POLISH - Nikki White (Reguli Cavy & Rabbit Stud)
If the Rex is the "Velveteen Rabbit", then surely the Polish must be the "Porcelain Rabbit." It has also been called the "Fancy's Elite", the "ballerina of the Fancy" and the "dancing Polish". Who has not seen and admired these dainty fellows posing, legs straight, body arching on the judging table?
It is the smallest of the domestic rabbits after the Netherland Dwarf. According to the BRC breed standards, it is "a miniature, fine-boned rabbit with a flyback coat, the essence of the Polish is all round balance." They should weight no more than 1.134lg or 2 ½ lbs and be narrow in the shoulder compared to other breeds. When viewed side on, the ears, head, chest and front legs should form a vertical line while the back arches in a quarter circle from behind the ears to the tail. The ears should be the same length as the distance from the base of the ears to the nose. The head should be well rounded, the eyes bright and bold.
The coat should quickly fly back to its original position when stroked the wrong way. The hair shafts should be short and fine and lie close to the body. They come in a range of colours: White (which seems to be the most popular here); Black; Blue; Brown; Lilac; Sable; Smoke Pearl; the full range of Agouti and Tan Patterns; Himalayan; Orange; Fawn; Tortoiseshell and Steel.
Faults include a roll back coat (rolls slowly back to its original position when stroked the wrong way), pale eyes, bowed ears, ears out of proportion to the body, long ears, long head, long body, cobbiness like a Netherland Dwarf. It is a small, smart, sprightly rabbit more like a miniature Belgian Hare if anything.
The origins of the Polish are obscure and conflicting accounts are given. They are certainly one of the older breeds (some sources claim to have seen 18th century portraits of women holding little rabbits who look like the Polish). One account suggests they were produced in England around 1850 as one of the earliest fancy breeds and exported to Holland where they were bred to a different standard and the result re-imported as the Netherland Dwarf, so named to distinguish it from the English Polish. Another account suggests it was first bred from Dutch or Himalayan rabbits in Belgium. "Some Polish were certainly produced this way in England during the 1860s and 1860s but prior to that the breed was introduced from Belgium" (Sandford, The Domestic Rabbit) where it was bred for the table. It was, needless to say, a somewhat larger rabbit than today's Polish who would barely make an entrée. They were in great demand in Europe, particularly Britain and Belgium as a gourmet dish in the early 1900s, and fed on milk. At some point, early in the 20th century, possibly as a result of the Belgian Hare craze dying out and breeders of that fancy looking for new fields to conquer, they began to be bred to the Belgian Hare shape rather than the chunkier Dutch type they had been. The Polish was originally only accepted in White (Red-Eyed or Blue-Eyed) but in the 1950s the coloured varieties were recognised.
In America the breed is known as the Britannia Petite, reflecting its close association with Britain and also to distinguish it from an American rabbit also confusingly called the Polish. This rabbit is quite different being compact, cobby with short ears, not unlike a Netherland Dwarf in the fuzzy photocopy I have access to.
SO, A POLISH THEN?
Well, first up, this high spirited, lively little rabbit is not suitable as a child's pet. They are very much a show animal, being trained to sit and pose. And they are little show-offs or showmen/show-women. They are intelligent little things who need a challenge, and they learn quickly so the show table is the best place to make the most of their potential. They require patience and frequent, gentle handling. They have been said to have "fiery temperaments" and have had some bad press as being nippy or even vicious. Certainly does can get nippy if they have kits to protect or they want to mate. However, I think, having seen some at home with their breeders or stewarded a number at shows, that this reputation is similar to that of the Siamese Cat's of being savage. I have said this before in other contexts but it is pertinent here, too: when we got our first Siamese Cat over 40 years ago we were told to handle him frequently and gently and he would soon tame, and not be spiteful or vicious. And that was so. And so it appears to be with the Polish as all the sources I have come across stress the importance of regular handling to get the rabbit used to you.
This patience will be well rewarded as they try so hard to please breeders/owners on the show table. They can be affectionate (one of Jean Hill's I was stewarding would run up to my shoulder for a cuddle and have to be gently detached and put back on the judging table where he automatically assumed the pose). And what could be more charming than watching one tossing into the air and catching a piece of cloth in his cage? (Too bad he's a bit short for the Harlem Globetrotters or the Canberra Cannons).
Ted Williams (yes, him again) says that breeding the Polish requires patience and skill but once the secret is learned "the charm of the rabbit is never forgotten" and that "breeding Polish teaches us what every fancier should learn, and teaches it thoroughly. It teaches correct feeding, mating and exhibiting, and it teaches us quality as against quantity breeding." He suggests litters born in autumn around April (whose parents are in full coat) are most likely to contain youngsters capable of winning as adults, who will keep their coats for a considerable period. He reiterates the lessons learnt from breeding Polish can be used for all breeds and claims that if "an exhibitor had a year or two experience with Polish some of the fur breeds would be exhibited in much better coat and condition".
So, not a child's pet but one for the exhibitor or breeder, a charming, lively, elegant rabbit who will reward the patience lavished on it.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Ear carriage and covering are very important. The Polish has a smart and sleek coat and is independent and alert. The coat should not be too soft or too long. The ears should not be too long nor the body. Eyes should be large not small, nor the rabbit heavy-boned. However, does, Ted Williams suggests, who lack in coat and eye can be kept for breeding but large bucks should not be kept.
You won't find them in a pet shop. You will have to go to a registered breeder.
HOUSING AND CARE
A Polish is a small rabbit so a cage 80-90cm by 50 by 60 is suitable . A toy or a bit of stuff for them to play with or wood to chew wouldn't go astray to occupy those busy minds. Feeding is the usual - pellets (but not too much), rabbit mix, lucerne chaff, fresh fruit and veg, plus water and grass. They will need to be trained to pose, starting when they are young and used to your voice. They can be placed on a carpet square (like those used at cavy shows) and either place your hand over his shoulder's with the thumb down one side and the fingers on the other, then gently lift the shoulders until the front legs are straight and erect. Or place on a table facing you, with a hand on each side, gently squeeze and lift shoulders. Or get the rabbit to raise itself by putting the hand flat under the chin and prodding upwards. Once the rabbit is sitting properly gently stroke the back with one hand. After a few lessons the rabbit will get the picture.
National Polish Rabbit Club (UK) see British Rabbit Council website as they don't appear to have a website (Jan. 2015) but they do have a Facebook page.
American Britannia Petite Rabbit Society
British Rabbit Council, Standards of Rabbit Breeds 3rd ed. 2011-2016.
"The aristocrat of the Fancy" Fur & Feather Jan. 2008 p. 66
Russell, Geoff, Mini Encyclopeda of Rabbit Breeds & Care. Dorking, Interpet Publishing, 2008
Sandford, J. C., The Domestic Rabbit. 5th ed. Oxford : Blackwell Science, 1996
Verhoef-Verhallen, Esther, Encyclopaedia of Rabbits and Rodents. Lisse, Rebo Productions, 1998
Vriends-Parent, Lucia, The New Rabbit Handbook. Hauppage, NY, Barrons, 1989
Whitman, Bob D., Domestic Rabbits & Their Histories: Breeds of the World. Leawood, KS : Leathers Publishing, 2004
Williams, A.E. Ted, Rabbit Breeding for Perfection. Melbourne, AE Williams, 1992.