Category Archives: Creatures featured
I frequently launch my bike into the wee small hours, savouring the peace and quiet and moonlight when celestial bodies are feeling generous. Just the road and me for an hour or two. 20 miles, give or take: nothing epic, unless you count thoughts drifting out forever into space.
Early this morning, later than usual so with dawn’s early light in full glory, I bumped into a pair of horses contentedly having breakfast just off the high street of a nearby market town. I passed on by, thinking it odd, but unsure what to do about it, when it struck me that this was an accident waiting to happen. Though traffic was still sparse, some drivers take advantage of the usual lack of obstacles to put the pedal to the metal.
Who to call? 999 came immediately to mind, but did this qualify as an emergency?
Either in search of greener pastures or wishing to escape from the guy with the phone camera, they headed down the street, weaving in and out of front yards.
As I was pondering which authority to summon, a motorist passed by and rolled down his window. We had a brief discussion about who to contact, agreeing it didn’t seem cut and dried. After he left I rang the number for the local police, which needless to say at that hour offered voice menus offering nothing useful.
At this point a guy walked by with his dog, or vice-versa, and sensing my dilemma (staring at him helped), also suggested emergency services. I decided screw it, 999 it was.
The police operator took down the relevant information, including the colour of the escaped ungulates, which I had to think about as they’d disappeared from view and apparently I have the memory of a horsefly, which for the purposes of this post we’ll agree is quite short.
Black wasn’t so hard to remember. The other was brown and white, I seemed to finally recall and told him, thinking there must be another name for that. (Pinto, it turns out.) He thanked me and told me I had done the right thing by getting in touch. Job done, I headed home, pleased to have overcome my initial shrugging off of responsibility and happy at the break in routine.
I live about a mile outside Burwash, best known for its VIP resident Rudyard Kipling. The village looks like this:
or so I imagine it did in his time. Surely everything was still black and white then. A few days ago I’d led a band of cyclists down this very street, halfway through a ride from Hastings to the sea. This fine morning, parked in front of the village shop was evidence that we definitely live in a less genteel age:
A house rabbit primer, in case you missed the first one.
Raise your hand if you’ve got a dog. That’s a lot of hands! Cat lovers? Not as many, but still a strong show of support for an animal that likely regards you as the pet, if a moderately useful one. What do you do if you don’t fancy a dog or a cat, but have an opening in your home and your heart for something both great and small?
That might still describe a fair number of creatures. Only one has this resume: Led Alice into Wonderland and John Updike into Pulitzerland. Assisted countless magicians. Outsmarted Elmer Fudd time and again. Established Glenn Close’s credentials as a villain. Got reception for your TV if you lived in the olden days.
Yes, it’s—drumroll powered by Energizer batteries—the bunny rabbit, so good they named it twice. There’s one asleep behind the couch as I type these words.
That’s right, he doesn’t live outside in a hutch, he’s in the house, where we can keep an eye on him and he on us.
He’s got a litter tray, just like a cat, only his is half filled with hay; rabbits spend so much time eating they don’t like to waste time hopping to the bathroom. The hay is to keep his ever-growing teeth in check and his belly happy and healthy. We buy it by the bale from a farmer.
Occasionally I stop and consider the curious picture of him chomping contentedly away not three feet from my desk. Or that I have become, in the parlance of the initiate, a bunny slave. (Google tells me I am not alone.)
Because make no mistake: Once there is a rabbit in the house, you will be doing his bidding.
Leporidae are, hands down, the best beggars in the animal kingdom. Show me somebody who can ignore those innocent soulful eyes, those ever-so-politely folded paws as he adorably balances on his hind legs, and I’ll show you, well, a Glenn Close.
Ours frequently begs for new, fresher hay, disdaining the 10-minute-old pile already in his tray. And bell peppers, chopped into bite-sized pieces? Like crack cocaine.
He demands grooming by prostrating himself, front paws splayed out, rump in the air. Stroke up this furry ramp or down it, both work for him. Your reward for a job well done will be what’s known as a tooth-purr: he softly grinds his teeth, jaw working sideways. It’s an oddly satisfying display of bliss.
Although we live to serve him, I think he generally regards people as his equal. We’re just large and rather funny-looking rabbits/companions who don’t happen to leap gracefully onto windowsills. He won’t take orders, yet isn’t aloof, so he’s between the canine and feline poles when it comes to interspecies relations.
He does like to nudge us to say “Hi,” or “Pardon me, you’re in the way, please move,” or “Nice to see you, but I’m just passing through.”
Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. From time to time, without notice, he’ll carefully map out a circuit then launch into a furious race against himself. This is known as the Bunny 500.
He hates being picked up, as his instincts tell him being lifted from the ground won’t end well. He’s terrified of birds of prey spotted outside the window, and not too fond of low-flying airplanes, either. His constantly retuning ears don’t miss much.
Unfortunately, his sense of self-preservation doesn’t extend to refraining from nibbling electrical cords (“What delicious looking roots!”), so they have all been tucked out of harm’s way to short circuit that fatal attraction.
He has chosen one vocalization to encompass everything he has to say to us: “Mm-mm-mm.” We have translated this variously as “Here I am!”, “I’m happy!”, “Feed me again!” and “What’s going on and why wasn’t I informed?”—or, as the original wascally wabbit succinctly put it, “What’s up, Doc?”
The bunny slave is healthier for it. More greens now make their way into our shopping cart. “How do you prepare that pak choi?” a woman once asked my wife in the veggie aisle. “It’s for my rabbit,” she said. Wash it and let him at it.
It’s literally impossible to think of him and not smile.
T.S. Eliot famously wrote that cats have three different names. Rabbits aren’t to be outdone:
He’s Oreo, which for obvious reasons is a common choice for those of the Dutch breed. I have fond memories of the eponymous cookie as a child. I also like to imagine it sounds like a Greek god.
He’s Chompsky, spelled almost but not quite like the social critic, linguist and writer, because he’s a chomping champ who likes a good book.
also likes fiction
And his secret name? “Mm-mm-mm.” Which is clearly his way of saying “Sorry, that’s classified.”
It often comes as a surprise to those who, when they think of pet rabbits at all, picture them outdoors in hutches or worse [NSFB – Not Safe For Bunnies], that they can live quite happily inside with the humans. They can usually be litter-trained and are odour-free: both big pluses. And they are incomparably adorable. Meet Oreo,
aka spanner, because when we spotted him in a shop all the arguments against having a bunny ground to a stop.
He’s just over a year old now, and has the run of most of the house, the exceptions being the kitchen and the storage room where his hay is kept.
Aside from hay—we get ours by the bale from a local farmer; much of it ends up scattered on the floors, just like in medieval times—rabbits also dig their greens.
is to bunny-proof your own hutch. This involves safeguarding wires, which rabbits appear to be more fond of than carrots, and restricting access to books or whatever your new housemate fancies.
Still, you must prepare yourself for the inevitable small nibbles that start appearing in home furnishings.
And they will. Go. Everywhere.
it was in the way
Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they’re most active in the mornings and evenings
but really, once you’ve let a rabbit in, he’s liable to scamp about in your head 24/7.
Wonderful as it’s been having him in our lives, he’s a lot of work and worry. When rabbits are sick they can go downhill very fast, so you’ve got to keep a close eye on them. As a prey species, most don’t particularly like being held, so many people’s reason for wanting one in the first place (lots of hugs, of course!) goes right out the window. But he’s an appreciative magnet for pets, grinding his teeth in approval – a satisfying reward known as ‘tooth purring’. All in all, we’re glad he’s ours and we’re his.
I had what educators call a teachable moment yesterday whilst interviewing a gardener (which makes me sound posher than I am, but if the Hunters fit…). “I see you around on your bike,” he said after we’d discussed how much Monsanto Roundup should be sprayed to stun but not kill bunnies. After we’d established that yes I am the village cyclist, he launched into a mini diatribe against cyclists who wear “those ear things” and weave all over the road. Needless to say I cleared my throat.
Had a bit of fun watching his eyes slightly bulge at the thought he may have just insulted a potential client, but I’m not cruel enough to enjoy the squirming of even tradesmen, so I let him off the hook by agreeing that yes, it looks like a crazy thing to do, before explaining why it isn’t any madder than spraying glyphosate around and hoping the local hoppers regard it as nectar.
Anyway, it turns out his anecdotal ire was based on an apparently misbehaving pedestrian, who in the interests of comity I agreed should also be sprayed with Roundup much like unruly weeds.