Cork woman: My rescue rabbits are my 'adventure' as I deal with chronic health conditions

This week in our series, My Pet And Me, NICOLA DEPUIS catches up with Grace Ní Dhonnchú, the owner of two rabbits bursting with personality
Cork woman: My rescue rabbits are my 'adventure' as I deal with chronic health conditions

Grace Ní Dhonnchú, who has two pet rabbits, Theo and Lucky.

LAST year was a milestone one for Ballinhassig-based Grace Ní Dhonnchú, co-presenter of the podcast Women Vs Everything. It was the year in which she bought her first home, and the year she adopted her first pet – Theo, the rabbit.

Knowing next to nothing about the bunny world, it was a friend’s call for help that set her on her path to rabbit rescuing.

“I initially thought I’d get a cat or a dog, but I started to do my research on rabbits and found that they can be litter trained like cats, that they’re very clean, love cuddles and can free roam in your house,” said Grace, who features in our new feature series,My Pet and Me

“This sounded exactly like what I was looking for. Theo moved in with me about one week after I moved into my new house... crazy!”

For this first time rabbit owner, there were definite challenges those first few months. “He came from a home where he didn’t get much attention. As time went on he got more destructive and started peeing in places, especially on the sofa. He wasn’t neutered so he was still being territorial. But, despite our challenges, I just saw the loveable rogue in him.”

Like any responsible pet owner, Grace was quick to get Theo neutered.

“I learned that if you neuter a rabbit, it doubles their lifespan. Unneutered rabbits can live five years, but they’re really prone to reproductive cancers. Neutered, they can actually live for ten years, maybe more.”

The neutering helped Theo settle down, but Grace admits: “It still took, like, another three months before he stopped territorial weeing on my sofa.”

Grace Ní Dhonnchú, who has two pet rabbits, Theo and Lucky.
Grace Ní Dhonnchú, who has two pet rabbits, Theo and Lucky.

Over time, Grace realised that it wasn’t good for Theo to be without a rabbit companion. Rabbits are sociable creatures and, in some countries, it’s illegal to own a rabbit on its own.

So she took to the Facebook rabbit groups where she found many other rabbits looking for homes.

“I just couldn’t bear seeing all these other rabbits that people just dump and abandon, and leave outside to starve or die from the cold.”

Four months after Grace took in Theo, she adopted Lucky, a Netherlands Dwarf breed. Lucky’s previous owner rescued her after someone dumped her in a car park, covered in fleas.

Introducing Lucky to Theo required a very specific bonding process that can take months. But their first meeting was one of love at first sight for Theo.

“He ran around the room and he was so happy, and so excited, and he started doing all these happy behaviours that I hadn’t seen him do in months. It was so cute.”

Both rabbits have turned out to have very different personalities.

“Theo will just plonk next to me and want to be groomed and rubbed for an hour without moving, whereas Lucky will run around the place, and get some rubs, and then run around the place, ’cause she’s just so excited and playful. I love how Lucky gives me little licks like a dog does, and I love that Theo will climb onto my shoulder and try to steal food from me when I’m eating an apple or a banana.”

Grace describes their mannerisms to be both dog and cat-like.

“They do these amazing things called binkies, where they jump in the air and twist their heads and bodies in opposite directions. And they do zoomies like a dog would do, and they love cuddles. But they’re also independent and when they’ve had enough, they will let you know.”

They also love their toys and Grace has spent many an hour making tunnels and puzzles out of cardboard boxes. “It’s just stuff they can destroy safely. I made Theo a lovely dig box and he just decided to eat the cardboard, and break his dig box apart instead of using it to dig.

“Whenever I ask why he’s like this, my friends are quick to remind me that it’s because I’m his mom. I’m quite defiant myself, so I think we’re well-matched.”

Caring for Theo and Lucky has been a huge learning curve for Grace who feels that, as a millennial, she has felt stunted “because of the housing market, the jobs market... because it’s just so difficult to move onto this next phase of our lives that we’re told we’re supposed to have. We’re forced to rent for much longer, and most landlords don’t allow pets. It’s failing humans and animals when pet rearing isn’t considered a human right in the rental market.”

Now that she’s settled with her new home and new ‘furmily’, Grace is loving her simple life in the country.

“I have chronic health conditions and I don’t feel ready yet to travel abroad to have many exciting adventures in the Post-Covid world, so right now they’re my exciting adventure. It’s really supported me to keep my life small because they’re my number one commitment.

“I can be prone to being too busy, to signing up to too many things, to burning myself out. But my evenings are very simple now. I get home, I eat, I spend time with the bunnies and I go to bed. I really appreciate the simple life that I have with them.”

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