Monday, August 13, 2012

Furry Findings - Knowing What You Don't Know

Last Friday, Laura the "bunny whisperer" came to my house. Laura is a volunteer with Toronto Animal Services, South Division, and has a great deal of knowledge about rabbits. We invited her to come to our house to help us with our pet rabbit, Dolly. We had our previous bunny, Nibbles, from 2001-2009 and have not shared our house with a rabbit since then (Fudge the school rabbit being the only exception). All the bunny know-how we thought we possessed thanks to Nibbles and Fudge didn't seem to work with Dolly. Unlike the others, Dolly is often a grumpy bunny. She hates being picked up and I was at a loss on how to get her to the groomer's to have her nails trimmed. Laura kindly offered to come to my home to cut her nails and observe her in her natural habitat to offer some advice on how to "friendly her up".

Dolly, our independent little bun-bun!
Thankfully, Dolly's improved quite a bit from when I first emailed Laura asking for help to when we were able to coordinate schedules and get Laura to come. At first, we couldn't even put our hands in the cage to fill her food bowl; now, she lets us open the top and allows us to stroke and pet her. I credit my mother-in-law and her "treat therapy" during the three weeks she stayed with us in the summer for that success.

Laura was absolutely wonderful. She clipped Dolly's nails like a pro and gave lots of valuable tips. Through our conversation over the two hours she spent with us, I heard that Laura gets many emails from rabbit adopters asking questions. Dogs and cats have plenty of vets and experts that can help owners but there aren't that many small animal experts, be they either medical or behavioural. I don't know what I would have done if Laura had not consented to a home visit. Laura has a blog - - and as we drove her home, we discussed the possibility of Laura creating some videos on YouTube to answer some of the most common questions she fields. We both got very excited about the possibilities.

Freedom, sweet freedom!
Now, there are many ways I can bring this blog post back to the topic of education ... how to handle creatures under your care (students / bunnies) that react differently than your usual expectations, the value of personal instruction, the ways technology can help teaching and learning ... but the big "aha" I wanted to reflect upon was about realizing what you don't know and need to know vs discovering what you didn't know you didn't know. Does that make sense? Let me give you some examples. I knew that I needed to learn (or access someone who already knew) how to clip bunny nails. My mom used to do it for me for Nibbles. I realized that I had no clue how to do this but that this was an important thing to know if I was to properly care for a pet bunny. I didn't know that there are significant differences in brands of bunny food and that I need to be choosy when it comes to Dolly's diet. I'm not sure why this didn't dawn on me previously - I knew that my beloved skinny pigs Max and Wilbur need their pellets to have Vitamin C added; I knew that our mischievous chinchillas are supposed to eat only the blandest type of pellets because "gourmet mixes" are bad for their digestive systems. I knew that when rabbits make a funny little twisting jump, they are "binkying" and are very happy. I didn't know that head-butting is a request for personal grooming, that rabbits don't like to be stroked under the chin but that if they rub their chins on people and things, they are marking them using scent glands, or that thumping back at rabbits to show displeasure is a controversial move within rabbit-raising circles.

Chita plays with my camera cord - no greens for her!

Max poses for a brief second - plenty of greens for him!
How do we (and I mean teachers AND students) discover what we don't know? I have a t-shirt my husband gave me long ago that quotes Socrates: "I know nothing except the fact of my own ignorance". If we don't realize we are ignorant of some/many things, we are in trouble. Realizing we don't know is a good first step. Becoming less ignorant is the next step. There are many other steps that follow that, and even though it may feel circular (my grade 12 English teacher used to say that some people got increasingly smarter about decidedly narrower topics until they were experts in something of no use), it's the great paradox of learning. I look forward to learning more about all sorts of things, and vow not to let my ignorance discourage me from seeking more information.

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