PETSUBJECTS

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Cover Story - Celia Had­don

Our Easter bun­nies, Skip and Ki­pling, live as rabbits should do. They have a hutch that opens into a 9ft x 3ft run so that they al­ways have some ex­er­cise space. We have also built them a pad­dock in the gar­den, which is an 18ft x 12ft area — mainly lawn but also some borders.

Be­cause our ter­raced house has a long, thin rear gar­den, all we had to do to cre­ate the pad­dock was to erect a picket fence across the width and tack chicken wire (up to 2ft high) on to the new and ex­ist­ing fenc­ing.

We put both rabbits out for an hour ev­ery morn­ing and for sev­eral hours later on, some­times for a whole day (as long as one of us is at home). Ev­ery evening at about 9pm — later in sum­mer — we go out, rat­tle the food box and call their names. Then, af­ter stop­ping for some fin­ger-given food, they go into their hutch. Some­times they even put them­selves away.

Ear­lier this year, you sug­gested a rab­bit shouldn’t be al­lowed to run free in a gar­den be­cause of the risk of ur­ban foxes. We think our pad­dock is the ideal so­lu­tion.

We get great plea­sure from watch­ing them from our kitchen win­dow, bound­ing about in the spring sun­shine, graz­ing in the evening and stretch­ing out con­tent­edly hav­ing seen off an­other in­quis­i­tive cat!

PT,Eastleigh,Hants In­deed, this sounds like the ideal so­lu­tion: a bal­ance be­tween safety and free­dom. You have a good hutch with an at­tached large run and you let them out when you can keep the oc­ca­sional eye on them.

The risk of let­ting a rab­bit live com­pletely free in a gar­den all the time is that an ur­ban fox will get to it. But per­haps even that risk is worth tak­ing if the al­ter­na­tive is liv­ing mis­er­ably in a hutch with­out a run.

I was sur­prised and pleased to hear that your rabbits could be tempted back into the hutch so eas­ily. It prob­a­bly helps that you don’t have to pick them up, as most rabbits dis­like this. Rab­bit-own­ers with high hutches might think about adding an ac­cess ramp or us­ing a cat box to lift the bunny.

Na­tional Pet Month starts to­day and in­cludes Wet Nose Day on April 24 (get in­volved at www.na­tional pet­month.co.uk). Cats that eat un­usual foods are ex­press­ing their in­di­vid­u­al­ity rather than be­ing in­flu­enced by their own­ers. When­ever any of my cats are ill and off their food, they all pre­fer pilchards in tomato sauce when of­fered up to eight al­ter­na­tives. They don’t like pilchards in oil or brine.

I have never met a cat in­ter­ested in fresh toma­toes, but the sauce also con­tains vine­gar, salt, spice, herbs, gar­lic pow­der and sugar or glu­cose. I have read that cats do not taste sweet­ness but my colour­point Per­sian, Toby, licked most of the top­ping off two Vic­to­ria sponge cakes I’d left to cool on racks. Did he like the sugar, flour, eggs or but­ter — or the com­bi­na­tion?

GE,Skip­ton,York­shire Tomato sauce at­tracts many cats. It can’t be the sugar, as cats do not have taste­buds for sweet­ness. The food pref­er­ences of Jasper, an el­derly res­cue cat, may give a clue. “He be­comes wildly ex­cited when I am pre­par­ing chicken liv­ers, cheese or melon. The first two items are for­bid­den, as he is on a pre­scrip­tion diet for kid­ney fail­ure. But, on hear­ing about his pas­sion for melon, the vet agreed that at least he was get­ting his vi­ta­mins.

“Jasper is also keen on other highly per­fumed fruits such as mango, pineap­ple and pas­sion­fruit, but melon is his main love. Could it be the scent rather than the sweet­ness that at­tracts him?”

I am think­ing of get­ting a small, mid­dleaged dog from a res­cue shel­ter. My prob­lem is that I have a one-year-old grand­son who does not live with dogs. I want to make sure that both boy and dog are com­fort­able and safe. Of course, they would never be left alone to­gether. I would like a mon­grel, but would it be bet­ter to get a pedi­gree? If so, what kind?

VN, Bushey,Herts Get­ting a mid­dle-aged dog from a shel­ter is a bril­liant idea, and bet­ter than get­ting a puppy from a breeder. You need to find a res­cue shel­ter that knows about dog be­hav­iour. I can rec­om­mend the Dogs Trust, the Blue Cross and Bat­tersea, all of which check out their dogs for be­hav­iour. They can find you a dog that is ex­pe­ri­enced and safe with chil­dren. If they don’t have one avail­able, wait un­til they do.

When you have your dog, buy a crate for him. This will not be used as a con­fine­ment cage, but as an in­door den for him (you will find de­tails of crate train­ing on www. celi­a­had­don.co.uk).

The beauty of a crate is that it will keep the dog safe from your grand­son, when he wants to pull its tail or ride on its back.

A crate can be used in a car, in a ho­tel room or taken with you to your grand­son’s home. There is a good dog-and-baby leaflet avail­able from www.dogstrust.org.uk.

Last month I gave the wrong web ad­dress for the Minia­ture Mediter­ranean Don­key As­so­ci­a­tion. The cor­rect ad­dress is: www.minia­ture-don­keyas­soc.com.

RES­CUE ME

Smee­gle (pic­tured left) and his fe­male friend Che­quer are Easter bun­nies at the Blue Cross Cen­tre in Lewknor, Ox­ford­shire. They have been to­gether for four years and need a home where they can stay to­gether.

They were given to the Blue Cross be­cause their owner didn’t have enough time for them. This may ex­plain why they are both rather shy. Like many rabbits, they do not en­joy be­ing picked up, pre­fer­ring to keep all four paws on the ground.

“We have been work­ing with them to gain their con­fi­dence,” says Ni­cola Rix­son, a be­hav­iour ad­viser at the cen­tre. “I sit with them qui­etly, let­ting them come up to me, and hand-feed­ing them tasty treats. Smee­gle is the shyest but he is a real char­ac­ter when he gets to know you.”

Smee­gle and Che­quer are lit­ter-trained. Like all Blue Cross bun­nies, they are vac­ci­nated and neutered (un­like pet shop rabbits). They would make good house rabbits. Al­ter­na­tively, they will need a 6ft x 2ft hutch with a large run, prefer­ably at­tached.

If you are will­ing to spend time win­ning the con­fi­dence of Smee­gle and Che­quer, phone 01844 355293 or see www.bluecross.org.uk.

Celia Had­don re­grets that she can­not an­swer all read­ers’ let­ters per­son­ally. All sick an­i­mals should, of course, be taken to a vet.

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