They look like the perfect couple, Gwen and Xander, as they snuggle quietly side by side. It’s a peaceful scene and I yearn to kiss the tops of their heads. But I hold back. There is something so precious in witnessing the simple pleasure they take in each others’ company and I don’t want to impose. However, it’s not just that: I know what will happen as soon as I enter the picture. Gwen will jump up and scamper away. She is not afraid of me nor does she avoid attention and pets - she tooth purrs and closes her eyes in bliss with the best of them. No, it is Xander. Through bunny ESP he will frighten her away. Outside attention is coming their way and only he is allowed to be the recipient. There is no such thing as equal in his world he has to be number one.
This scenario is one I never could have predicted three years earlier when I adopted them. I brought Gwen home first. After some difficulties following a traumatic spay, Gwen settled in and soon became ecstatically happy to see me when I came home from work. We played games where she chased me or hid behind an object before ambushing my feet. In quieter moments she would lie down next to me. She was so sociable that I felt it wasn’t fair to leave her alone all day she needed a companion - and so I kept an eye out for possible candidates at the shelter. Three months had passed when I took Gwen on dates: the first two were disastrous. Then a bunny arrived who looked like the male version of Gwen: generously-sized, agouti-colored Flemish Giant mix. They could have been litter mates. Peter, as he was called then, was a sweet-natured and gentle soul. He would allow himself to be picked up; he snuggled, and was happy for any attention he received. He became a popular attraction for his spectacular bunny flops after which he would lie on his side for ages, his beautiful long ears poking out like a Jack Rabbit’s.
Like most bonding experiences, it took a while. Since Gwen had originally been surrendered for being aggressive towards people, I worried that she would be a bully towards another bunny. But there was a shocking role reversal - he was the aggressor. Her personality changed to that of a more subservient female rabbit. It was astonishing to me. “Don’t let him get away with that!” I’d urge her to no avail. “Remember, you were here first!” After a turbulent beginning, they began to cohabit fairly peacefully in this new hierarchy. It took a while longer for Xander to like me (another surprise considering our interaction at the shelter) and it was some time before he would allow me to pet him.
Once Xander accepted me, his gradual transition from attention seeking bunny to tyrant began. He became possessive about food. At first it was amusing watching his exaggerated hops as he tried to make away with a whole kale leaf without tripping over! Then it was the pellets. I tried placing their bowls far apart. He’d run from one bowl to the other to make sure she couldn’t eat from either. I tried staying with Gwen so she wouldn’t be intimidated but she became angry and lunged at me I got the feeling that I was breaking a rabbit code of behavior that required she wait her turn. I made sure to pet them at the same time, a feat sometimes requiring some awkward “twister” inspired moves. Then she was not allowed any attention at all and I found when I was on the floor cuddling him Gwen was nowhere to be seen. “Gwen, Gwen!” I’d call out feeling a shift under my hand: Xander, turning his back on me in protest. “And you too sweetie”. Snort.
Sometimes, when he is preoccupied with a project, say demolishing a cardboard box, I’ll play with my beloved Gwen - I catch those moments when I can. It doesn’t take long for those ears to pick up on an interaction without him and Xander will come galloping across the room, outraged. (There is a website showcasing hilarious pictures of “disapproving rabbits” I’m sure I could start a similar one for “outraged rabbits” featuring my Xander!) When friends come over, he is the bunny ambassador, garnering numerous admirers with his goofy antics. Even then, he insists that he alone gets attention, chasing Gwen away from anyone who tries to pet her. I admit, there are times when I have wondered if I made a mistake by bringing another bunny home. I sometimes feel nostalgic about those precious times my girl and I had on our own, when we were able to just lie on the floor together in peace. But then I see them snuggled together, grooming, snoozing just hanging out and I think “no human could replace that”. Rabbits need the company of their own kind. There are pay-offs and I know I did the right thing.
Copyright 2007 Maysoon Hamdiyyah
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