If it looks like an English Spot, hops like an English Spot, and has a white coat with black spots? It’s probably not an English Spot.
As a new rabbit owner, it’s easy to incorrectly identify a rabbit. After all, to the untrained eye, an English Spot’s pattern looks eerily similar to a broken black Holland Lop’s pattern. And if you visit the American Rabbit Breeder’s Association’s list of recognized breeds, I believe only one of the photos features a snow white bunny with a freckled black blanket – the English Spot.
As you delve further into the rabbit world, you’ll likely experience an epiphany like the one I remember having some years ago.
“Oh! Would you look at that! Tans aren’t tan.”
(Yes, true story.)
The truth is, rabbits are difficult to identify. Even with an intimate knowledge of the Standard of Perfection, distinct body types, and unique fur types, identifying a mixed breed rabbit or pet store bunny is challenging. If there are any telling features at all, they’re usually traced only by someone very experienced with the breed.
I remember coming across a “What breed is Fluffy?” post some time ago that featured a little mixed breed rabbit with vertical ears and a broken black pattern.
Many of the responses started with “English Spot!” and I probably rolled my eyes for the 100th time since the population of English Spots as common companion pets can probably be counted on one hand.
This rabbit had a round, short little face with “apple” cheeks and thick ears that were noticeably rounded at the top. It’s body was relatively short and compact. A Holland Lop mix – it had to be.
Of course, who believed me? This rabbit didn’t even have lopped ears.
Rabbits are often the victims of mistaken identity because they don’t often hold their features for more than one generation. It’s easier to decode a Labrador retriever x Beagle mix than a Mini Rex x Netherland Dwarf mix. Dogs are often more identifiable by outstanding features or color patterns, but offspring from a Mini Rex and Netherland Dwarf would not likely carry any telling characteristics of their breed. Rex fur is recessive…Dwarf-size ears are the product of extremely selective breeding. When those are gone, what do you have left? Perhaps body shape or size, but correct identification would be unlikely. You’re left with a bunny – “just” a bunny.
What does it matter?
It doesn’t really, in the big scheme of things. Most people don’t have strong feelings toward the breed of their pet, and temperament is of less concern in the rabbit world (You’re probably not going to end up with a French Lop with a strong “herding instinct” or Belgian Hare with elevated “prey drive”).
But it does tend to give us a false sense of hope. When every spotted black bunny and their brother is an English Spot (I know, I keep coming back to this. Stick with me.), it kind of takes away the elegance and uniqueness of what is actually a uncommon, unique breed. Most of the time, they’re found within the show world, but seldom do they fall into the hands of pet owners (or at least more seldom than our Netherland Dwarf friends).
Again, does it matter?
I think so. Here’s where my bias as a breeder becomes transparent again, but I think preserving and promoting purebreds is as important as providing care for mixed breeds. Maybe breed doesn’t matter, but maybe there is value in upholding the exclusive traits of those recognized as purebred.
Likewise, there is value in being knowledgeable about every breed. Do you need to be able to recite the pattern-related disqualifications of a Rhinelander to care for one correctly? Well, no. Do you need to understand the importance of wool density if you raise Americans? Perhaps not. But if you’re passionate about rabbits and dedicate much of your time to raising, rescuing or owning them, don’t you think breed knowledge and identification are important?
After all, what’s an artist who only understands one medium? Would you trust a carpenter who only has knowledge of one tool or type of timber?
If not, why would a potential adopter trust a rescue that misidentifies rabbits? Or a breeder who only knows one breed?
Hobbyists should be masters of their subject.
Sometimes, breed identification is difficult even with a Standard of Perfection in hand. But those who consider themselves authorities on rabbits (care, keeping, and more) shouldn’t be falling for the English Spot disguise or the Dutch dilemma — a white blaze can be deceiving.
It takes time and patience to train your eye to identify body types and fur types, or memorize recognized or common colors. No one is born knowing this, but no one should ever cease learning. Just because you don’t breed it, don’t show it, or don’t own it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.