Stars and hutches: who's hopping mad?

style police : Still got a pot-bellied pig? How embarrassing! Everyone who's anyone has a house rabbit
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If you are the proud owner of a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, now's the time to start thinking bacon sandwiches. Passe, horribly passe. Snakes, which enjoyed a brief vogue, along with terrapins (ugh, stinky) are similarly out of style. The companion animal of the moment is the house rabbit. Rabbit fans include Gene Hackman, Bridget Fonda, Stefanie Powers, Rutger Hauer, Suggs and, erm, Toyah Willcox.

Anyone whose childhood rabbit experiences were limited to a smelly, bad- tempered creature languishing in a hutch may be surprised; but it turns out that rabbits have hidden depths. The mission of the British House Rabbit Association (membership over 400 and leaping) is to bring them out of the hutch and into the home. Rabbits are "far more intelligent than people give them credit for," says Lizzie Smith, secretary of the association, and owner of three Netherland dwarf rabbits, Missy, Dixie and Coco. They are affectionate too, given the chance. "They come running up in the morning, they are always pleased to see you, and stroking them is a stress-reliever."

House rabbits can be litter-trained; and rabbit poo in any case is far easier to deal with than the end products of the dog or the cat (simply hoover up). They never need taking for walks. They exist happily on a cereal diet, supplemented with greens. And they come in all shapes and sizes, from big fat ones such as the British Giant, which can weigh in at 18lb, to small cutesy dwarf rabbits. The ones with the adorably droopy ears are the lops. There are a few downsides, however; in the absence of burrows to excavate, frustrated rabbits may turn to nibbling wallpaper and electrical wires (these must be rabbit-proofed by encasing in rubber hosepiping).

Pet City, the pet superstore, can supply a range of rabbits from pounds 9.50 for a crossbreed to pounds 25 for a well-bred angora, cashmere or miniature dwarf lop variety; the company reports that rabbit sales are up by as much as 20 per cent. Buyers should remember, though, says Lizzie Smith firmly, that a rabbit is not a fashion accessory - "they do need care and attention, and they can live up to 10 years, so you need to be prepared to make a long-term commitment."

Those who wish to remain a hop ahead of the trend may wish to consider a chipmunk (tipped as the Next Big Thing). But rabbits are definitely in, in, in for now. Even Loaded, the lads' magazine, has jumped on the bandwagon. A recent issue featured nude Playboy bunnies (human variety) preserving their modesty under numerous examples of the fluffy kind. And somehow the real bunnies were far more attractive.

HESTER LACEY

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