Rabbits are an increasingly popular pet, a relatively low-maintenance animal that's quiet, affectionate and playful.
The big news in rabbits is that they needn't be banished to an outdoor hutch. "House rabbit" proponents say they make wonderful indoor pets for both children and adults.
But knowledge lags behind popularity. A couple weeks ago I got a call from a woman who wanted to know if her son's bunny was expecting. Seems the parents bought two litter-mates as tiny babies, brother and sister, and put them together in a cage. And now the female was "acting funny."
"We've just had them a couple of months," she said. "Surely they can't be having babies already."
I asked her if she ever heard the expression "breed like rabbits" and told her to get a nesting box ready, a plywood, wire or metal space with hay or straw to keep the babies clean and warm. And above all, get papa-uncle another cage.
A rabbit pregnancy is about a month long, so by now the family is taking care of some additional mini-lops -- and probably enjoying their unexpected venture into rabbit breeding. But their predicament underscores the need for animal lovers to research a pet's care before bringing one home. In the case of rabbits, there are two excellent references.
The two books come at the subject from different angles, but both are full of the kind of basic information any bunny lover will need. "Your Rabbit: A Kid's Guide to Raising and Showing" ($12.95; Garden Way Publishing) is a fact-filled, practical and easy-to-read book geared mostly to the rabbits-belong-outside crowd. Author Nancy Searle discusses housing, breeding, medical care and showing in a no-nonsense style. No sentimentality here: Rabbits are evaluated for their suitability as pets, show stock or meat -- the last option decidedly unpopular with those who share their homes with the furry charmers.
Among those are members of the House Rabbit Society, based in Alameda, Calif., who have done a great deal to promote the rabbit's suitability as an indoor pet. Their bible is Marinell Harriman's "House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live With an Urban Rabbit" ($5.95; Drollery Press, Alameda, Calif.). Ms. Harriman's book helps bunny fans through the challenges of living with a rabbit -- including the difficulties of training it to use a litter box.
While the two authors differ in their philosophy, the books complement each other surprisingly well. Ms. Harriman's strength is her belief that rabbits are wonderful individuals that should be treated with as much respect as dogs, cats and birds -- but her book is a little short on the nuts-and-bolts of rabbit care.
Ms. Searle's book is so full of tips that they spill onto the margins. Her "pets or meat" approach may be off-putting, but her information is first-rate.
The books would surely have helped the caller avoid her predicament -- and could help her care for and place the babies she has now.
Lost-pet hot line
The American Humane Association and Sprint have developed a new lost-pet hot line.
Finders can call (800) 755-8111 and use a touch-tone phone to enter their phone number, address and a description of the animal, including weight, age, sex, color and tail length. This information is stored in a computer that matches it with information provided by owners looking for lost dogs. Losers can call (900) 535-1515 -- at $1.95 a minute for an average call of four minutes -- to enter the particulars of the missing animal. If there's a match, a computer will give the loser's phone number to the finder. The idea is that 900 calls will pay for the 800 service.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278