With the demise of Douglas and an empty hutch sitting in the back yard, it was time to go bunny-shopping again. I went to a pet store where the only rabbit they had was a dwarf albino and a nervous one at that. I’m not partial to albino rabbits. After Beau and Tuck, I know that trying to tame a nervous rabbit is generally a losing battle. So why I ended up buying Max, I don’t know.
Max and I never bonded. If you tried to pet him, he’d cower. If you tried to pick him up, he’d kick the bejesus out of you. So I pretty much fed him, watered him and left him alone. Not much of a relationship.
A year or two later I moved out of the house with the fishpond and into less extravagant digs. Max went along and also got a new hutch – a neighbor left a large, perfectly good one out on the curb for the trash pickup, so we absconded with it. Okay, now I had an empty hutch, and you know what that means.
Yes, a new rabbit. I hadn’t planned on getting one, but John (then boyfriend, now husband) had seen a red rabbit in a pet store and taken a shine to it. He took me over to meet the rabbit, who I thought was probably part dwarf, part regular-sized rabbit. He was smallish but had LOTS of character and was friendly into the bargain. After being given the cold shoulder by Max for so long, I was instantly won over by the red rabbit’s charm. We bought him, and John named him Cosmo.
Cosmo moved into the small hutch vacated by Max. We fenced in a small portion of yard around Cosmo’s hutch for safety (the new yard wasn’t as private as that of my previous abode; Max’s hutch was on tall legs so we figured he’d be safe from any prowling animals). I’d let Cosmo out in the mornings before I left for work, and my breakfast entertainment was watching him dance around the yard. He would literally dance; he’d hop for a few feet, then suddenly leap into the air and twist himself sideways, almost as if he was clicking his heels. John and I called this “The Mad Skippies” and looked forward to each performance.
While Max’s hutch was double the size of Cosmo’s, I felt that he deserved the occasional outing as well. Although it was a struggle getting hold of him, I managed to transfer him without undue bloodshed from his hutch to the yard. He demostrated none of Cosmo’s high spirits – in fact, all he wanted to do was dig, and this behavior was puzzling.
You see, male rabbits don’t dig. The most they’ll do is scrape a shallow spot in the dirt so that they’ll have a cool place to stretch out. Female rabbits are the real excavators of the Lepus clan, and what Max was doing was serious digging. He dug a deep hole at one end of the yard, so deep that he could disappear inside it. He’d come back up, pushing the excavated dirt before him with his front paws, then disappear into the hole again. We realized that Max had actually dug underneath the fence, but apparently without an escape motive. I opened up the hole on the opposite side and discovered that Max had dug out a den.
“That does it,” I said. “This is either the strangest buck rabbit I’ve ever owned, or it’s not a buck rabbit at all.” With John’s help, I managed to wrestle Max onto his back and had a good look at his naughty bits. First of all, no testicles. Second, a double row of little bunny nipples. The third test you don’t want to know about, but by its results we determined once and for all that Max was not a buck, but a doe.
This was startling. Because of that “don’t sell your breeding stock” rule, I never figured I’d end up with a female rabbit. Coupled with the difficulty handling Max, I guess I could have been forgiven for the mistake, but still, it’s a bit embarrassing to realize that, after owning an animal for several years, you’ve had their gender wrong all that time.
In addition to her denning activities, Max displayed another interested new quirk. One day when I put her in the pen, she seemed extraordinarily interested in Cosmo, whereas in the past she had basically ignored him. She sidled up to the hutch, then curved her back and more or less wigwagged her tail in Cosmo’s startled face. He began to scrabble frantically at the cage door. Meanwhile Max continued with her sexy bunny act. “She must be in heat,” I said to John.
“Let Cosmo out,” he answered. “Look, she wants it.”
Well, there was no arguing with that statement. Max was clearly In The Mood For Love and Cosmo was clearly responding. “Well, all right,” I said, “but we’d better be ready to break up a fight.” I opened the door to Cosmo’s hutch and stepped back.
Rabbit sex immediately ensued. It was brief yet vigorous. Through the next few days, as long as Max showed an interest in Cosmo, we’d let them out together. When the day came that she ignored him again, I figured she was out of heat and started watching her for any signs of pregnancy. She was, after all, a little long in the tooth for her first litter, and I didn’t know anything about caring for a pregnant rabbit (this was back before the Internet, children). I gave her an open box lined with cloth and figured a blessed event was probably forthcoming when she pulled out her belly fur to further insulate the box. Not too long after, I went outside and discovered she’d given birth to one large baby bunny. Unfortunately, it was dead. I had to go to work so I removed the dead baby. Max seemed okay. I didn’t know whether she had more babies to deliver or whether the one big bunny was it. I hurried home from work to find that Max didn’t look so good and no further bunnies were in evidence. Since it was after working hours, John and I packed her into a cardboard box and took her to a nearby animal emergency hospital.
The vet I spoke to was fairly unpleasant. She told me I should have brought Max in earlier; that she had a couple more babies in her but she didn’t know if they were alive or not; that I should have kept her warmer or brought her inside or whatever but basically I was a Bad Bunny Owner. They kept Max overnight and in the morning when I called they told me she’d died about an hour after I’d brought her in (hey, thanks for telling me). I was down one rabbit and a couple hundred dollars and felt like the worst person in the world.
I still had Cosmo, though, and later that week my roomie Mary Ruth bought me another rabbit, a little black dwarf that we named Damien. Damien was a sweet and affectionate boy (yes, I checked this time) and after we’d cleaned out and disinfected Max’s hutch, he moved right in.
Time passed, and I moved into an apartment where I couldn’t keep pets. John moved Cosmo and Damien to the yard of his house in Vienna, where Cosmo met a sad end – apparently the next-door neighbor’s dog managed to leap his fence, pushed in the side of Cosmo’s hutch, and tore the red bunny to pieces. Why he spared Damien in the hutch next door, I don’t know. John was torn up about it; Cosmo had been his rabbit, and I guess he felt the same guilt I’d felt over Max’s death. Damien lived on, and when John and I got married and took up housekeeping together in my little apartment, my brother John and his family agreed to keep Damien. He lived in his hutch in their back yard for a couple of years, eventually dying an undramatic death.
I haven’t kept rabbits since. I felt bad all the time that Damien lived with my brother; I don’t like having a pet that has to be farmed out to others. John and I are both away from home a lot. I’d love a dog, but I feel like we shouldn’t have one with our erratic schedules; John would love a cat, but alas, I’m highly allergic to them. So ours is a pet-free household. John bought me a stuffed rabbit (which I imaginatively named Bunny – that’s him at left) who lives in our bedroom. Bunny lives a rich fantasy life and we’re a bit silly about him, but in lieu of a live pet, he’ll do.