As a child I was fascinated by magic shows. One year a magician attended my birthday party. He, of course, pulled a little white rabbit from a big black hat. The following year I demanded a brilliantly bright white bunny of my own. My mother, disliking my tantrums provided a rabbit who would go by the name of Paul Daniels, or Snowy for short. Snowy became my best friend. As with many childhood pets, Snowy did not live a long life. By my next birthday he had passed on to another plane. Being a child of only five, I vowed to never love another bunny rabbit as long as I lived…
Eight years later, on the morning of my niece’s second Christmas, she awoke to find Father Christmas had left her a cardboard box. Billie-Louise, being aged two, could not hide her disappointment at the sight of the box, until it began to move without aid and intermittently expel the distinct aroma of fresh sawdust. Seeped in trepidation she was encouraged to approach the box and peer inside. Within sat two timid baby bunnies, one grey, one brown.
“YYYABBIT” she yelled with sheer delight. Typical of the terrible twos, she dove face first at the box, thrusting her sticky digits towards the cowering creatures. It will be no surprise for you to learn what happened next. Billie-Louise was indeed bitten. The warning nip was answered with blubbering cries of “OUCH”.
Once toddler and rabbits alike were over this moment of childhood trauma, Yabbit and Ouch were to live happily as house rabbits, their only chore being to amuse Billie-Louise. Unfortunately Ouch stumbled across a loose live wire behind a unit, which rendered him… Ouched. My niece was so distraught it was thought best Yabbit be re-homed with my Mother to live out the rest of his days as a hutch rabbit, away from all electrical temptation and saving Billie-Louise from a hat-trick of horrors.
Yabbit was a delightful chap. He was most delighted at no longer being held aloft by his ears at the mercy of a well-meaning toddler, who also left his fur covered in Wotsit dust. Yabbit could often be found in his rabbit run with a flower pot atop his head hopping in the same spot, forming crop circles in the hay. Other times, if he was suddenly made aware of your presence, he’d stare. He’d stare at you, near you – through you. I often wondered if Yabbit had been emotionally altered by witnessing his brother’s sizzling demise. My mother dismissed this theory and hastily deduced he was, in fact, lonely. It was now our duty to supply this forlorn bunny with a companion. With such honourable intentions, what could possibly go wrong?
We welcomed Ebony to our family. She was a beautiful girl with a sweet soul, even if she did have a habit of peeing on your lap. Yabbit was no longer lonely or, as would become clear, innocent. A few months later, six miniature versions of himself and Ebony arrived. Six little balls of fluff with brilliant white tails, and paws to match. We adored our growing family of rabbits, but we now had eight in total and were in the process of moving home. In time we were to find clean and loving homes for all six babies. This process was not without apprehension but was ultimately for the best. Yabbit and Ebony made the move with us. They lived long and very happy grass-nibbling lives – so long in fact, I believe our lawnmower even grew a little rusty from neglect.
It had been a few years since our dear rabbits had passed on to greener pastures when my sister called, asking a favour of me. Gemma had acquired two baby bunnies as a gift (and lesson in responsibility) for her two small children. The issue was, Christmas was eight weeks away. Gemma had no way of caring for the new pets without dashing the children’s belief in Father Christmas. I agreed to foster them and hoped to use this time to acclimatise them to being handled and loved.
For the next two months I cared for the two female bunnies who would later be affectionately named Paula and Sophie. I hand fed them, cuddled them, played with them and cleaned up after them. In a behaviour similar to that of ducklings, Paula and Sophie would follow my trail and dart toward me if startled. They loved me and I felt quite the same. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve I packed up all their belongings in a carry pet case ready to be taken and loved by my youngest niece and nephew. Although I knew the bunnies would be cared for, I was bereft.
The following morning I called Jackson and Faith to ask if Father Christmas had been, but my attention was diverted. In my peripheral vision I spied a cardboard box. It seemed to move ever so slightly. It’s then I tuned in to the unmistakable whiff of sawdust. I hurried along the phone call as, at this point of our story – I think we can agree – there would only be one thing waiting for me within this cardboard cage. He was a brindle coloured rabbit with the longest ears I had ever seen. I scooped him up and held him close with a firmness that may have caused him circulation disturbance for a few brief moments. All the unspent love and care I carried for Paula and Sophie was honed and hurtling its way to my new best friend, Scwudge.
By springtime that year, Faith and Jackson had grown tired of their fluffy pets. Paula and Sophie had outlived their novelty and the proposed lesson in responsibility was abandoned. However, my sister’s lesson in “don’t buy your children pets for Christmas” was well under way. The two female bunnies came to live with us, much to the delight of my boy, Scwudge. Sophie and he seemed to… bond instantly and soon our brood of three grew to nine. What happened next was the result of one of two things:
1) Paula and Sophie looked so much alike that poor Scwudge became disorientated. 2) Sophie had aggrieved him quite unforgivably him by hopping off with a carrot from his (not so) secret stash.
So soon after Sophie’s brood, Paula produced a litter of her own. We were the proud care givers of another five beautifully downy baby bunnies.
As our grand total of fourteen bunny rabbits thrive and grew, as such, so too did their accommodation. It is at this point well worth mentioning Ed. Ed, my step dad. Truck driver by night, rabbit hutch maker by day, cajoled into constructing predator proof hutches and adequate rabbit runs complete with pull up tops, hidey holes, swivel doors and ladders as the need arose. And the weather proofing and ongoing maintenance of these bunny homes. Some tenants caused more damage than others; this all depended on their temperament and attention span.
Perhaps most impressive of the home made hutches was the disused children’s wooden play house at the bottom of the garden. This quaint old, cobweb ridden structure, nicknamed the Wendy House, was transformed into multi-level self-contained bunny apartments. The house boasted a generous communal area and spacious garden complete with a mixture of grass for nibbling and concrete to file down claws, all enclosed by secure fencing. One of the fondest memories I have of the Wendy House is watching my six nieces and nephews walk among the rabbits and cuddle each one as if on some kind of charming conveyor belt born from the mind of Beatrix Potter herself. Often I wonder what memories those once children will hold on to. Will they remember those summer days covered in rabbit hair? The periodic call to arms of “there’s a rabbit out” which resulted in us all racing around the garden like discombobulated greyhounds bumping into one another, trying to catch the escapee. Will they recall those bunnies when they take their own children to bring home their very first pet?
Putting aside the occasional bid for freedom, this was all very idyllic. What more could a rabbit lover need? You guessed it…. more rabbits! You may be forgiven for thinking we’d gone out looking for another chap to join our brood but this particular rabbit found us. At this time I worked as a restaurant manager at our local council, an internal email was sent to all enquiring, “Has anybody lost a rabbit?”. A white rabbit with black ears had been found exploring the car park, and although fairy nimble he seemed a little worse for wear. The random rabbit was given shelter in an office. He was fed, watered and fussed over. News of our furry resident quickly spread and it seemed that whomever had left him to the elements would not be claiming him any time soon.
As soon as I saw him, fur matted and yellowed, skin hanging from his bones, I knew I had to help him. I spent exactly twenty six minutes practising a very sophisticated and convincing plea beginning modestly with “Mum, a poorly homeless bunny has been found….”. I needn’t have bothered -before I had uttered the last syllable of “found” my Mum had interrupted me and I knew my step dad would be modifying the Wendy House… again.
I took the destitute rabbit home via a very expensive trip to the vet (later, colleagues at work very kindly collected money to clear the vet bill). It took a few weeks for his body to fill out, fur to brighten and for a mutual trust to be built, before he was back to the bunny he must have been before his inclement adventure. One thing is for sure; if the kind lady in the council had not have found him, he would have been rabbit stew. We welcomed Stewie into our home. Stewie settled in very quickly as number fifteen bunny. He did have some trouble expressing his gratitude, particularly to me, as he would take every opportunity to hop onto my lap and bite me. No one else, just me. It would also seem he was quite the Casanova; he was often caught scampering away from the girls’ dormitory and sooner or later… more bunnies! Stewie and Branston (daughter to Scwudge and Sophie, or was it Paula…) had a litter of four.
There are two very apparent challenges you face when you care for a large number of any household species, the first being you become a refuge for unwanted or confiscated pets of said species. News of your large collection and unwavering ability to care for these pets spreads far and wide. The second and perhaps the most alarming, is the defeatist belief that “one more won’t hurt”. This may be a true enough statement for some species, but rabbits? I can assure you that the opposite is most definitely more accurate. Even in this knowledge, Koala and Mrs Beeton joined the bunny farm. A friend of a friend’s children had taken little interest in the sisters and thought it best they be re-homed, a far too familiar tale. Koala was named so for her appearance. Her sister, Mrs Beeton, was identical only her fur was a tan colour, similar to that of a cookery book my mother still has on display in her kitchen but never uses, thank goodness. These two were always side by side and had very sweet temperaments (even if they were a little snobby!).
Four years had flown by since Stewie’s rescue when he passed away peacefully. We believed we would always look back on his time with us with absolute fondness and certainty that his life was meant as a gift, as if we were meant to find him and nurse him back to health. This was until two weeks after his passing, Mrs Beeton had begun to nest. Stewie had left this world leaving behind five mini versions of himself. To this day all twenty three bunnies are still thriving, nibbling, hugging, hopping, thumping, jumping and hump-…well, they’re rabbits. My nieces and nephews, still young enough to appreciate the freedom and wonder of playing outdoors, continue to play and cuddle the rabbits. That is when they are not attempting to count them, rename them or arguing over who adores who more.
As this tale draws to a close you may be wondering, “What now? What was the moral of this story?” All I can say is that this is my meagre account of my experience having these animals. It is a huge responsibility that should not be entered into lightly. Ultimately I noted these events in an attempt to ask you, dear reader… do you wanna buy a rabbit?