A Rabbit Truce

I’ve got rabbit problems. They eat the bushes, the flowers, the seedlings in my cold frame. So a few years ago, I decided to get a dog. I figured that would help keep the rabbits and deer away. But then the dog I got was  Anna: a very sweet 7-year-old lab who, it turns out, was trained as a bird dog. Part of that training involved learning to never chase deer or rabbits or anything but a few species of birds. Not blue-jays, apparently, since she will sit and watch them swoop down and take the food out of her dish. I thought I might be able to break her training, so for awhile whenever I saw deer in the field I would take her outside, point at them and urge her to follow what were surely her natural urges to chase them. Eventually, the deer would notice me gesticulating and shouting and run off without so much as a glance from Anna.

Anna the Dog

The rabbit problem continued unabated, and my yard began to look more and more like a fortress, with chicken wire surrounding all my little blueberry bushes, asparagus, and other treasures. Since I can’t be bothered to remove the fortresses when I mow, the lawn gets to be pretty shabby by the end of the summer. I blame Anna the Dog.

About six months ago I acquired two little kittens, both of whom adore Anna. One of them, Ice Cube, imitates her whenever he can. If Anna curls up to sleep, Cube curls up right next to her. If Anna spawls out, Cube forms a perfect image of the same sprawl just a few inches away. The other day, in an incident I would rather not expound upon, Cube caught a small rabbit. Anna took an interest in the whole process at the time, but it never occurred to me that she would aspire to imitate Cube.
Today, much to my dismay, Anna emerged from the woods carrying something small and fuzzy.  My only thought was that she had stumbled across something dead. But I took a closer look and the little rabbit appeared to still be alive, though it wasn’t moving at all.  Anna is known to vigorously shake anything floppy she gets a hold of, so I could only imagine that she must have broken the poor creature’s neck and that it would be dead very shortly. I thought that relieved me of the obligation to put it out of its misery. I went inside, telling myself to let nature run its course. But I looked outside, and there it was, with Anna carrying it around, sometimes setting it down for a bit, picking it back up again.  I stepped back out, and Anna brought it to me as she does her other toys. The rabbit was still alive.

Now, a bird dog is trained to be very gentle with whatever it is carrying.  Hunters don’t want their prey mauled or punctured in ways that would render it inedible or unstuffable. So I knew that if the rabbit was not dead by now, it could live quite awhile, because Anna the dog was not going to be finishing it off of her own accord. I knew that, but I pretended not to.

My father would have dispatched the rabbit right away. He didn’t like to see animals suffer, and he wasn’t particularly sentimental about putting a stop to their suffering with a bullet or whatever was most expedient. And I knew that many of my friends would have tried to rescue the rabbit at its first appearance.  Here I was doing neither, just pretending that this was the natural order of things and that I shouldn’t interfere. I slunk back inside.

But then two things happened.  First, I saw the kittens come creeping around the corner and realized that in a few minutes, they would probably get the rabbit away from Anna. Talk about misery for the poor coney! So I moved towards the front yard, where Anna had recently carried the thing and I saw a sight that seemed so sweet and pitiful all at once that I knew I had to act.

Anna was trying to get the rabbit to play with her.  She was crouched down in that playful bow dogs get when trying to entice a buddy to wrestle.  She made false lunges at it, snapping at the air close to it then springing back with the “it’s your turn” look on her face. Astonishingly, the rabbit took the opportunity to get up and hop away! Anna thought this very sporting and chased after it, bowing down  as if to say “well done! Let’s do that again!” I told her to stop, and–what a great dog–she did. She moved a few steps towards me, then looked at the rabbit again, then at me, so that I would understand how much fun was about to happen.  But when I made her come inside, she complied.

The rabbit was clearly still a bit dazed, and the cats would be on it in no time.  So I grabbed some gloves, plopped it into a plastic tub, and stuck it in the mudroom. I couldn’t think what to do next, nor even why I had done what I just did.  Recall, the whole reason I wanted the dog in the first place was to help keep the rabbit population down.  If she won’t do it, I should really just let the cats do it. Now here I was with a stunned baby rabbit that I was responsible for.  I gathered some clover and some hay and stuck it in there with it.  Then I called the only rabbit owner I knew.

Sarah, it turns out, not only knows about domestic breeds, but had occasion to do some research on cottontails as well when a den turned up in her yard in St. Paul. I was concerned that even if the rabbit was unharmed, it was too small to release.  She assured me that if it had fur and its eyes were open, it was pretty much on its own as far as its mother was concerned. And it probably never even knew its father. She also reminded me that when it comes to wild animals, one shouldn’t keep them in any kind of captivity for a second longer than necessary, as that is extremely stressful. So I brought the dog and cats inside, carried the tub out to the edge of the woods, gently tipped it on its side, and figured that if it was okay, it would hop out after I left it alone. This plan succeeded. I’m sure I’ll be dealing with this rabbit’s great-great grandchildren for years to come.  I know it was absurd, but I can’t help but think that there is a value in behaving absurdly once in awhile. I’m sure the rabbit agrees.

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2 Responses to “A Rabbit Truce”

  1. Sarah Irene Dye Says:

    Not absurd at all. I believe any alleviation of suffering has tremendous value. (Of course, mainly I’m just thrilled to be featured in your story. ) Seriously, though, I’m familiar with the feeling of terror, and I can only assume that’s what bunnies experience. So saving the bunny from that kind of horrifying experience was a very good deed!

  2. erstwhile luddite Says:

    Thanks for your good advice, and let me know if you ever need me to release you back into the woods if you start to experience terror. I could shove some hay at your first.

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