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Pet Tales: Bunny Yoga classmates hoppy to pose at Animal Friends

PITTSBURGH — Twenty-six people silently and solemnly go through their yoga poses, including star gazer, half moon, tree, downward dog and sasangasana. That last one, which means “rabbit pose,” is especially apt because the star pupils in this class are the nine rabbits hopping from mat to mat.

This is not your traditional yoga class. This is Bunny Yoga at the Animal Friends shelter in Ohio Township.

The rabbits live at the shelter because their former owners were unable or unwilling to care for them. All are available for adoption. The two females were Lady Day and Univers. The males were Calvin, Getz, Lucious, Patton, Twitch, Zack and 10-month-old Holt, who looks as if he is straight from the pages of “The Velveteen Rabbit” children’s book. (Visit www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org to see their pictures and bios.)

A number of bunny breeds and mixes were represented, including Dutch, palomino, English spot and Havana.

Of course, the bunnies don’t actually do yoga. People do it, with instructor Jen Stratakis of Robinson leading the class. She emphasized poses that keep people down on the mats at “bunny level.”

Some of the rabbits just watch. Others get up close and personal, nuzzling the faces and sniffing the polished toenails of their human classmates. Some hop around a lot, while others stretch out on the mats and appear to relax and zone out.

By midway through the one-hour class Nov. 18, some of the rabbits had seemingly picked out a favorite student, sharing the mat and inviting pats on their heads and strokes along their silky little bodies.

“The rabbits all have different personalities. Some are more outgoing than others,” said Ms. Stratakis, who has been teaching Bunny Yoga at the shelter for 18 months. Earlier this month she branched out into goat yoga in a field in Collier.

Bunny Yoga, which was invented elsewhere, has been a huge hit at Animal Friends. Classes meet once a month, and they sell out as soon as they are posted on the shelter’s website and Facebook page. Bunny Yoga takes a holiday break in December, so the next one will be in January, date yet to be determined.

The first NasmastHay Goat Yoga also was a big hit, with 42 people and 15 goats. More classes will be scheduled in the spring, as a joint venture of Jen’s Yoga Zen and Have U Herd Goatscaping.

“For the goats, it was their first time,” and they weren’t as interactive as the rabbits, she said.  Stratakis and goat owner Rainy Laux expect they’ll warm to the class with increased exposure.

“The goats milled around. At the end of the class, students got to feed the goats. The people loved that. The goats loved that because they are very food-motivated.”

At Animal Friends, Univers, a black 10-month-old shorthaired rabbit, and Getz, 3, a tawny-colored lionhead with a furry mane, were the friendliest and most outgoing rabbits.

After hopping from student to student, Univers spent much of the class at the side of Stan Kochanek of Squirrel Hill, much to the delight of his friend, Rachel Brady, also of Squirrel Hill.

The only man in the class, Mr. Kochanek said he does yoga on occasion. When he heard about Bunny Yoga, “I had to try it. And it was so much fun.”

The rabbits were supervised by shelter volunteers. Their main jobs were making sure no one accidentally posed atop a rabbit, answering questions about the names and breeds and cleaning up the occasional “accident.” I saw only two little puddles before the class started.

The rabbits are all trained to use litter boxes, the volunteers explained, but the yoga room is large and unfamiliar to them. They seem to be fast learners. Soon after the class started, the rabbits were taking potty breaks in the boxes.

I asked volunteer Stephanie Newman of Moon if the rabbit keepers know why they gravitate toward certain people.

“We don’t know, but we know they are attracted to the yoga mats. The mats give them better footing than the slippery floor.”

Sometimes the rabbits are adopted by Bunny Yoga students. Three students in the class said they are seriously considering adopting one or two of their four-legged classmates.