The Bachelor sits calmly, waiting to meet Bachelorette #1. Once she enters, Athena strides right over. She’s bold, self-confident, unafraid to come on strong—rather like her war-goddess namesake. Unfortunately, her brashness makes Tuck nervous. He holds himself stock-still, with only a faint twitch now and again until, suddenly, he lunges aggressively, and Athena dashes away out of reach. She regroups, then comes back, a bit more coy, drawing near but not too near, rubbing her face demurely. Tuck eyes her, still tense. Eventually he relaxes a bit and begins smoothing his whiskers and licking his toes, watching out of the corner of his eye as Athena is led away.
Welcome to Bunny Speed-Dating.
Rabbits are extremely social, and they pair-bond for life. According to the House Rabbit Society, “Paired rabbits are much easier to care for, get into far less trouble, are happier, and tend to relate better to people.” The Animal Care Centers of NYC is a group of shelters that is catering to that, and they have branches in each borough: full-service centers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, and admissions centers in the Bronx and Queens.
ACCNYC has thousands of furry friends available for adoption—in 2015 they took in 35,000 animals and placed 86 percent of them in furever homes. (“So far, this year, we’re at a 93 percent placement rate,” said Katy Hansen, the shelter’s marketing manager. “That’s the best in the country for a shelter of this size.”) Often, bonded pairs are siblings from the same litter—ACCNYC has many of those, which also need homes!—but bunnies can also find their mates the same way we do, by meeting several and figuring out who clicks. Over at the Manhattan branch, ACCNYC has provided Bunny Speed-Dating for years, but last week was the first-ever session in Brooklyn.
While the majority of ACCNYC’s rescues are dogs and cats, lately it has found itself with an abundance of rabbits, whether from owner surrenders, abandonment, or sad cases of animal hoarders. There have been rabbits at the Manhattan branch for over a decade, but there are so many bunnies right now that, in June, ACCNYC opened a second rabbit center at the Brooklyn branch, in East New York. The shelters are currently holding more than 100 rabbits that need homes.
Enter Colleen Venable, a graphic novelist, book designer, and proud bunny mom to Tuck, a two-year-old Dwarf Dutch rabbit. She loves her bunny pal: “It’s like having a litter-trained dog,” she said. “He’s funny, he’s active, he answers to his name. Plus rabbits don’t smell or bark, and they’re trainable.” (This one is even on Instagram!) The only problem: Lately she’d noticed Tuck grooming her stuffed animals, and he’d started laying down in front of the door whenever she tried to leave the apartment. He needed a friend.
Tuck was the second dater of the day. The first was 4½-year-old KitKat, whose owner, Lauren Freestone, brought her in from Jersey City. After an intense round of dates, KitKat, whom Freestone describes as a “diva bunny who loves attention,” chose a Bachelor named Cookies to be her mate. Thea Harting, the Rabbit Adoption Specialist, said, “Cookies was the underdog rabbit—she just shined.”
Harting, a serious animal lover who has her own pet rabbit, fosters rabbits that have medical issues, runs See Spot Walk dog-walking, is a volunteer at the shelter, and she’s been leading Bunny Speed-Dating for several years. It’s a process that must be carefully managed; although sometimes there’s a bunny version of “love at first sight,” the opposite can also happen. Rabbits are thin-skinned and prone to aggression, so it’s crucial to have a chaperone in the speed-dating pen. As Harting put it: “At any time, they’re making the choice not to attack each other.” She uses one of her own sneakers to keep the dating rabbits close enough to smell each other, but not close enough to bite.
And so it was that over several hours, Tuck had two dates each with four different Bachelorettes while Hansen played Vivaldi on her iPhone to get the bunnies in the mood (and to drown out the barking dogs nearby). Hansen and Harding mused that one day they may get tiny tuxes and tiaras, but for now the rabbits were au naturel for their prospective mates.
Harding and Venable chose the Bachelorettes together, favoring lady-bunnies that had the right temperament for partnership and had been in the shelter for awhile. There was Bloomie, a 1½-year-old Palomino, who also came on much too strong for the aloof Tuck. There was September, a three-year-old Mini-Rex, who was chosen because she was calmer and smaller than Tuck. And then, finally, there was two-year-old Twist, part Angora and part Loop-Ear. As Venable described their meeting:
It was like watching two middle-schoolers at a dance: Totally awkward but man they liked each other! The hair between Tuck’s ears—which had been standing up with all the other rabbits—finally relaxed with Twist. There was nose touching (that’s like bunny second-base!), and at one point they even sat in the same litter box. And you know that old saying: The couple that poops together… um… are hopefully bunnies?
Venable and Tuck took Twist home with them that night, and she has been helping them to bond each day. (She started by renaming Twist to Cher—what boy-bunny could resist that?) This process can take a little while and requires supervision—as Harting put it, “Dates should be short and sweet, and always end on a good note.” Which, really, is pretty good advice for daters of all species, right?
If you’re looking to add a bunny (or two) to your life, NYCACC is running a special right now: adoption fees are only $25 for a single rabbit, or $50 for a bonded pair. Included is a kit full of food, treats, and bowls, plus the rabbits will be microchipped and the adoption coordinators will provide ongoing counseling for new bunny parents.
All images by Maximus Comissar