Soft and cuddly with long drooping ears, it could pass as a stuffed animal.
Only the funny, twitching nose suggests there's life pulsing within that small ball of fur. Meet the lop rabbit!
For many pet lovers in the Baltimore area and elsewhere, the lop -- a breed of rabbit with long ears that go down, not up -- is a quiet, introverted, undemanding substitute for the noisier, insistent and more extroverted dog or cat. But like the dog and the cat, it can be friendly, intelligent, easily housebroken and gifted with a distinct personality that endears itself to children and adults alike.
Mary Smith bought a male lop for her teen-age daughter, Megan, more than two years ago, and it quickly became a family favorite. When the first one died earlier this year, she didn't hesitate to buy a replacement.
"It has a great personality and it's just adorable," she says of the tawny-colored rabbit, which shares her home in Catonsville. "It's very docile, very affectionate and it trained itself to be housebroken. If the cage is open, it goes in whenever it needs 'to go.' "
Convenience aside, perhaps it's the idea of a fluffy rabbit with ears that refuse to stand up that causes most people to smile.
Those intriguing ears fall to the side because their cartilage isn't strong enough to hold them up. The rabbit comes in about 25 different colors and patterns, from all-white to all-black, with the various colored types, including tortoise shell, chocolate and lilac, being the most popular.
Barbara Gesswein, president of the National Capital Rabbit Breeders Association, has been raising lops at her home near Damascus since about 1975, and believes she may have introduced the breed, which originated in Europe, to this area. It BTC happened when a man moved here from Texas bringing with him his house pet, a male French lop.
As the rabbit matured, it started "spraying," typically marking off its territory by dousing the area outside the cage with urine. Chagrined, the man sought someone to take the pesky bunny off his hands and Mrs. Gesswein accepted. (She says only about 10 percent of the males become troublesome with their spraying; neutering ends this nuisance.)
About the same time Mrs. Gesswein acquired the male, a woman returned from Germany, bringing back several female lops. She wanted to breed her does and Mrs. Gesswein had the only buck around. The rest is progeny.
Over the years Mrs. Gesswein has raised three different varieties, the large French lop, the medium-sized mini lop and the smaller Holland lop. She has done especially well with the mini lop in competitive shows, racking up enough points to be third best in the nation. Currently, she is specializing in purebred Hollands, among other rabbit types, breeding them for show and for sale.
Explaining the popularity of thelop rabbit as a house pet, Mrs. Gesswein says, "A lot of people live in apartments and are not allowed to have a dog or a cat, but they can have a caged animal. The lops are quiet. They don't bark. They can make a sound, but they seldom do. . . . And they don't require any yearly shots, so they're less expensive from a veterinary standpoint."
"It's the looks," adds Dale Iles, secretary of the 900-member Mini Lop Rabbit Club. "They're so cute, and they have such nice personalities. Rabbits have dispositions just like people. A few can be nasty, but most are decent and gentle, unlike some
breeds which can be quite aggressive. they make good pets, and kids love them."
Another plus is the cost. Lops sell for about $35 and up as pets, though those with certain characteristics desired by a breeder may go for several hundred dollars. And they live 8 to 12 years, depending on the variety.
The male lop, which is the friendlier and the more outgoing of the two, makes the better pet, while the female often tends to sit passively in the cage.