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Knowing when to give up on bonding

I have a lovely trio of rabbits and I bonded them myself, first as a pair - Luna (female) and Atlas (male) - then I added Nimbus (male). Luna has always been a very strong-minded rabbit, who hated both boys at first, but with time she came to love them. This, maybe mistakenly, led me to believe that with enough time and patience, any rabbits could be bonded. Our bunnies have a lovely life in their own room, and I thought, we have the space, why not rescue a bunny and give it a happy life as part of our bunny crew?

We set up an appointment with the Rabbit Residence, and spent a lovely morning meeting all their available rabbits. We knew we wanted another male, and after a lot of thinking, we settled on Apollo. He was a small rabbit, very confident and outgoing, and completely charmed us. He was living with his three brothers at the time, which made us think he was used to group living. We didn’t do any introductions because we knew that Luna hated all rabbits on first sight anyway, and we were assured that if they didn’t bond, we could return the bunny and try again.

We brought Apollo home, and started the bonding process. We started slowly, first having them living in the same room separated by a barrier, then introducing them in neutral space for short periods of time, gradually increasing the time. Within about a month, the bunnies were happily living together.

Unfortunately it was short-lived. Apollo was not happy with the existing, well-established hierarchy (Luna>Atlas>Nimbus). Nimbus was willing to concede his place (as long as he has bunny friends, he doesn’t mind). Luna didn’t care, she was queen and she knew it, it didn’t matter what Apollo thought. Atlas was not happy. Small scuffles escalated to fights, and we decided it was safest to separate them again and take them to a professional. They continued to live in the same room, and occasionally, despite our best efforts, would end up getting to each other and causing injuries.

In March, we took the rabbits to ROSS, where Caroline was amazing. She knew they were a tricky bond, but over 2-3 weeks, she managed to get them to a place of relative calm coexistence. We disinfected, painted and rearranged their room, hoping to trick them into thinking it was a neutral space. Unfortunately, within 24 hours of being home, they went back to their old ways of fur-pulling and chasing. Apollo was determined to be top bunny. After scuffling progressed to biting, we had to separate them for their own safety, and began to start seriously thinking about what the best solution for all the rabbits was. Just as we decided perhaps it would be best to take Apollo back to the Rabbit Residence, the world went into lockdown! I held onto a secret hope that maybe we could still bond them with this ‘extra’ time.

During lockdown, we kept the bunnies side-by-side, but with no improvement in their attitudes to each other. One morning I walked in and discovered that Apollo had severely bitten Luna’s nose through their barriers. That was the point where I realised I would never trust the bunnies together alone, even if we did somehow manage to miraculously bond them. To be clear, Apollo was not to blame for this incident. He was being a bunny, and it was our own fault for not better separating them.

We decided that it would be in all the rabbits’ best interest if we found another home for Apollo. None of them had as much space as they could have, and Apollo was being deprived of bunny friends who actually liked him. The trio were constantly stressed by having an interloper bunny in their home. I contacted the Rabbit Residence and arranged a date to return him. I was heartbroken – he was a wonderful bunny, extremely clever and great around humans. But I also felt bad for my trio – I had put them through a year of stress and injuries for no reason. While I was sad about returning Apollo, I wasn’t worried for his welfare. I knew how many forms and assessments we’d had to go through to adopt him, so I knew that the Rabbit Residence would find him a wonderful and spacious home with a bunny friend. We dropped him off, and spent half an hour getting him settled into his new outdoor aviary. Lea assured me that she would keep me updated on his progress there, and she has.

Meanwhile, at home, the trio are far more relaxed and happy to have their home to themselves again. Making the decision to give up on bonding them was hard, and with hindsight, I should have done it much sooner. Now that I’ve made the tricky decision though, I feel relieved and I can see that it was the best thing for all the rabbits.

You can keep up with the trio or contact me with questions at www.instagram.com/sirius_the_bunny

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