Monday, April 15, 2013

Bad Combinations

On the weekend, after my editorial board meeting downtown, I popped by the Toronto Humane Society. We have been having some difficulty with our rabbit, Dolly (I've written about her in the past on this blog) and I was fortunate enough to speak with Kimberly, their resident rabbit behaviour specialist. She suggested I send some photos and videos of the bunny and her environment and from this data, she could provide some tips that might assist us.

L-R: Wilbur (in igloo), Chita, Dolly, Max (December 2012)

It turns out that our communal exercise time for the animals was a big mistake. As Kimberly explained in her follow-up email,
Rabbits do not interact with each other the same way other species do, so this can cause anxiety and confusion. If it's a regular occurrence  it can serve to increase her overall discomfort as well. Never let other animals into her cage, either. Rabbits are highly territorial animals, and need to feel that they have a safe space that no one will go in. ...
I was sorry to learn that I was contributing to our rabbit's anti-social, aggressive conduct through my actions.While I was on the premises, I took some literature about rabbits bonding and rabbits with other animals and I found this important paragraph:
Most rabbits don't tend to interact well with other small species, such as guinea pigs or hamsters. The natural activities of smaller mammals can clash with those of rabbits, who, when frightened, deliver a solid kick and can sometimes lead to injuries of either species. Therefore, to keep all of your small domestics happy and healthy, it's best to keep them separate at all times.
I had heard from my skinny pig Facebook community group that inter-species socialization was tricky but I assumed that with vigilant supervision, we would be able to keep the peace between all our various animals. Unfortunately this seems to be wrong. (Even though I am biased, Max the skinny pig is very easy-going and he never seemed to be bothered by either the chinchillas or the rabbit. However, there are other issues that demonstrate that I should still keep them apart.) There's very little literature on rabbit-chinchilla interaction - and now I know why! Chinchillas and rabbits are a bad combination!

Sometimes, there are just bad combinations that you've got to avoid, even though you think that you can overcome the obstacles. This point was driven home to me through two school-related conversations with colleagues (one last week and one today).
The first conversation was with a junior division classroom teacher; I was trying to decide on the best way to group her students for an upcoming media/library/oral communication project they'll be undertaking. Should I let them pick their partners? Should I assign them? Should I roll a dice and let it be random? She said that she uses a variety of methods for group formation in her class - sometimes friends, sometimes her choice - but that I may want to consider small groups over pairs because it's easier to minimize any "bad combinations" that occur (e.g. partnerships where one person does all the work and the other coasts, or pairings where the two students fight for dominance). It was a good suggestion and one that I can combine student choice (the pairs) with teacher direction (which pairs form small groups).
The second conversation was with a primary division classroom teacher; I had to place three of her students in time-out multiple times today during the two periods I had her class and eventually had to send one individual to the office (something I am loathe to do). After speaking to the parents together, we commiserated and noted how, when one of these students was away for several months out of the country, the second student was not as disruptive. Now that Student #1 had returned, Student #2's behaviour declined. She vowed that when we organized classes for next year, we would need to make a concentrated effort to separate these two students because it was just a bad combination.

I hate to label certain student relationships "bad combinations" but like Dolly the bunny with Chita and Chilli the chinchillas, it seems like the best advice for peace is to keep certain groups as far away from each other as possible. Separating adversaries doesn't guarantee tranquility (because they may just find a new person to have a love-hate or hate-hate relationship with) but it may leave supervisors with a little less grey hair.

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