So Hoppy Together
rabbits are America's third most-popular pet. longtime bunny lover Jennifer Hoffman tells us why.
Jennifer Hoffman has been in love with rabbits ever since she got one as a pet while stationed in Hawaii with the Army 17 years ago. Seeking a small household companion that wasn’t a cat (she’s allergic), she found a bunny in a pet store. “It was love at first sight,” she explains. Her first rabbit, was a high-energy Netherland dwarf she named Thrasher who loved to do what bunny aficionados call “binkys,” which she describes as “high jumps while kicking out their legs and sometimes flipping mid-air.”
“They are very comforting to me. I love their tiny twitching noses and their beautiful soft fur, their crazy jumps and twists, their high-speed running around furniture.” - Jennifer Hoffman, on the joys of owning rabbits
These days, she and her two rabbits, Reggie and Lil’ Girl, are frequent participants in Hoppy Time, a bunny gathering at emBARK, a dog daycare in Eau Claire. Hoffman talked to Volume One about what happens in a roomful of rabbits and what you should know before adopting one as a pet.
VOLUME ONE: From your perspective, what’s appealing about rabbits as pets?
JENNIFER HOFFMAN: They are very comforting to me. I love their tiny twitching noses and their beautiful soft fur, their crazy jumps and twists, their high-speed running around furniture. It’s so great when you get home and they are there waiting for you – waking up from their daylong nap to get some pets. To see their eyes light up with excitement when they know they’re going to get a treat. They hear the rustle sounds of a bag of kale opening or the snap of a carrot.
Rabbits have an amazing sense of smell – sometimes just opening a bag of raisins or apricots brings them running. Eating a banana gets them so excited that the fur on their backside twitches. They find joy in the basic things in life. Pets, treats, playing. They don’t ask for anything besides the basics and they give me everything in return. It’s very rewarding to me when I see them binky in the backyard, because I know they are unabashedly happy, they are in their element.
What kinds of rabbits make the best pets?
There are different breeds that have different temperaments. There are some that are more nervous, some that are more relaxed. I think mostly if you are looking at getting a rabbit, you need to spend some time with them beforehand. When going through a shelter or rabbit rescue, usually they can pair you up with a good match. They know the rabbit’s personality.
Larger rabbits that are heavier make better candidates for children. Rabbits in general are pretty delicate. They need to be picked up, held, and put down in a certain way. They have a tendency to want to jump out of your arms if you are not careful, and they have very powerful legs that kick out and can scratch you.
How does rabbit ownership compare with owning another kind of pet?
Rabbits are of course quieter than dogs or cats. They do make noises, however: They even purr when content. Like all pets they require cleaning up after. They require grooming and nail clipping. They do require a space where they can stretch their legs and hop around daily. During the day they usually nap and groom themselves. It’s ideal if you can have two bunnies that keep each other company while you are away.
Do you have any particularly amusing rabbit stories you’d like to share?
I had a rabbit who was name was Lil’ Dickens for a reason. She was so small she would get into everything! She would hide under the bed, where I couldn’t get her. All I would hear is the rustling around. She would “bark” at me when she was upset, which sounds like a grunting noise. She was adorable; this tiny little girl with so much personality! I miss her greatly; she was with me from 2005 to 2015. I’m not sure how old she was when adopted, but she lived to a grand old age for a rabbit. She would beg for treats on her hind legs and walk backwards. She would go absolutely insane for apricots, almonds, and bananas, even running in circles she was so excited. She was so well-trained she would wake up from her nap and be on her hind legs in seconds, begging for treats.
Dog owners have dog parks and doggie day cares to allow their pets to socialize. How do rabbits (and their owners) socialize?
Over a year ago, I was at the Eau Claire County Humane Association helping a friend adopt two bunnies, and there was a flier posted about a bunny group called Hoppy Time, a playtime for local house rabbits. I was so excited! I took my babies to the first one. At first I was hesitant, because I know how territorial rabbits can be. They like to mark their territory and “chin” the items in their home. They have scent glands under their chin.
But it turns out that when there are three or more rabbits in a neutral space there is no fighting, since there is no one specific’s rabbit scent there. It’s foreign turf. It was such a joy to see all kinds of different rabbits playing together, and better yet to meet other bunny lovers!
What do rabbits do when they hang out together?
They check each other out by smell. They tend to want to show off in front of each other by jumping and zooming around. They are constant hay eaters so sometimes they just chill in a litter box, eating hay. Their ears are always on alert, listening.
At Hoppy Time the rabbits’ humans get a chance to talk about different topics, swap ideas on rabbit DIY toys and treats, litter training, neutering, vets, food, and treats. It’s a great place to go with great people who absolutely love their pet rabbits.
What advice would you offer someone who’s considering getting a rabbit as a pet?
Do your research! Know what you are getting into. Rabbits require a considerable amount of care, time, and money. Really think it through for the long term. There are a ton of informative sites online such as rabbit.org that provide a lot of information. Plan for owning your rabbit for the next 10 years. Spend some time with them before you make the decision to adopt. I recommend looking on petfinder.com. They list all the rescue organizations and shelters where bunnies are available. Often, rabbits that are adopted will already be altered. What’s nice about adopting from a shelter or rabbit rescue is they usually know the animal, they know its temperament.
Bunnies love to chew. If you don’t provide them with things to chew on, they will take it out on your furniture, carpet, etc. Bunny-proof your house, putting away cords, putting up books, covering exposed wires. They love to hide under things. If you don’t want them there, you need to block the area.
Bottom line: Adopting an animal is for keeps. You can’t take your children back to the store, why would you do that to an animal? Know what you are getting into and the time and commitment that is involved. And of course spay and neuter! Altered bunnies make better companions and will live longer and healthier lives.
If you have to describe rabbits in three words, what would they be?
Unique. Soft. Adorable.
Want to bring your bunnies to Hoppy Time? The get-togethers for rabbits and their humans are held periodically from 3-4:30pm on Sundays at emBARK, 2109 Fairfax St., Eau Claire. The cost is $3 per rabbit family, and rabbits must be spayed or neutered and in good health. To learn more, search for “Eau Claire Hoppy Time” on Facebook.