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My first bunny love was Bentley, a white lop with brown butterfly markings.
In the summer of 2007, I was a university student working at a small bed and breakfast in Montreal, making toast and coffee for tourists. One day, a coworker of mine found a rabbit on her way to work – he was in a carrier on the street; abandoned, skinny, soiled with urine, and without food or water. It was 20 degrees Celsius outside on that particular morning so she scooped him up and, knowing that she herself couldn’t keep him, brought him inside to show to me.
She lifted the carrier up to eye level so I could see him. I took one look at his cute little face as he hopped forward to sniff my hand, and that was it. I named him Bentley on the spot and hid him in the garage at work until I could take him home with me at the end of my shift.
After bringing him home, it immediately became clear to me that I didn’t know anything about rabbits. What should I feed him? Does he need a cage? Where does he pee?
I set up a temporary newspaper-lined pen out of a disassembled wire shoe shelf that I happened to have in my closet. The whole operation was about 12 inches high and hilariously inadequate. I gave Bentley some lettuce and carrots (the two notorious ‘rabbit foods’ that I knew wouldn’t poison him) and walked to a pet supplies store that I had been to once with a friend where I vaguely remembered seeing large green cages for sale.
At the pet supplies store, I bought the biggest cage they had and whatever else the clerk offered. I didn’t ask too many questions, I just took it all. Did I want the pine chips? Sure. Water bottle or bowl? Bowl, I guess. What kind of food? Rabbit food. I brought it all home in a taxi and set it up as best as I could.
Bentley was a bad bunny. He peed everywhere and bit me as much as he possibly could. At one point, I actually had to change his food and water dishes using wooden salad tongs to reach into his cage instead of using my hands. I didn’t understand how he could look so sweet and yet be such a formidable beast. His exercise time consisted of me letting him run free in the bathroom while I sat on a chair with my feet off the floor so he couldn’t bite or hump me. True story. At this point I had never properly picked him up because I was scared of being attacked, and to be frank I wasn’t even sure if he was a male. I decided that it was time for a trip to the local vet, two blocks away.
The vet got him up on the table, flipped him over and said to me, “Congratulations, it’s a boy.” If I had had the nerve to flip him over myself, I could have told you just as much. He was an adult, underweight and, no, he didn’t have rabies, he just needed to be neutered. This, she assured me, would put an end to the biting and urine spraying (which, by the way, was getting out of hand. Bentley had now achieved a consistent 6 foot pee-spraying radius from his cage in our living room. Honestly, it would have been impressive if it wasn’t so disgusting).
It wasn’t too long after that initial visit to the vet that Bentley and I were on a bus heading out to a local vet college for the big snip. As a student, I couldn’t afford to have his operation done by the vet that we had initially visited, but she had kindly recommended the college as an alternative. The operation was performed successfully by the college veterinary instructor while students watched and took notes. I sat nervously in the hall.
My major leap forward in rabbit knowledge occurred when I found and joined the OREO online rabbit forum (Ontario Rabbit Education Organization). It was in these discussion threads that I first learned how harmful pine chips were to my bun’s health, that litter training was possible, which greens I should and should not be feeding him, that toys are crucial, and how to rabbit-proof our home so that he could eventually be a happy, free-run bun. I also learned about the various illnesses that are common among rabbits, along with the warning signs to look out for.
When Bentley became sick for the first time, I recognized the signs of GI distress and got him to the vet as soon as I could. I skipped class to do this because, even though I’m not an animal doctor, it was clear to me that Bentley’s belly was swelling up like a toad’s… and that certainly wasn’t good.
It turned out that he had a very serious case of gas, requiring overnight medication, force feeding, and constant monitoring. This two-day stay at the vet was definitely not cheap. Emotional distress aside, for a student with a credit card limit of $1000, this was not a great week. Lesson learned: preventative health care should be the number one priority of a pet owner. Little did I know that, despite my meticulous attention to his diet and environment, Bentley would go on to have this same medical problem a number of times throughout his life. Every penny spent helping him get better would be worth it.
Over the next three years, our strange human-rabbit relationship blossomed. Bentley was now fully litter trained and had all the freedom our little apartment afforded (except for the bedroom and bathroom, to his constant dismay). He was becoming a good bunny.
As time went by, he became more and more affectionate, following me around the house, flopping between my feet, and jumping up on the couch to snuggle. He never chewed on furniture, he confidently hopped around on wood floors, he didn’t mind small crowds or loud music, and he was excellent with strangers petting him. Nothing phased this little guy. We spent more and more time snuggling while I wrote papers and studied. Each year when I went home to visit my family in Victoria, Bentley came with me on the plane. We were a team.
My fiance, the bun and I moved back to Victoria in 2010 after finishing school. Bentley was getting older and more lazy so I bought a large, plush living room rug specifically for him to lounge on (I told friends and family that it was a stylish addition to our home… in reality it was clearly a giant rabbit accessory). Life was good.
In the spring of 2012, my dad and I built Bentley a luxury rabbit condo using great instructions that we found online. It was a huge success; the project was completed on a single sunny day and Bentley moved in the following morning. He enjoyed his new condo for a few happy months.
It came as a complete shock to us when Bentley died in July of 2012 because only a week prior he had made a full recovery from a GI episode and appeared to be healthy. I was away when Bentley had had to go to the vet and when I returned I was happy to see that he was all better. We had one night of movie snuggles on the couch, our usual routine, but a short 24 hours after I came home things took a turn and he was gone.
Now, I am an adult, but I cried like a child. I called in sick to work for two full days and didn’t talk to anyone for almost a week.
In my blind state of grief, I shopped online for a customized silver pendant that said “Bentley” in fancy script. I didn’t care that the site looked sketchy, I wanted that necklace and I ordered it. First, I received a bunch of emails telling me that my Gmail account had been hacked. Next, I received an urgent letter from VISA and a new credit card. Still, I didn’t care; waiting for the necklace gave me something to focus on. Finally, three weeks later, I received my Bentley necklace in the mail.
Bentley taught me many things throughout our relationship. He was a quiet little one, as rabbits tend to be, but he definitely had a big personality. To really understand him, I had to be patient and wait for him to genuinely warm up to me. As cheesy as it sounds, I believe that he made me a more caring person.
I always chose to be an advocate for my bun wherever I went. I told people how wonderful he was, much to their surprise, and had them over to see how we lived. Often friends would say that he acted just like a cat, or just like dog, or a like mix of both. Really, he acted just like a rabbit.
As an abandoned bun, Bentley opened my eyes to the widespread problem of pet rabbit neglect, abandonment and overpopulation. Remember, he was a very bad bunny when I adopted him and I’m willing to bet that his behaviour plus his previous owner’s ignorance is what landed him in the carrier on the sidewalk in 2007. However, the more I learned, the better we got along. I learned that he needed veterinary care, free space, healthy food, toys, love and patience. Once I provided these things for him, we saw eye to eye. Bentley taught me that the key to a happy, healthy rabbit is an educated owner. And Love. Lots and lots of love.
– Janine, Buns Boutique
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