We have been getting letters like this lately: Hello there. I wonder if I might want to be part of your organization. I took the long course and test for Pet Partners/The Delta Society and passed but I do not wish to put my rabbit on a leash and I found out now that is a requirement. Would you consider accepting that I took and passed their test along with a generous donation so I could be part of your organization? Thank you in advance for your help.
YES--we welcome other program members! If you are interested in becoming a BIB VRT (Visiting Rabbit Team) please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Usually, the $20 two year BIB fee, a copy of the other organization's registration and application paperwork, and a copy of your medical exam are all that are needed!
This is a reprint from Elizabeth Olson (Rabbit Advocates; Portland, OR)
I have a bit of a different take on desensitizing rabbits and other prey animals, based on experience training our llama (under the tutelage of an expert, whose techniques come from horse training) and working with our own rabbit, Amelia. The basic idea is not to completely shield your rabbit from normal everyday experiences that scare him/her. Rather, it is to repeatedly, gradually, humanely expose the bunny to experiences that frighten him/her, while the bunny is in a safe place.
NOTE: Don't over vocalize with "It's OK, it's OK," because the rabbit will pick up on any tension in your voice. If possible, use your calm body language rather than your words to soothe the rabbit. Of course, if you are teaching a trick (like standing up for pellets), use your training word consistently.
Here are several examples:
Example 1: Rabbit is afraid of being transported. Put the carrier in the room, with a litterbox, hay, and some pellet treats inside. Let rabbit explore, go inside, have door closed, have door opened. Relax. Progress to picking up the carrier while animal is inside. Return carrier to room and open. Eventually, progress to putting carrier in car, returning. Driving around the block, returning. Driving to the vet (no exam), and returning. You get the idea.
In other words, break the scary experience into very small steps that help animal realize each step is safe and, therefore, the "big step" is also safe.
(In horse/llama halter training, we start by having the halter hang around the animal's living area until it's no big deal. Then we move the halter close to the animal's head, and back away. Then close to the nose and away. This progresses until the halter goes on the face without any scared response. We do similar activities with noisy objects such as empty soda cans in a bag, things touching their legs, and many more activities.)
Example 2: Scary sounds. Amelia was terrified of even the tiniest sounds, such as a nose sniff or a door opening. She would literally flip out, as Mary's rabbit has done. The solution involved two people and the rabbit. Person #1 sits with the rabbit in an enclosed area, calmly petting and not paying attention to Person #2. Person #2 performs the "scary" act while Person #1 remains calm and makes it clear to the rabbit using body language and petting that this is NO BIG DEAL. Over time and repeated exposure in small doses, bunny learns the situation is not scary any more. The key is for Person #1 NOT to react, stay calm, and either distract or soothe the bunny while Person #2 takes care of making the noise.
Example 3: Picking up the rabbit. Start in a small, enclosed area such as an ex-pen or a bathroom. Be sure the rabbit is comfortable with you sitting calmly in the area and can accept petting or touching before you start this. Lift the rabbit just an inch or so from the ground (in a safe, fully supported position) and put him/her down again WHEN THE RABBIT IS CALM; let the rabbit relax fully before trying again. Be calm and matter of fact. Do not talk to the rabbit other than to use a training word such as "pick up." Repeat the process, gradually lifting a bit higher each time. Do this in several sessions over a period of time.
The KEY: Rather than avoiding the scary issues altogether (unless they truly are unsafe), address them head-on, but in a gradual way that helps the rabbit understand he/she is safe. Be patient. Take your time. Break everything into small steps. Stay calm. Transmit that calm to your rabbit. Keep your voice quiet or very low.
Over time, your rabbit will learn he/she is safe, and these "scary" activities are not to be feared. Eventually, vacuum cleaners, doors slamming; human sneezes, coughs, sniffles; cleaning in the area; being picked up; etc. will be much less scary (if scary at all). Of course, a NEW and slightly different situation might cause alarm, but then you just start back at square 1 with THAT issue and work it piece by piece.
I hope this is helpful. These desensitization techniques have worked well for us and for many prey animals we've worked with.
Today's Oregonian (3/16/13 - LIVING C-1) contains two wonderful articles by Pet Talk columnist Monique Balas about the consequences of impulse purchases of baby chicks and rabbits. Please pass these along ;-)
Chicks dig commitment. Keeping baby chicks happy and healthy -- and for good -- requires diligence:http://www.oregonlive.com/pets/index.ssf/2013/03/pet_talk_prepare_to_care_for_b.html
Cute as a bunny, but complex to care for: Slightly shortened version of Pet Talk blog article http://www.oregonlive.com/pets/index.ssf/2013/03/thinking_about_adopting_a_rabb.html
Check out this news story!
Look at this wonderful link of our own BIBs!
GREAT work, Becky and Gary!!!
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service animals as any guide animal, signal animal, or other animal who is trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. For example, some animals are trained to pull wheelchairs, others are taught to alert to the sounds of the telephone, oven timers, alarm clocks, smoke alarms, and even a baby’s cry. Service animals are not considered pets.
Service animals and their human companions must be allowed access to buildings (including restaurants, libraries, supermarkets, and churches), transportation systems, and other public areas and services.
A therapy (or visiting) animal is a generic name given to an animal once it has been specifically evaluated and registered with one of the national organizations that operate in this capacity. Bunnies in Baskets is one of those organizations. Therapy (visiting) animals do NOT operate as specially trained assistance or service animals that open doors; turn on lights; assist the hearing or visually impaired. Therapy (visiting) animals do NOT have federally granted legal access to public transportation, airplane cabins or public buildings as is afforded to service animals. Many different types of animals participate in both AAA and AAT.
Good visiting rabbits come in any size, sex, breed or mix of breeds. They need to like people, be controllable, be trained, well mannered, and have a stable personality. The rabbit's ability to calmly accept unusual or new circumstances is one of many keys to a good visiting rabbit. Not every rabbit will like doing this activity. Rabbits should not be forced to do an activity they dislike; it creates too much stress for them.
The rabbit handler must be able to communicate with his/her rabbit in a gentle, positive manner; recognize their animal's particular signs of stress; and know how to help their rabbit(s).
Younger rabbits can begin low impact training and exposure/desensitizing at any age. Handlers can begin learning handling etiquette and techniques before their rabbit (bonded pair) is ready to begin training. A large portion of what is involved in preparing to engage in these types of activities is exposure or desensitization to a wide variety of unusual sights, sounds, smells, touches and situations. Both the animal and handler learn proper responses to situations.
We have had NO luck with visits lately. I packed up two rabbits, dropped in at a facility I regularly visit and read the sign on the front door: INFLUENZA OUTBREAK--NO VISITS I called another facility and they also restricted visits due to illness. Then I got sick. I've decided this is a great time of year to spend extra time attending to my rabbits (and human family) and rest. Please do NOT visit if you aren't well. Don't risk spreading illness. We don't want you or the people you visit to be unwell!
When a visiting rabbit dies…
Rabbits can become ill and can die very quickly. Sadie, my first visiting rabbit, refused a treat one morning. I was puzzled. By the time I realized the situation was serious, and got her into the vet the next day, I learned she suffered from widespread cancer. We gently euthanized her and felt devastated.
I had a weekly visit scheduled the next morning with middle school special education children. I showed up without a rabbit, heavy hearted with my own grief. I didn’t realize the staff and students would also need to grieve. After I told the story, the students cried, threw tantrums (requiring assistance) and then alternated between singing sad songs, rocking silently and angrily painting giant black/red bunny figures. The principal came in to see how everything was going……looked around the room…..and asked me to bring my “hardy” black Labrador for future visits.
What did I do? What did I say to the students that created such distraction? Well, I tried to be truthful….along the lines of “Sadie didn’t come to visit today because she was sick. It just happened. We took her to a special doctor. Sadly, she died. Sadie loved visiting you and she knew how much you loved her. We miss her terribly.” I tried to be honest. I tried to make it clear that Sadie would not be back. I shared my sorrow. But it wasn’t right…..and it all felt wrong.
How do you get death right?
It was impossible to balance my grief with the expectations of this group of BIB program participants. I was still in shock, and I wanted to cry. What I learned from this experience is that I can’t visit when I am upset and need to be alone. During my time alone, I try to actively grieve. I try to be as present as possible with my feelings, and to allow the loss to process. I can’t “overfunction” and pretend I’m ok. Visiting with rabbits is not a performance. I now keep contact information readily available for each facility I visit and I give as much notice as possible if I must cancel. I also let all my contacts know that emergencies do happen, although thankfully, not often.
I’ve also learned to rotate rabbits. I have five BIB bunnies, so this is an easy way to make sure they all get visiting time. Rotation also prevents some people, and especially children, from not overly attaching to one particular rabbit. When participants ask for a specific rabbit, I often share pictures. Depending on the participants and visiting situation, I may not choose to share that a rabbit died. Maintaining emotional detachment is important. “Oh Daisy? Why, she isn’t with us any longer, but here is Tulip! Aren’t her white ears pretty?” I show enthusiasm for the current visit and focus on the rabbit(s) I have.
Illness, retirement and death are tough, inevitable issues with visiting rabbits. Knowing that your rabbit’s life means so much to others, creating amazing memories, taking pictures…all these can help you stay inspired, healthy, and growing.
We have a 15 pound English Lop (Mr. Jar Jar Binks) who LOVES to visit. Larger breed rabbits can become warm, fun, and particularly noble visiting rabbits with extra planning and careful observations. This is what we have learned along the way:
Larger breeds are not ideal for frail program participants. Everything about Mr. Binks is big, brown, and bold---his body, his ears, his paws and his trimmed claws. He is gentle, but heavy, and does not like to be restrained or held tightly. That’s exactly how some participants automatically respond to him. We have "train" the participants about his needs. He’s not a lap cuddler and doesn’t like being lifted.
Many people have not experienced a larger breed rabbit. The “Oh my Goodness!” factor is high. Some have refused to believe Mr. Binks is REALLY a rabbit, and not a dog-rabbit hybrid, etc... This is very common!
Mr. Binks doesn’t fit in a basket safely, and it would be too heavy for me even if a basket could accommodate him. Instead, I “roll” him in a pet stroller, open the top, and he “periscopes” up for greetings. We have an activity plan in place before we visit to avoid the stress of excess lifting and moving him.
Mr. Binks loves his large visiting blanket (36” x 36”) and we keep him on it at all times. He enjoys exploring the floor surrounded by seated children. He lounges on a coffee table for admiration without attempting to escape. He sits happily on a sofa between program participants who pet him intentionally (but gently) on the head, ears, and back. We "switch out" the participants, and keep Mr. Binks in place. He watches Wii bowling for an hour serving as a team mascot.
Everyone who encounters him seems impressed and interested. He has been called the “George Clooney” of buns! Mr. Binks is often remembered and requested. “Where is that big, brown bun you have???” As with all visiting rabbits, participants enjoy hearing personal stories of the rabbit and facts about domestic rabbits. The larger breeds have varied, interesting histories that make for great sharing as well.