05.31.08

Baby on Board

Posted in Day-to-day at 12:18 am by Jenn

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, ACR&S is suddenly inundated with baby pigs due to a recent rescue, two of which are probably pregnant, and we will then again be inundated with babies.

Eek!  She sees us!Baby animals of any type are both a joy and a trial. They are small, terribly cute, charming, and they draw people to them. In the case of many of the types of animals we rescue, they are also highly hyperactive, incredibly easily spooked, and can be deceptively docile towards humans. Because of the cute factor, they are also highly sought after, and screening applicants can become difficult.

Many people desire baby rabbits or guinea pigs for their children. They believe that the guinea pig or rabbit growing up with their child will give them a closer bond (much like a puppy, or a cat). In my experience, this is only marginally true. Growing up with a pint sized human in the house does tend to inure rabbits and guinea pigs to the more scary of childhood noises, and helps them learn that the small hairless monsters are roughly as harmless as the big hairless monsters.

However, on a much bigger level, most prey type animals seem to come preprogrammed with their “basic” personalities, much like a dog or a cat. Bringing home a border collie is never going to lend you that couch potato friend that you wanted to watch Scrubs with. Bringing home a “velcro”, cuddly kitten is going to guarantee that you never have the bed to yourself. And, to an extent, the personalities of many small animals are already there, but their babyhood “directives” can make it somewhat hard to evaluate them.

Over the past 6-7 months, I’ve personally dealt with 3 litters (including the ones in our house now). The first litter was an accidental litter from a shelter pig. She and her neutered husband were adopted to an unsuspecting adopter — but husband had not been neutered in time to prevent him from impregnating her one last time. The adopter was an excellent caregiver, and the pigs were spoiled rotten. She contacted us to help place the babies, and we willingly agreed. Those three pigs were Skittles, Hannah, and Fozzie. Skittles came “out of the box”, so to speak, preprogrammed to be bossy to all living things, even the ones providing food. Though she did not like being picked up and would run from “The Hand” (like most guinea pigs), she was fearless in a lap, loved to check things out, wanted to explore. Hannah was a scaled back version of Skittles. Still quite outgoing, but a little more typically “guinea pig”. She was more cautious, explored more timidly. And finally there was Fozzie.

Fozzie was always a timid pig. When brought to the couch, he would run frantically, trying to hide underA tiny baby Fozzie. anything he could find. When caught, he would freeze in place, almost as if saying one final guinea pig prayer because he was so sure he was going to be eaten. He would wail loudly for his cagemates, and was reluctant to be petted. Though he was in a very dedicated foster home who spoiled him senseless, he is still, to this day, a very shy pig. All three of those babies shared the exact same upbringing, yet had totally different personalities. Yet, to a first time pig owner, they may have appeared much the same. All of them ran around the couch, all of them screamed at the top of their lungs, and all of them ran from “The Hand”. However, the girls were running around exploring — Fozzie was running to escape. The girls were interested in talking to anyone that could hear them — Fozzie was screaming for backup.

Because of this, placing babies can become something of a trial. A lot of people who previously had very stringent requirements (for example, specifically not wanting a pig that was prone to nipping, wanting a very outgoing pig, wanting a pig that will be submissive to their established dominant pig, wanting a female rabbit to be spayed and bonded with their male, wanting a “calm” rabbit, etc) quietly forget those requirements while being sucked into the cuteness.

Because of the animal’s basic personality, I don’t really ascribe to the need to have baby animals so that they can bond. In reality, I feel that a much closer bond is made when someone picks an older, settled animal, with an established personality that is what they are looking for, and works diligently to gain that animal’s trust and love. In addition, there is much less of a worry of a child accidentally hurting a much smaller and easily spooked baby. Even in our household, baby animals are handled in containers such as baskets, because the smallest things will sometimes set them off and they’ll go skittering off laps, out of hands, and into things.

Rabbits, and their wretchedly adorable babies also pose much of the same problem. Baby rabbits instinctually snuggle. When they feed, they snuggle up to mom. That promises safety, food, and heat. Their instincts are to be snuggly, basically. Many people fall in love with this adorable, tiny, loving animal.

8-9 months later, they are living with an animal that scratches and nips them when they try to pick it up, may spray urine and defecate on floors, even if previously litter trained, may become aggressive in the cage, growling and boxing at hands, and then become destructive, destroying carpets, baseboards, and furniture. It may sound like living with a rabbit is hellish, but all of these behaviors are easily managed by spaying or neutering your pet rabbit, and with careful supervision and “bunny proofing” — much like owning a puppy or a kitten.

Yet, so many people are so startled and overwhelmed by this change to their little cuddly friends that bunny ends up looking for a new home. They can’t let bunny out any more because of it’s aggressive tendencies and destructive behavior, and it obviously becomes a problem letting a child interact with said bunny, and now bunny “doesn’t get enough attention” and is looking for a new home. Primarily for the crime of being a rabbit.

This problem is further compounded by the fact that many people end up with their first rabbit from sources which are not reputable, and may not fill them in on the ins and outs of owning a house rabbit. I was personally told by a “reputable breeder” that I recently met that rabbits do not make good house pets, and cannot be kept in the house because they’ll destroy everything and pee everywhere. Pet stores do not routinely advise customers that rabbits should be spayed and neutered.

In the end, the purpose is not to deter anyone from adopting a baby animal if they able to provide for that animal’s needs, but to look at the situation with open eyes, and make a decision based on what that animal will grow up to be, and how that animal will fit into the family for the next 5-10 years, not for the next 6 months.

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