
Renshi the rabbit was on her second date with Boo.
Renshi’s owner Olson, a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, stretches out in a pen, petting both.
Good bunnies will let you caress them all day, and Renshi is one of them. “When I do homework she’ll sit on my shoulder,” drawn to Olson’s stroking, she says.
By the end of the date Olson is satisfied that Renshi and Boo will get along.
One more house rabbit adopted.
Diehl says rabbits that once stayed in backyard pens have been moving indoors: “That’s been the trend over the last 10, 20 years for pets in general.”
To be a member of the House Rabbit Society often means being both a pet owner — some prefer “bunny parent” to owner — and providing foster care.
A network of about three dozen chapter members swap rabbits as needed. Animal shelters for the most part don’t accept unwanted rabbits and the chapter lacks its own facility.
Lisa Avery signed up for house rabbit duty just six months ago, filling a void left by the deaths of her dogs Stella and Stymie. She was surprised to discover that bunnies will lick your face if they’re fond of you, just as dogs do.
“The best compliment you can get is for your bunny to lick you,” Avery said.
She and her husband now share their Shawnee home with eight rabbits living inside, half of them foster bunnies.
“We just went head-in and now we’re pretty much bunny people,” she said. “Every time I come home with a new one needing a place to live, my husband will say, ‘Another?’ ”
To some bunny parents, the very vulnerability of domestic rabbits is what makes them so appealing as house pets. They are best suited to people who enjoy spending quiet time at home, petting them.
Give them a ceaseless supply of hay and proper attention, and they’ll take to a litter box just as house cats do.
At Brethwaite’s home on a Kansas City cul-de-sac, they even respond to his commands — “bunny bedtime” being one of them.
“There’s really not a vile bone in a bunny’s body,” Brethwaite says. “Sometimes I look around at human greed and violence and I ask myself, ‘Why can’t people be more like bunnies?’ ”
Brethwaite was in his 50s when he first fell for Thumper and Diablo, a couple looking for a home. That was in 2008. But thinking back to a family trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when he was about 5, he realized he loved bunnies even then.
In the back seat he broke into tears upon learning their trip would not include an encounter with fuzzy hoppers.
“When my parents said we were going to Cedar Rapids,” Brethwaite recalled, “I thought they were saying ‘We’re going to see the rabbits (Rapids).’ ”
Brethwaite today is content with Thumper, Diablo and Ginger — widow of Snowball — climbing the 13 steps from his basement to prance about his living room.
He makes his home as rabbit-proof as possible. That means tucking electrical chords behind the furniture so his bunnies won’t chew them.
The rooms of Rysavy’s house are segregated by baby gates about 2 feet high to keep animals contained in rooms outfitted for them. Several bunnies share an upstairs bedroom.
Stepping over the gate leading into her living room, Rysavy approaches a grand piano and takes a seat.
She is a professional pianist and music instructor. Two bunnies sit happily on her lap.
“Bunnies seem to prefer the romantic classics,” she says before launching into a Domenico Scarlatti number. “(Sergei ) Rachmaninoff. (Frédéric ) Chopin. (Johannes) Brahms …
“I had one bunny who didn’t like Beethoven. I’d start playing and he’d run away and hide.”
At least his hiding spot was in the safe confines of the rabbit lady’s home.