I don't know why but I had a worrying feeling as soon as I walked in through the gate. Carrying my darling rabbit Smudge, I continued on, determined to go through with my mission.
I've always done my own rabbit bonding and didn't feel entirely comfortable leaving Smudge for several days, but the pros of being in a bonded pair and the subsequent happiness for Smudge, pushed me onwards in my quest.
As recent rescue from the RSPCA, Smudge had safely recovered from his neutering op and it was time he had a companion.
With no safe neutral
territory at home, it was agreed (by several detailed emails and some long phone calls),
that Smudge go to a nearby animal sanctuary to be bonded with a suitable
female bunny, by the 'small animal' staff there.
I could see his body panting up and down through the slats in his carrier and I had to stop a few times during the sixty minute journey, to calm him down.
He was shaking like a phone on vibrate.
I should have taken his shaking and panting as a sign and turned homeward right there and then, but I kept thinking how much happier my wonderful chap would be with a 'girlfriend' in his life.
He was a really happy, playful character anyway but he deserved to have that extra loving attention only a special bunny bond would bring.
On arrival at the animal sanctuary, true to the words, there were animals everywhere.
No people, but lots of animals.
Dogs in yards, chickens sitting on cars, ducks sitting in puddles, donkeys resting under a tree, a menacing cockerel and lots of cats, and I mean lots!
As I negotiated my way around the muddy puddles in my best winter boots, I tried to calculate how much money a charity like this would need to feed and look after all these animals on a daily basis! My mind couldn't come up with a figure before my train of thought was interrupted.
A regurgitating, hacking sound stopped me in my tracks.
A cat was being sick, or at least trying to, right by my feet, in the middle of a large mucky puddle.
I muttered some soothing words, although I wasn't really sure what to say and I don't think the cat was listening anyway.
I though it best to keep searching for signs of life that were a little more, what's the word,... human.
There were some falling-down, dirty cabins along the side of the, by now very ploppy pathway, which I ignored, thinking they were food or equipment sheds, and sploshed onwards.
Nope, nothing down there, just lots of very vocal doggies.
I wanted to bundle them all up and put them in my car. I was thinking this when I decided to turn around and start at the gate again. I must of missed the office in my distracted wonderment of it all.
The cat was still being sick.
And there it was. The falling down cabin, with 'office' written on the door. I must of missed it while I was trying not to drown in a puddle.
I knocked. No answer. I went in anyway. The cat was putting me on edge.
I took a gander at all the happy photos of people with their new rescue pets, stuck all over the walls. How lovely. That cheered me up. I even noticed a happy rabbit with a new family, snapped by the entrance gate - everyone in the photo wearing wellies. I felt stupid standing there in my soggy wet suede boots.
forward a few minutes, Smudge had calmed down and several
people had appeared and bustled past me through a side door. Apparently
I'd arrived at feeding time. An eventual conversation with a staff
member left me a little worried as no-one seemed to be aware of my bunny
bonding request. Strange, I thought to myself, the person that had been
emailing me seemed very rabbit savvy and enthusiastic.
I asked to see the rabbits that Smudge had a choice of. But there was only one suitable. A feisty, fiery, beast going by the unsuitable name of Daisy. I didn't take to her after she'd growled at me at first sight, but I was hoping Smudge would invoke more pleasant sentiments.
Then there was another strange conversation. Well, it was more me listening really, as another staff member rambled incorrectly on about rabbits, showing my son and I round the small animal building as she chattered. Her inconsistencies and incorrect statements about general care made me a little pensive about the upcoming bonding sessions between Smudge and the bunny bitch from hell.
I was worried that, although lovely, caring and
seemingly helpful, this 'stuck-in-Victorian-times' woman, was going to
be the handler that was going to be 'bonding; Smudge and Daisy, which was alarming to say the least, especially when she couldn't
name the breed types of most of the rabbits she was caring for or what
brand of food they were eating.
However, I manifested a few strong, positive thoughts in my mind, pushed the doubting niggles aside with; "all rescue rabbits deserve a chance of a forever home, Smudge really needed a fellow bun friend and surely the person that was going to do the actual bonding would not be the rubbish-rambling rookie that was spouting nonsense at me at that very moment".
Well, that's what I told myself.
How wrong I was!
Needless to say after the form filling and the re-assurances from the office staff, I left Smudge at the sanctuary with a promise of an update in a few hours.
I'd been home for ages, drank several nervous coffees, bitten some nails and got no reply to three phone calls before I eventually managed to talk to someone.
Apparently, Smudge was fine... He was sitting by the door resting. I was told. Daisy had not made him welcome but they weren't fighting anymore.
What? WHAT?? WHAT!!!!!! Excuse me?
So they were still in the same cage together and they'd been fighting - a lot.
"Oh yes, Ms Greener, that's how we do it. They have to be left alone to sort it out themselves."
I wanted to get in the car and go and collect Smudge right then but I'd just put my 4 year old son to bed after driving for 2 hours and I was exhausted.
I tried to work out the logistics of getting him up and dressed and then driving for another hour and organizing a sanctuary staff member to stay behind to wait for my arrival. It just wasn't going to happen.
Again, I was reassured that all was well, so I said I'd call first thing in the morning.
I did. And realized straight away that a 60 minute car journey in the middle of the night would have been the right thing to do...
Smudge had been very badly attacked in the night. Yes, that's right, they'd left two fighting rabbits together, overnight, unsupervised. (The picture doesn't go anywhere near to showing the full extent of his injuries.)
His skin was torn in many places. He had a large gash across his eye and the patches of fur missing was akin to a geriatric attack with an electric razor.
The rest of the day was spent driving with a very, very distraught rabbit to the vets, waiting in a crowded pet shop (The sanctuary's vets were in Pets at Home, over an hour away), spending another hour and a half driving home and trying to explain to an upset child why Mummy had let Smudge get in to a fight.
"They will never be friends now Mummy." Crikey, my 4 year old son was wiser.
Then to top it all off, I had to spend another sleepless night without my Smudge, while he recovered from his surgery at the vets (he had to be anaesthetized as his wounds were so bad) - having been told that it was a very risky procedure in the first place as he was a senior bunny!
My nerves were in tatters. I couldn't begin to imagine what Smudge was going through - again!
Yes, the sanctuary paid for the vet bills and no, I'm not going to name and shame them. It's not fair to. The work they do is too valuable and important for the sake of one bad, ignorant member of staff.
In fact my solution, after I'd calmed down, was to offer my services to help out with the rabbits for a few hours a week. (And to re-educate the staff of course). Something they agreed to and then didn't call me back. Perhaps it was just as well. Although, it's the rabbits that are still there that I'm worried about.
I had a long
chat with the manager and he assured me (they were quite good at
re-assuring, I suppose it's all the practice they get), that my incident was a
one off and he'd never had anything like that happen before. I asked him
to describe a typical bonding session and it was text-book perfect, so
I'm assuming that this was staff error. I just hope that he realized
that and a re-educating and training workshop would be in the running
for the future.
But my main focus...
He's not quite the same as
he was. He was in a terrible state after eventually coming home and he was very wobbly and sad for hours afterwards. He didn't leave my side for a few days after
He's still a bit on edge and if I touch anywhere near his back end he bites out at me.
He's much better now, even though the temperamental nipping still needs to be addressed, he's back to binkying round the garden and messing up my son's bedroom again - thank goodness!
Needless to say, I learned a great many things about bad bunny bonding that weekend. I learned to investigate the experience a rabbit-bonder claims they have, but most of all I learned to listen to my instincts.
Smudge gets pretty much what he wants nowadays - I suppose I'm making up for him not having that bunny girlfriend I'd promised him. Here he is enjoying some fresh coriander, at ninety nibbles a minute!
He will be getting a girlfriend, we just have to settle him down a bit first. He's a very senior bun so finding a mature, relaxed lady of experience is proving rather difficult. (Any suggestions are very welcome :-)
Meanwhile he continues to enjoy a very free life, coming and going from a massive garden with foraging fit for a King and has developed a very good appetite.
His favourites include vine leaves, day cut nettles, coneflowers, parsley, coriander and occasionally apple and broccoli. He's also got a very bad habit of stealing bird food which we are trying to train out of him and if you're eating a sandwich he will jump up and snatch it from your hand - he's a carb junkie, very bad bun! lol
One of the reasons why I didn't name and shame the animal sanctuary involved in my bad bunny bonding experience had actually just been in the news...
There was a very disturbing case about a poor animal sanctuary owner that paid
a very high price to fulfil her mission and I really felt for her.
Most sanctuary owners are dedicated and passionate in their purpose of saving and rescuing animals in need.
This dedicated lady was no exception.
This is the heartbreaking moment as Paula Campbell, a 47 year old animal sanctuary owner in County Durham, collapsed into the mud as bailiffs arrived to evict her after 20 years.
The cost of supporting vulnerable animals at her site financially crippled her.
Share your views, points, tit-bits and tales! (Remember, you don't have to have a Facebook account to make a comment.)
All input is good, no matter how small ;-) Thank-you.