June 2006

A rabbit's tale

By Gail Binkly

When David and I married, the notion that we would one day own a rabbit would have struck us both as highly silly.

We love animals, sure, but we’re traditionalists when it comes to pets. For us there would be cats and dogs — no pythons, iguanas, hedgehogs, or fish in their stinky fish bowls. And when you have a houseful of pets of the predatory nature, you don’t generally acquire rodent- like creatures to go along with them.

But one summer David started reminiscing about how he’d raised rabbits as a kid, and he talked of this with such great longing that, on David’s birthday, I grabbed a friend and coerced him into coming with me to a local shop that sold bunnies.

Sitting outside in cages in the sun were assorted rabbits, each as cute as an animal can possibly be. I didn’t see how I could choose among them, but then the helpful clerk pointed out a little dwarf-breed rabbit, white with gray trim, so to speak, and said, “That one is litterbox-trained.”

“I’ll take him,” I said.

“His name is Mr. Thumper,” she said.

When Jim and I presented Mr. Thumper to David, he was not exactly overwhelmed. The rabbit, hot and drowsy, sat listlessly in David’s lap. “Maybe I’ll call him ‘Lethargio’,” he said.

We made him a home on the deck that opens off our master bedroom upstairs (it’s less impressive than it sounds, unfortunately). The deck has a waist-high wall around it and is sheltered from the sun and rain. We set out food, water and a litterbox, and turned the rabbit loose. He hopped around timidly at first, then with greater zeal as he realized the boundaries of his universe had greatly expanded. David named him Jefferson (old hippies will understand — he was a White Rabbit). He quickly became part of the household.

Jeffie was so cute you couldn’t look at him without smiling. Sitting by the hearth, gray paws stretched neatly in front of his trim white body, gray ears swiveling to catch sounds that might portend danger, gray cottonpuff tail appended to his rear end, he looked like something out of a children’s cartoon.

At first we were apprehensive about letting him in the room with the cats, but they seemed to regard him as jolly good entertainment, not something to eat — and certainly he never realized he was a lowly prey animal. He hopped around the upstairs unafraid, sometimes springing into the air with all four feet off the ground when he was especially full of joie de vivre. He and our youngest cat, Pandora, soon began taking turns chasing each other around the room and into the hall. Watching a 4-pound rabbit barrel after a cat twice its size — both streaking flat-out as if they were seconds from the finish at the Kentucky Derby — is an experience not to be missed.

Rabbits are allegedly gentle and affectionate, but Jeffie was stubborn and irascible. He had the heart of a raging bull. He hated being picked up and would resist such attempts by rearing and flailing his front paws.

However, he did seem to enjoy our company. We deduced this because he never wanted to leave the bedroom (unsupervised, he was wont to chew electrical cords and anything else within reach, so we put him out when the weather was good).

When it was time for him to return to the deck for the night, I would cautiously approach him. Instantly alert, he would give a great thump of anger with his back feet (he hadn’t been named “Mr. Thumper” for nothing) and dodge about the room. We had some merry chases until I learned that I could “herd” him by thumping a large stick upon the floor.

Jefferson’s dietary habits were also nontraditional. Presented with a fresh carrot or lettuce leaf, he would recoil in horror. He did eat packaged rabbit food, but his favorite treat was cereal — Wheat Chex, Cheerios, granola. A particularly tasty nugget would prompt him to hop all around, morsel in teeth, until he selected the proper site for savoring the mouthful.

Intimidated by the stairway, he always stayed upstairs, quite content with his small world. He was plenty of rabbit for us, but one morning I looked out my front door to behold a large, chocolatebrown bunny sitting on the porch. I corraled it with a laundry basket and brought it inside. David and I called it Velvet for its indescribably soft fur (we later learned she was a female) and kept her in a cage downstairs while trying to find her a home.

Velvet was Jeffie’s opposite — big, friendly, fearless and a true herbivore. She gnawed through carrots and celery sticks like a sawmill grinding up logs. She was so big I often turned her loose downstairs so she could stretch her legs.

One morning I was in the kitchen when I heard what sounded like men practicing jujitsu in the bedroom overhead — banging, crashing, apparently destroying furniture. I raced upstairs to see a brown-and-white whirlwind caroming around the room. Velvet had boldly galloped up the stairway and found Jeffie still in the bedroom, and the two had taken an instant dislike to each other. (This may have been because Jeffie’d been neutered after displaying an inappropriate interest in the cats, whereas Velvet was still eagerly looking for love.)

Somehow I separated the furry mass into its two components. An enormous quantity of fur was strewn about the bedroom, but neither animal seemed any the worse for wear. We found Velvet a home shortly thereafter, and that was Jefferson’s only encounter with another of his species.

About five years after I bought Jeffie, David came home one afternoon and found him collapsed on the deck, dead. He had not seemed sick in the slightest; he had food and water. But he was gone. David brought him inside and laid him gently on the bedroom carpet. Then our cat Pandora came in. She walked all around his body, poking him softly with a paw, trying to coax him to play. She even wriggled invitingly on her back beside him, belly exposed, daring him to charge her. Finally she seemed to realize it was futile, and walked away.

“He was a good rabbit,” I said at last.

“No, he wasn’t,” David said, and we both had to smile. “But we’ll miss him.”

Gail Binkly, who lives in Cortez, cannot accept any more rabbits, as the deck is torn up and she has no place to keep them.