Rabbits may not be man’s best friend, but they are kept as pets in 1.4 American households, making them the third most popular mammalian pet.
Bunnies are also bred and groomed for competitions that are every bit as serious as dog shows.
What makes a prize-winning rabbit? We visited a competition to find out.
'Want to see something extremely rare?' says Randy Gebelein, whose eyes light up as he retrieves a small black rabbit from its wire cage.
He sets it on a table furnished with AstroTurf and with his big hands gently molds the rabbit's body into an upright position.
The animal sits still as a dog awaiting a treat. Gebelein is one of three rabbit breeders in the state of Massachusetts who raises Britannia Petite, an expected frontrunner for Best In Show today.
The Long Island Rabbit Breeder Association's Annual Spring Show takes place in a renovated barn in the postcard-like town of Old Bethpage, New York.
The annual event seeks to educate the public, promote rabbits as pets, and recognise the crème de la crème of purebred rabbits.
On the first spring weekend, as the temperature soars above 60 degrees in New York, dozens of breeders cram into the barn along with around 600 rabbits and hundreds of spectators.
They travelled from all over the northeast, carrying rabbits' travel cages, feed, water bottles, and other supplies. Many greet each other with warm embraces.
'It's kind of a big family,' Gebelein says of the community. Five years ago, he met his wife Sharon at a show. When they married, about 30 breeders came to their wedding.
The couple owns 80 rabbits, which they shelter in a barn outside their home. They left before 4 a.m. this morning for the show in Long Island, bringing just six show rabbits and a 2-week-old bunny that requires manual feeding.
Gebelein has high hopes for his Britannia Petite, with its perfectly wedge-shaped head, bulbous eyes, and smooth Black Otter coat. The arch from the base of the neck to the tail rounds like a quarter-circle, just as it should.
Rabbit shows operate much like dog shows, pitting an animal against a 'standard of perfection' for its breed, rather than comparing it to other rabbits.
Every five years, the American Rabbit Breeders Association (A.R.B.A.) publishes a book of detailed descriptions and standards for all 48 recognised breeds. Judges often keep a copy on their table.
For example, the Dutch rabbit is evaluated primarily on its colouring. A triangle of white fur, called the blaze, should cover the nose and whisker bed, tapering up to the ears.
The white and black fur should meet in a straight line, called a saddle, that runs behind the shoulders and continues underneath across the belly. This rabbit would be faulted for its uneven hairline on bottom, known as a drag.
If the rabbit's jet-black colouring crept up the elbow or showed up between its toes, it would be disqualified from competing.
On the hind feet, the white fur should reach from the toes to about one-third of the length. The 'stop markings,' like the saddle, should cut evenly around the feet. Needless to say, this little guy failed.
Rabbit shows use an incredibly complex bracket system in order to determine the ultimate rabbit. This picture shows some of the French Angora contestants.
Within each breed, there are varieties, typically differentiated by colour. A judge selects a Best of Variety (BOV) for each variation in the breed. She or he will also pick a Best Opposite Sex of Variety (BOSV), deemed the best rabbit of the opposite gender of the Best of Variety rabbit.
In the case of the French Angora, the judge will select a BOV and a BOSV for both the white and coloured varieties. From these, the judge awards a Best of Breed.
The Best of Breed winners move onto the semifinals of rabbit showing: Best 4-Class and Best 6-Class. It's down to the wire now.
The Best of Breed rabbits in a larger weight range compete for Best 6-Class. Mike Kinane, president of the Long Island Rabbit Breeders Association, claimed that prize (with a rabbit shown in the next slide).
Kinane's rabbit, the Standard Satin, has fur that glitters like diamonds. A genetic mutation in the breed makes its hair shafts hollow, allowing every strand to reflect light.
The lighter Best of Breed rabbits duke it out for Best 4-Class -- and the chance to go up against the Standard Satin in the final round. Here's the Dutch.
This Best of Breed fathered the losing Dutch we met earlier. From the wedge-shaped blaze to the even saddle, the rabbit looks pretty solid.
But the 4-Class competition brought their A-game. This Mini Lop boasts ears that originate above the eye and hang down straight behind the eye, indicating a properly placed crown.
When posed, the Belgian Hare should plant its front legs ruler-straight, so it gives no appearance of having an ankle. This rabbit shows a slight bend.
The judge narrows the 4-Class competition down to three contestants, including Gebelein's prized Britannia Petite.
The judge flutters his fingers in front of the Britannia Petite to test its concentration. It holds steady for a few seconds before sprinting away.
Gebelein's Mini Satin has also caught the judge's eye, though it may have been faulted for having a less-than-shimmering coat.
The third contender, a Jersey Wooly, resembles a cotton ball. The judge feels for a head that sits high on the body, close to the shoulders, and appears short and bold from a profile view.
The Britannia Petite takes the 4-Class! Gebelein returns his Mini Satin to its cage and rushes the other rabbit to the Best in Show judging station, where it will face off against the Standard Satin that won the 6-Class.
Presiding judge Paul Jurgelonis runs his hand over the Standard Satin's spine and hindquarters, and its fur fans under his touch. 'There's very, very little vertebrae that you can feel,' the judge says. 'He's nicely finished and flushed.'
The Britannia Petite stuns with its full-arch body shape but scampers across the table almost as soon as it gets into position. 'He wasn't finishing the pose,' Jurgelonis says, 'and he was a little rough in the coat.'
The Standard Satin wins! 'It was fur and finish that gave the Satin the edge,' Jurgelonis says. 'Really beautiful sheen.'
The breeders shake hands, and Gebelein returns to his wife and friends. He doesn't seem all that disappointed.
'I've been showing rabbits for 38 years, since I was a kid,' he says. His mother wanted a project to keep him busy; they chose rabbit breeding since the family didn't own a lot of land.
'It definitely teaches responsibility,' Gebelein says, 'and it also teaches sportsmanship -- how to be not only a good winner but a loser. It's reality. People win and people lose.'
Later, the Gebeleins pack up the car for the long drive home, stopping at the in-laws on the way to pick up their 2-year-old son. 'He'll be doing this eventually,' Sharon says.
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