This was written for a domestic audience, ie, my hometown Ohio newspaper. The leporidae in question was introduced here.
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. (There are actually fewer dogs than cats in the U.S., but more dog owners. Foolish humans, stacking the odds in the cats’ favor for their eventual overthrow.)
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.”