Think Outside the Cage: Moving Towards New Understandings of Companion Rabbits
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Rabbits are the third most common companion mammal in Western homes, and their popularity continues to rise. However, they are also one of the most broadly used animal resources around the world, commonly being bred for their food, their fur, and their utility as biological models in animal testing. The human relationship with traditional pets (cats and dogs) has evolved over many centuries and is firmly established in Western culture as one of companionship. However, our complex and contradictory relationships with multi‐purpose rabbits has complicated their more recent initiation into the process of domestication. Their relatively sudden entrée into human social worlds has forced hurried and awkward adaptations of ways of knowing and living with the species that have been appropriated from their commercial exploitation as resources. Rabbits occupy a liminal space between domestic and wild, challenging Western assumptions of human dominance and control within the human home. The close captivity, stifled opportunities and stunted relationships offered to most pet rabbits reflect the tensions created between humans and animals under the strain of such ambiguity. In this paper, I endeavour to piece together a panoramic snapshot of rabbit care in Canada, identifying common threads that bind the ways we live with pet rabbits to exploitive traditions and patterns that hinder the potentiality of companionship. Farming and agricultural practice, laboratory animal science, the pet store industry, feed manufacturers, veterinary medicine, animal shelter and rescue groups, rabbit education networks, and all levels of legislation are surveyed as influential domains that contribute to the conceptual framework that sculpts the way we think about and act towards rabbits. Two common themes which are pervasive across domains are investigated in‐depth, as a way of opening a conversation to critically engage in a discussion of "companion rabbits." The first of these is rabbits as creatures who confound categories, pushing boundaries and defying traditional labels and classifications that disrupt Western assumptions of Cartesian dualism, defined categories and human superiority. The second looks at the ways humansrespond to the challenge of rabbits, through physical and conceptual containment and control of their ambiguous natures. After exploring the influences that shape the way we think about and relate to rabbits, I look at approaches to ethics and education that can help us to decenter and step away from anthropocentrism, leading the way forward towards a new companion relationship with rabbits. I conclude with suggestions for future trajectories that I hope can help us to embrace such an approach.