Pets are a great source of joy for many people, especially around the holidays. People adopting new pets are usually thrilled to have new furry companions, but for Tam Tangonan, it has been one very different season.
On November 29, right after Thanksgiving, Tam welcomed home a new bunny friend, Penny. Penny is a 7-month-old dwarf Dutch mix bunny who has a lively mix of energy and a love of baby carrots that Tam loves dearly. However, her arrival is quite bittersweet during this time.
This past July, Tam's bunny companion of six years, Jojo, died. Jojo was 9 years old when Tam adopted him, and passed away this summer after a long battle with dental disease. This winter, she will have to go through her first Christmas and New Year’s without the friend who was there for her for so many years.
“It really hit me hard when I was looking through my Christmas decorations, and I found the little stocking that I made for him,” Tam said. “And it really hit me that he’s not here with me anymore. and it made me really want to pursue a new rabbit more.”
Room for Another
Tam always knew that when her time with Jojo was over, she’d want another pet in her life. However, due to being allergic to both cats and dogs, it seemed another bunny would have to be in the works.
After losing Jojo, Tam was initially unsure if she could handle having another bunny in her life. She is, however, taking the time to remember that Penny isn’t here to “replace” Jojo but to bring her a different sort of emotional support and relationship.
“I wanted to get her before the holidays for my own goal to have her as a companion during that time,” Tam said. “Because the holidays are hard for me, especially without Jojo because I’ve always been with him.”
Jojo had been Tam’s certified emotional support animal, and Tam is hoping that Penny can bring her a similar sort of joy.
Tam’s known since she was a little girl that bunnies are her go-to favorite pets.
“I was instilled to love them by my grandmother who used to give me rabbit stuff for Easter,” she said. “And I remember when I was 5 years old, and I chose bunnies nuzzling together as fabric for my curtains, and I really insisted on that!”
The Memories Live On
Tam had been with Jojo since he was 3 years old, taking him across the coast from Baltimore to Los Angeles. The friends had shared many snuggles, romps in the park, kisses, and treats over the years until Jojo died.
Even though it was hard to be without Jojo, Tam knew he was watching over her still and would want her to be happy. When her friend sent her a listing on NextDoor for a “free bunny,” she became curious about Penny’s story after seeing pictures of her.
“I went in thinking it was a free bunny and thought that was strange,” she said. “Turns out, I’m glad she wasn’t “free” literally because it meant she was vaccinated and spayed.”
Instead of being literally free, the listing was actually advertising adopting Penny the rabbit through a local rabbit shelter. Tam applied to adopt Penny, showed the shelter her room, contacted her foster parent, and eventually brought Penny home to her Los Angeles apartment.
Figuring Each Other Out
Penny is now warming up to Tam and letting her pet her and giving her binkies (a bunny’s way of bowing to show a willingness to be pet and given attention), but she was initially quite skittish.
“I was excited but she was quite terrified,” Tam explained. “She has been through a lot, like when she was first rescued, she was with a homeless man who was trying to sell her and had matted fur!
She added: When we first got her, it took her 30 minutes when we first brought her in for her to come out of her cage. “It’s still taking her some time to get used to everything.”
But Penny is warming up every day, grinding her teeth and flopping on the floor to indicate she feels safe and content. Tam enjoys playing with her, even if it is bittersweet as she misses Jojo.
“It’s tough because I’m trying to not compare them to each other, especially because Jojo was more friendly and let me pet him more easily when I first got him,” she said. “Penny is a lot more cautious.”
Her fond memories of Jojo haven’t stopped Tam from deeply appreciating her new friend. “Penny has changed my life to give me something to look forward to and someone to talk to,” she said. “I do feel a connection with her, and it’s still surface level but I’m trying to get to know her better. I feel like she’s gone through so much, I’m trying to let her have space and let her come to me. “
Tam says rabbits in general have changed her life by helping give her a routine and someone to give her love to, as well as the ability to take care of something other than herself.
“I definitely need that as someone who has a lot of chaos and stuff that has happened to me,” she said. “They give me stability through the routines and even with emotional regulation, I can do that with them.
When I had Jojo, I'd sometimes come to him when I had a panic attack,” she said. “And he’d come to me and lick my face. I’m not trying to replace Jojo in that way because he was his own soul, but I hope I can come to Penny when I’m feeling down and also gain comfort and I can comfort her too.”
Tam said that she hopes that anyone who may be thinking about getting a rabbit, remember that it is a lot of responsibility and not just something to look at in a cage.
“It’s a whole being to take care of.” she said. “Be mindful of that, especially because with the holidays coming up, people give their children rabbits and it’s a family animal. It can take up more of your time. It’s rewarding, but it is work!”