Sunday, 19 February 2017

Bunecdotes # 2: The Gizmo Lessons




I mentioned in his introduction that Gizmo was very shy when he came into my care. While Lola bounced out of the pet carrier to explore her new home, Gizmo made no move to ever leave the safety of the carrier. He had to be lifted out and immediately sought the shelter of an upside down cardboard box. I did not blame him. He had gone through many changes in just a few weeks. He would come round.

But as the days turned into weeks I realised that Gizmo had no intention of coming round and I soon understood that it was not just him who needed to learn to trust me. I needed to learn to understand him. And so began The Gizmo Lessons.


Lesson 1: Food will not lure or trick me.

Gizmo had fallen for Lola head over furry heels and worshipped the ground she binkied** on. The human in his life he regarded with suspicion and no treat, however tasty, convinced him otherwise. Where Lola responded to treats like Pacman to white dots, Gizmo hid in his box, pretending not to see whichever tasty nibble I waved in front of him.

Lesson 2: Can't touch this!

Days passed and Lola showed all the signs of sticking with the diva attitude I had encountered on her first day. Most of all, she stuck with me... or should I say to me? I was the provider of treats, therefore, wherever I was, Lola was there too. At this point I should note that subtlety is not one of Lola's strengths. If she so much as suspected you might have treats (i.e. always) she was in your lap, searching for it. It was not long before Lola decided to flop against my thighs and accept my eager cuddles. Gizmo, finally venturing out of his safety box, flinched the moment I wiggled a toe. If I moved my arm in his direction, he was back inside it. He was my little piece of art. Something to be admired from a distance.

A face like that really does not make this whole keeping a distance thing easier


Lesson 3: Humans in enclosed spaces, even when inactive, are still too close

The day came that I opened up bits of the flat to the rabbits. Lola took to it like a fish to water - or a bunny to a whole room of potential wooden nibbly bits. Gizmo didn't even dare to leave the safety of his run. He was curious enough about the cardboard box I had placed on the floor for him to hop on, but he did not dare to make that jump. It took several days and my helping hand - lifting the box, not the bunny - to have him venture into the Great Unknown. A seemingly small step with a huge impact. For the first time since arriving in my home Gizmo did not only allow me to be near him, but hopped onto something I was holding. I could have touched him, but having internalised Gizmo Lesson 2 I resisted.

The setup at the time was very different from my current home. The rabbits had a small square of carpeted living-room, but the safe run-around room was the adjoining hallway. Knowing that I could not pick Gizmo up or even lure him with treats I did what seemed logical at the time: once run-around time was over, I closed the living-room door with both bunnies in the small square of living-room to prevent them from running off again, while allowing them to make their own way back into the run. BIG MISTAKE! Even with me quickly retreating beyond the rabbit-safe area, Gizmo went into a frenzy that made me fear for his life. His eyes bulged and he ran around that little square, peeing wherever he set foot. Let it be said at this point that Gizmo uses his litter box religiously, to the point that he would rather come home from a 3 hour vet visit and make a beeline for the box than pee on the provided blanket. By the time he managed to hop into the run, he was completely tired out. I was devastated. In one day we had taken one step forward and two back.

 Lesson 4: The floor cannot be trusted! 

In spite of our initial mishap, run-around time became a regular thing that pretty much filled my evenings. I quickly realised fear of me was not the only reason that prevented Gizmo from hopping out of his run, which was a fenced in piece of vinyl flooring. Gizmo was afraid of different floor types. The carpet he soon came to like. The same cannot be said for the more slippery wooden floorboards that made up the hallway. I put out a blanket for him to make that small square of living room extend a bit further. Naturally, Lola, who had no such worries and zoomed across the two rooms like a furry pinball, had nothing better to do than to bunch up said blanket before shooting off again. This left Gizmo with a gap of wood between one soft safe space and another. His front paws might venture onto the wood, but never without leaving his furry behind firmly planted on the blanket or the carpet. It took six months for his first tentative hop onto the wood. This affliction continues to bother him to this day, though it seems to be easier for him to find his courage the older he gets. In my current home it took him three months before he ventured into the kitchen, even though it had the same vinyl flooring as his run and when I opened up the balcony to them in September 2015 it was a mere three weeks before Gizmo took his first tentative steps in the autumn breeze.
He might not trust floors, but the more he ventured outside the run, the more okay he was being near me.

Lesson 5: Sitting very still just within your arm's reach means I might give that cuddle thing a chance after all

As time passed food was beginning to tempt him, even if it was my hand that offered it. He would come and snatch a leaf of parsley from my fingers and bounce off again, never sitting still long enough for me to touch him. I had noticed that he occasionally lay down in front of me, either at an angle to my hand or just far enough away to make it uncomfortable for me to reach towards him. I don't remember how long it took - and I might have been quicker on the uptake did I not have a very demanding and in-your-face Lola - before I realised that pressing his head on the floor and laying his ears back was Gizmo for: "I think I am going to give that cuddle thing a chance now." Though only if you kept your hand (one hand only, initially) on his head and ears. Move towards his rear and he was off. I cried when we reached that milestone.

Cuddle status: engaged



Lesson 6: Other people are still bad. Men in particular.

 Just because he came to trust me and took food from my hands, did not mean Gizmo had any intention of trusting anybody else. Food given by my female friends was eventually accepted, but cuddles for many months were his exclusive gift for me. Men, on the other hand, he continued to distrust for years. He can still be selective, but by now he will accept a cuddle from my other half just as happily as from me. I also find myself trusting his judgement. If Gizmo allows himself to be cuddled by what to him is a stranger, I feel I can trust that person a bit more.



Of course, there were many other minor hurdles to overcome - one being the need for health checks and grooming sessions that require him to be picked up, which is a struggle to this day, but at least now he accepts his apology slice of banana and will happily hop back to my side rather than shun me for days on end. Looking at him now I can hardly believe he is the same shy soul I adopted four years ago.


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**binky: a jump and twist in mid-air, usually accompanied by crazy head flicks and massive amounts of speed, punctuated by many "aww..." sounds from the humans present. A sign of a happy bunny, which makes for happy humans.



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