I don't know what strangers would make of our front room. In one corner in front of the TV is a large cushion surrounded by various cuddly toy animals. In the opposite corner a large empty box on its side sits adjacent to two trays of sawdust and one of hay. Along the opposite wall is another tray of sawdust, a bowl of water, a bowl of tea and a bowl of salad. They're not for us, you understand, they're for our rabbits.
I think it's fair to say that the contents of the room are as much about the rabbits as they are about my wife and I. Even when we had outdoor space they lived indoors with us. That's not because we want them there (although we do) but because that is where they should be. It's true that in the wild they would live outdoors but they would also live in large groups. Keeping one rabbit on their own in a hutch at the bottom of your garden is just cruel. Even if you keep two together (and you should) they are used to being part of a family unit.
Indoors with us our two (a male Dutch dwarf and a female who we think is a probably a Belgian hare/dwarf lop cross) have all manner of stimulation. The radio or the television is usually on for them. I can't pretend we are certain what they get out of their favourite programs, but they do pay attention at particular times, and it has certainly made them less destructive (a sure sign of stress). As well as a collection of toy 'children' for them to groom and play with they also have us. They like to groom us, sit with us, eat at the same time as us and generally behave as if we are part of their colony. That is what they need: to be part of the group. If you shut them out in the garden you are excluding them from the pack, leaving them out by themselves. You wouldn't do that to a member of your family, and it's just as cruel to do so to a rabbit.
All other things being equal, I'd still want ours indoors with us. I wouldn't want you to be misinformed- they can be problematic. Our little boy in particular has been difficult when it comes to wrangling over territory. But they are good company. It's nice to come home to a small animal charging excitedly towards you, pleased to see you at the end of the day. In making you part of their world they also want to look after you. My wife is disabled and whenever she is especially unwell the animals will follow her around the house to make sure she is alright. If she struggles with her breathing at night they will wake her up. If she falls they will come and find me. Their approach to a community is not simply to be pleased to see you, but to want to take care of you as well as they can. This is an instinctive and natural response and depriving them of the capacity to interact is depriving them of their capacity to behave in the way that they normally would. If we had a garden I'd have our two out in it all the time, digging, playing, getting fresh air and experiencing different sights, sounds and smells. As it is we take them out to the park, or even to the beach, whenever the weather allows.
The easy mistake to make with an animal like rabbits is to imagine that because they are cute and fluffy and because they don't always express themselves in ways that can be easily understood by humans, they don't think much and don't need a great deal of work. I'm sure you're already keen to make every effort to make your pets, whatever species they are, as happy and healthy as possible. But if you've read this blog and thought 'really?' or even 'nah' then you could be doing more. This week (for readers in the future 9th-16th May 2015) is rabbit awareness week. Check out the Rabbit Awareness Week Website for more advice about how best to look after yours. It would be great if you could fill the space below with your own rabbit experience, what works, what doesn't, what you've read or heard. All of us can make all the difference to a little life who's care is in our hands, if we take the time to look after them properly.