Friday, October 23, 2009

Adventures of a Domestic Rabbit

This is a story with a happy ending. The rabbit is back. It's not the end I expected.

On the evening of October 8, I heard a squeal in the woods outside my bedroom window. It was the panic scream of a rodent. My first thought was that it sounded like a rabbit. I thought of the wire cage housing my "Easter bunny" and was comforted by the confidence that no predator could get to her. I decided it must have been a hapless chipmunk.

The next day, my daughter discovered the empty rabbit cage. The door was propped open. The rabbit was gone. I was somehow distracted the previous day and left the door open and the rabbit, naturally, went exploring.

As I remembered the previous night's squeal, my heart sank. What had discovered and attacked our domestic rabbit, so ill-trained for wilderness survival? I had intentionally fostered goodwill between the rabbit and the dogs and cat, trying to persuade our household predators that the rabbit was "family" rather than prey. Had those attempts resulted in disaster in the absence of healthy fear on the rabbit's part and my restraining hand on the dog?

The rabbit was a gift, a pedigreed 4H show bunny. How could I admit to my generous friends that I lost it by leaving the cage door open? Even though the empty cage was discovered as I was rushing out the door for a meeting, I took time for a brief and futile search -- no rabbit, dead or alive. It was gone. The dogs took a "no comment" position. I wanted to cancel the meeting, but, really, it was only a missing rabbit. It's not like rabbits are hard to replace. Male rabbit plus female rabbit and you have a whole litter to choose from in thirty days. And it's not as though the lost rabbit was particularly affectionate. Any time we let her loose in the house, she would lead us on a merry chase as she evaded capture. Still, the panic scream echoed in my head and my gut ached as I visualized the fate of our pet due to my carelessness.

As I waited for time to ease the initial shock of what I had done, I wondered... How many parents are haunted by a child's scream -- a child hit by a vehicle, maybe theirs; a child losing his or her grip and falling or being swept away by current or wave. How can they endure the endless echoes of that final scream of pain and panic? How do they ever go on with life? What would it be like to multiply the grief I felt for the rabbit by the huge value factor involved with a child. I can't begin to imagine the pain and suffering.

A week after the rabbit escaped, my husband captured her in pixel form sitting not far from her cage by the kitchen door. As soon as he touched the doorknob, she was gone. I wouldn't have believed it but the rabbit in the photo he printed was definitely ours. A few days later he found her by the woodpile. Three of us closed in on her. She let us get close and then disappeared under the wood. A flashlight revealed her at the end of a long hollow run, far beyond reach. The day after that, she let Dave touch her nose when he was out feeding the wood furnace. And a few hours later she sat still by the entrance to her woodpile "burrow" and let me catch her.

Was twelve days enough for the rabbit get her fill of life in the wild and decide to resign herself to being caged in exchange for protection from the dangers of the world along with daily food and water? Did the change of diet from pellets to greens leave her without enough energy to run? Who knows what goes on in the mind of a domestic rabbit? She seems lighter and more appreciative of being a pet, easier to catch in the house, less determined to get away when carried, more inclined to come close to fingers reaching through the cage wire. The failure to fight capture could be simply a lack of energy, but it doesn't take much energy to avoid fingers coming through the cage wire.

I'm pretty sure the scream I heard that first night was the rabbit. It must have escaped from whatever was after it and found a hiding place. What blessing there is in happy endings. Oh that all the endings could be happy endings. My heart still aches when I think of all the many tragedies for which there is no happy ending.