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"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
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  Volume No. 15 Issue No. 10 October 2018  

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Bill Radford

  Animal tales: great escapes and bunny bonding
  By Bill Radford

   A moment of carelessness at the back door, and they were gone into the gathering darkness.
   Abby, our boxer-Boston terrier mix, has always had a bad habit of slipping through open doors and going for a run around the neighborhood. This time, she took our other dog, Gremlin, a young Boston terrier, with her.
   
   It was dusk when they escaped. Dogs running loose is nothing new in the neighborhood - no leash law, after all - but we have always tried to keep ours confined to the property. We worry about their safety amid cars, coyotes and other dogs.
   
   Usually, when Abby escapes, she's not gone long, returning with a satisfied look on her face and stretched out on the front lawn. But as darkness took hold, there was no sign of her or Gremlin. Margaret and I both searched the neighborhood, calling for them in vain.
   
   It was a pitch-black night - so dark I couldn't even see the road as I walked without my flashlight splitting open the blackness. I figured the dogs were caught behind a fence and couldn't find their way back in the dark but would be able to return in the morning. Margaret wasn't as hopeful, but there was nothing else we could do.
   
   I awoke at 3 a.m. and peeked outside, but still no sign of them. When we got up at 6, though, with early shards of light in the eastern sky, the dogs were at the back door - and more than ready to come in.
   
   They were exhausted from their adventure and barely moved from the couch all day. When Abby did move, she limped. Perhaps she had just overdone, because in a day or two she was back to normal.
   
   It was less traumatic than her first big escape, which occurred a few years ago, shortly after we got her from a rescue group. We'd only had Abby for a week or so when she escaped, slipping out of our fenced-in side yard. It was late in the afternoon, three days before Christmas, and cold, with a snowstorm bearing down.
   
   Margaret, our daughter, Hope, who was home for college for Christmas break, and I searched for Abby as snow fell and darkness descended. The search continued the next day as icy winds roared across the prairie. But another frigid night came with no sign of her.
   
   The next day, on Christmas Eve, we made missing-dog posters and hung them in the neighborhood. They bore fruit quickly: We got a call that afternoon from someone who had spotted Abby in a field not far from our house.
   
   Sure enough, Hope spotted her in the field, near a falling-down barn that likely had been her shelter. And with her hunger and weariness overcoming her fear of people, Abby allowed herself to be grabbed. So that was our big present that Christmas - Abby's return.
   
   Duck duck loose
   Abby is not the only one of our animals with a penchant for escapes.
   
   Veronica, the duck, kept showing up outside the duck and chicken yard this summer. Grasshoppers were apparently the lure - Veronica is a ferocious grasshopper hunter - but we couldn't figure out how she kept getting loose. Whatever her escape route, the other ducks weren't choosing to use it. I would chase her back to the yard, but she would pretend there was no way back in.
   
   We wondered if she was flying over the fence, a habit that one of our chickens had adopted for a while. Pekin ducks, though, usually are too heavy to get airborne, and we'd never seen any evidence of the ducks being able to fly despite frantic wing-fluttering. My suspicion was she was somehow slipping out through the entrance to what we call "the alley," a long strip of fenced-in land that we had opened up to the chicken/duck area.
   
   I kept putting up new barriers, but they didn't stop Veronica. I'd come home from work and she'd be out in the main yard in pursuit of tasty, juicy grasshoppers. Or I'd be sitting out front and she'd come join me, quacking and hunting.
   
   Then one day, it wasn't just one duck loose but two - Veronica had apparently let the other female duck, Honey, in on her secret. Though I had checked the alley fence time and again, I inspected it once more, kicking at the bottom to see if there was a loose section. And this time, I found it - a small, barely duck-sized opening at the bottom. I closed it off with a cinder block, and the ducks have since stayed in their yard - a great relief, no doubt, to the grasshoppers.
   
   Bunny buddies
   When our rabbit, Lois, died a few months ago, we debated whether to get another rabbit to keep our remaining one, Penny, company. Our concern was the never-ending cycle: Penny one day would die and we'd have to get the new bunny a companion, and so on.
   
   We finally decided, though, that Penny needed a bunny buddy. (Rabbits are much happier when they have a friend to share their life with, states rabbithaven.org.) On Craigslist, Margaret found another girl bunny, Lola, in need of a home.
   
   After a gradual introduction, followed by a day or two of intermittent running around and fur flying, Penny was ready to make friends. But Lola stayed paralyzed with fear in a corner of the pen for many more days - to the point where we worried things weren't going to work out. But Lola finally decided this was home and Penny wasn't out to kill her, and now they're best buds.
   
   When bringing bunnies together, consider these tips, culled from various websites:
  • Rabbits should be spayed or neutered. They'll be healthier and less aggressive.
  • Keep the bunnies separate but adjacent for an introductory period. While rabbits are social, they're also territorial. Supervise initial face-to-face meetings.
  • The best bonding pair is male and female. That's assuming you follow the spay/neuter tip. Otherwise expect a lot more rabbits.
  
Abby the escape artist, right, hanging out with her partner in crime, Gremlin. Photo by Bill Radford
 
Bunny buddies Lola and Penny share a treat. Photo by Bill Radford
 
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