The joy of successfully holding a rabbit

Every Wednesday morning, Fiona and/or I go to Fat Fluffs rabbit sanctuary to volunteer. We've occasionally helped with cleaning and such but this is a more role-based thing where we're doing health checks and being a more regular presence there. Today I was on my own and in the last hour was asked to show three teenagers, who were visiting on a school trip, how to pick up and handle rabbits. Their job was to collect a rabbit from its hutch, carry it to the office and place it on the scales. Pretty basic, except rabbits don't often like to be picked up.

The big difference between a rabbit and, say, a cat or dog, is a rabbit is a prey animal. It has evolved to avoid being caught, and if caught it will do its best not to be eaten. So if the rabbit has not been trained to deal with human contact they will see being picked up and carried to be akin to being snatched up by a hawk.

Which means I had to show these kids how to pick up a rabbit. Would you like to know how to pick up a rabbit?

The best practice way, as espoused by Mary Cotter in her classic series of videos with rabbit-mad Amy Sedaris, is to spend ages calming the rabbit before doing a special move. I have never managed to get this to work. Ever. And at the sanctuary, where there are a lot of rabbits some of whom are very skittish, it's not too practical.

I just found Hayley's guide which is closer to my technique but not quite what I do. Still, there's a lot of good stuff in there. I hadn't seen Hayley's videos before so will be spending some time with them.

My technique is as follows.

  • Decide which hand you want to hold the rabbit with. As I'm right-handed I want the rabbit to sit on my left.
  • I lift the rabbit gently with my right hand and manoeuvre it's arse into my left palm.
  • My right hand then moves up the rabbit, positioning it's forelegs and head in my left elbow. It has the option of burying it's head in there or looking around.
  • If the rabbit is calm I can hold it one handed, using my dominant hand to open doors, etc. If it is agitated I gently place my right hand around its chest like a seat-belt to prevent any leaps.
  • At all times the rabbit is held securely but gently. I don't put pressure on any fragile areas, like the spine. Ideally the rabbit is simple resting on my arm but if there's any pressure, to prevent scrabbling, it's on the limbs.

So I'm showing these teens how to pick up rabbits and the two girls get it immediately, because for some reason girls handling small animals is a normal thing in our society, but the boy is struggling. He dangles the bun like a cat, then he gets his hands confused. It's not going well. But then he gets it. He's picked up and is successfully carrying a rabbit. He's weighed the rabbit and picked it up again. He's returned it safely to the hutch.

He had such a smile.

I don't know why these kids come to the sanctuary to help out. Maybe it's a community badge for some CV-building school scheme. Maybe they're troubled kids who are being socialised themselves. I have no idea, nor do I need to know. But it felt really good to help that lad learn to do something so simple and so rewarding.

On my way out I said to Chloe, the boss of the Fluffs, that I just needed to say bye to my kids. "Your kids?" she said incredulously. Yeah, my kids. We'd been through a lot together.

If you're a friend of ours and would like to come along one Wednesday morning to help clean out the hutches, and in return cuddle some rabbits, let us know as there's always plenty to do there and space in the car.