Being huge fans of Miss Bunz's super cute Facebook posts, we at Cuteness are delighted to feature her inspiring rescue story, written for us by her human mom, Nancy Chen. Enjoy!
I met Miss Bunz at my local shelter. I was not planning to adopt but of all the bunnies there, she seemed the most fearful and in need of love. When I decided to bring her home, I had no idea that a few years later, this nervous and frightened bunny would become known as "the real life Judy Hopps."
Miss Bunz's resemblance to Judy is a happy coincidence. Since I adopted her in 2012, Miss Bunz has been an indoor bunny that wears a "police" harness when we go outside. Although it's what she's best known for, there's more to Miss Bunz than just her "police" vest. When I brought Miss Bunz home, she was skittish and distrustful of people. It took time to earn her trust but by our one-year anniversary, Miss Bunz was no longer a neglected, timid bunny cooped up in a cage. She had transformed into a cheerful, adventurous free-range bunny with a story to share about why rescues need a second chance.
Miss Bunz spent the first three years of her life with another family. When they moved away, they left her and her bunny companion behind. While the pair waited to find a new home, the other bunny became ill and passed away. In a matter of weeks, Miss Bunz had lost her home, her family, and her only friend.
Given the sudden changes in her life, I was not surprised that Miss Bunz regarded new people with suspicion. When I visited her at the shelter, she refused to come to the front of the cage to greet me. Instead, she stayed in the back corner where she was out of reach. The other rabbits were eager to accept my gifts of fresh vegetables. Miss Bunz, on the other hand, was disinterested in food and acted as if my offer was some sort of trick. Yet, I was not deterred by her behavior. I felt confident that once we left the shelter, I could quickly win her over.
When I brought Miss Bunz home, she hopped out of the carrier, looked around, and reacted to her new surroundings by doing a binky. A binky is an expression of joy. It's when a bunny jumps into the air while twisting her head and body in opposite directions. Her binky seemed to be a good omen – a sign of an easy transition and happy times to come. I could not have been more wrong.
Despite her initial reaction to her new home, Miss Bunz resisted all of my attempts to be more than just the person that fed her. She remained as scared and unfriendly as she had been at the shelter. And worse, she began to bite when her fear overwhelmed her. Month after month, Miss Bunz continued to reject me. I saw very little progress, if any, in her socialization. Frustrated, I confided in my partner and voiced my regrets about adopting her. My partner was sympathetic to Miss Bunz. He told me, "She's never had a friend like you." It was a simple point but one I needed to hear. Miss Bunz didn't know what to make of me because she'd never had a relationship like ours. With that understanding, I became determined to learn how to better communicate with her.
A fellow rabbit lover suggested that I might have given Miss Bunz too much space. When she was not in her cage, Miss Bunz could go anywhere in the room. This made it difficult for us to get to know each other. If I got too close, she would run off and hide. To fix my mistake, I used x-pens to create a smaller space and I sat inside with her. Up until then, I showed Miss Bunz affection by attempting to pet and snuggle her. Miss Bunz, a bunny that was used to being ignored, was unfamiliar with my behavior and may have viewed it as a threat. With this in mind, I let her initiate the contact. Bunnies are curious. It didn't take her long to approach me. With each tentative step, she leaned toward me with ears forward. When she reached me, she put one paw on my leg, sniffed, and quickly retreated. After a few hops, she looked back, expecting me to give chase. I didn't.
Each day, I spent hours with her inside the x-pen and while there, I learned to speak "bunny". Bunnies prefer to stay low to the ground so I did the same. I spoke to Miss Bunz in a quiet voice while lying on the floor. If I fell asleep, I would wake up when she nudged me or when her whiskers tickled me. As she became comfortable with my presence, I started to pet her again. Miss Bunz grew accustomed to our new routine and I noticed positive changes. She no longer waited cautiously for me to put her food down before digging into it. She was eager to eat and did not hesitate to put her paws on me as she ate directly from my hands. She stopped flinching when I touched her and she even enjoyed the occasional head rub. As Miss Bunz became more socialized, she earned more freedom. She was learning to trust me and I felt that I had to return the trust. I added more x-pens to her space. I got rid of her cage and slowly allowed her to explore other rooms. Eventually, I put all of the x-pens away and she gained access to the entire house.
Miss Bunz was not the only one to undergo a transformation. Before adopting her, I considered myself to be a very capable caregiver. My previous bunnies were loved and well cared for but bringing Miss Bunz into my life taught me how to be a pet parent, not just a pet owner. I learned to make careful and informed choices about what's best for her whereas my former self would have chosen what's convenient for me.
A year after adopting her, Miss Bunz's eating habits changed. She was less enthusiastic at mealtime and occasionally, she would hold vegetables in her mouth for several minutes before chewing. When she wasn't eating, she would move her mouth around as if she had just taken a spoonful of peanut butter. I took her the vet and Miss Bunz was diagnosed with gastrointestinal stasis. After more than a week, her symptoms did not go away. I was not convinced that stasis was the cause of her behavior changes. To find answers, I took her to 4 different vets, including an exotic animal specialist, until I found one that confirmed my suspicions – Miss Bunz was not experiencing stasis. Her lower molars had become overgrown and they were cutting into her tongue. She had stopped eating because of the pain. Rabbit teeth grow continuously but most will never need a tooth trimming because chewing naturally grinds the teeth down. In Miss Bunz's case, dental disease (likely from poor diet during her early years) had caused her jaw to become misaligned. Chewing no longer wears down her teeth. The vet was able to trim her molars and we go back as needed. If Miss Bunz and I had not overcome our challenges together and developed the bond we have, I may not have noticed the subtle changes in her behavior right away. Or worse, I may not have persevered in finding answers when the first diagnosis seemed off.
As a pet parent, I am responsible for more than just Miss Bunz's basic needs. I offer enrichment and I find things she likes to do. Knowing that bunnies feel safest when they have a place to burrow, I created a playroom filled many hiding spots. About once a week, I change the configuration of the room to keep Miss Bunz entertained as she explores something "new".
Providing enrichment motivated me to take Miss Bunz outside for playtime. Not all bunnies like the outdoors but knowing Miss Bunz and her curious nature, I decided to give it a try. The first time we went into the yard, she rolled in the grass and did a series of binkies. Having discovered how much loved the outdoors, I looked for a harness that would be most appropriate for a bunny. The harness I bought fit her delicate build and the "police" patch seemed to suit her personality. Miss Bunz may be small and quiet but she's also quick to assert her authority with me and other animals!
When we met, Miss Bunz wanted very little to do with me. Today, she is a trusting and loyal companion that follows me around the house. Every morning, she waits for me by my bedroom door or greets me with binkies as I come down the stairs. During rare moments of stress, she has leapt into my lap for comfort. If I arrive home later than expected, I often find her patiently waiting in her chair for me. When I am ready to go to sleep, she follows me upstairs and crawls under the bed to be nearby. In the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning, she expresses her happiness by doing the "bunny 500", a sprint around the house where a pause in her quick footsteps promises a binky.
With the popularity of Zootopia, some have taken an interest in Miss Bunz. As more hear about my former shelter rabbit, I hope they learn that bunnies are intelligent, social animals that thrive in the right environment. My journey with Miss Bunz is also an example of why we should not overlook the shy and timid shelter animals. Rescue organizations provide a good temporary home but the unfamiliar environment can stress some animals more than others. Nothing compares to a forever home where consistent, positive interactions teach these animals that they are not only safe but also that they are loved. And from my own experience, earning the trust and love of an animal with a broken past creates a strong bond that is like no other.
Author's Note: If you are considering a harness for your rabbit, I encourage you to research the pros and cons of rabbit harness use. BunnyApproved.com wrote a very thorough and helpful article about rabbit harnesses. I also recommend the House Rabbit Society's video on this topic.