How Foster Homes Help our Rabbit Residents
By Natalie Shearer, Animal Friends Volunteer
Rabbits have complex emotions and behaviors just like dogs and cats. But in the wild, rabbits are prey animals and when they are brought into a shelter environment it can be a very scary experience. Dogs barking, people walking by and many different smells can have an impact on a rabbit’s behavior. All animals have a fight or flight response, which is the body’s involuntary response to a threat. There is a release of hormones that cause the body to flee or retreat from danger or fight the threat.
In prey animals like rabbits, the typical response is to flee or retreat from the threat. In shelter environments with the smells and sounds of animals like dogs and cats or caregivers going into their kennels, rabbits can become scared and retreat to the back or hide in their cubby. This gives the impression to potential adopters that they may not make a good pet because they are not social.
There are some rabbits who are so scared by the experience of someone coming into their kennel that their bodies choose the fight response. They may box or grunt at the caregiver or even attempt to bite them as a form of defense. But these rabbits are not aggressive – their basic instinct is telling them that they must fight to survive. Rabbits who are labeled as shy or aggressive can have a very hard time finding homes.
Thankfully, there is a great team of rabbit volunteers and staff who understand these behaviors. Many of those rabbits go into a foster home where they can enjoy a quiet, one-on-one environment. It typically takes a couple of weeks for the rabbit to relax and for their true personality to come out. During this time the foster can work in small sessions with the rabbit to gain their trust. Sometimes, simply sitting in the exercise pen reading out loud will peak the rabbit’s curiosity enough to become engaged. The foster can use enrichment activities to help the rabbit gain confidence, too. Through these activities, the rabbit’s true personality starts to show. Fosters keep a journal about the rabbit’s behavior, including their likes and dislikes and these notes are then used to help match the rabbit with the best family for them.
Fostering is a rewarding experience. Watching a shy or fearful rabbit grow into a confident rabbit and helping them find a new home is the best feeling in the world. If you are interested in getting involved as a foster at Animal Friends, please visit ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org/Foster.