Consider the Tails of Two Bunnies

A rabbit running, and one at rest

Between us, my partner Jean and I have been house rabbit owners for nearly 20 years, and the questions we get about caring and keeping them generally fall into two categories. The first concerns practical care (“Yes, they use a litter box,” is a constant assurance). The second, however, is much more interesting: “How do you know they have a personality?”

Portrait of Bart as a young rabbit

I get it. That goldfish you tend to is not going to be in tune with how your day went. Gerbils and hamsters (a category in which rabbits are malignly lumped, at least as far as pet store shopping aisles are concerned) are not terribly emotive creatures. If you are a dog owner, you know the thrill of coming home to a pet who has been waiting all day for your return. Cats, wherever they fall on the aloofness scale, offer a similar, perhaps more demure greeting (a dead bird on your porch, maybe). With rabbits, you may get a nose wrinkle and then it’s back to eating their weight in hay. As an archetypal prey animal, rabbits are conditioned to outwardly show nothing, especially fear or weakness. But what about joy? What about love? What about character? Having spent as much time as I have with this species (and obviously not biased at all), I’d argue that house rabbits are one of the more unique animals in this domesticated kingdom.

Bart goes to Glamour Shots.

Tail No. 1: Bart

Jean picked up Bartholomew after seeing an ad in the paper in the winter of 2003. He was a little under 1-year-old, and he had a lot of energy. Like, powering a small generator energy. One of the very first things he did was nonchalantly jump on the couch, hop on my belly, and urinate all over me. Over the course of our 11-year relationship, he tried to dig holes in the wall, he tried to dig holes in the floor (that burrowing instinct!), he chewed on our albums and DVDs, and feasted on the woodcase of these crappy PA amps from 1975 that don’t even really work anymore. He would randomly race down the hallway and back to the living room multiple times on his own Grand Prix track, getting in his run for the day, and invariably scaring the shit out of me. But he had bonded with us. Jean and I were just a couple of large, hairless rabbits that lived with him. He always sought us out for attention, nimbly underfoot, even when it wasn’t time to eat. Bart’s personality was of a charming rogue, sidling up to you for petting, and then eating a hole in your hoodie while you weren’t paying attention. His disposition was remarkable (for references see: everyone who came to our house 2003-14), and when he passed away from old age in December a few years ago, I felt emotionally gutted; a family member lost, and the end of discovering adorable holes in my shirts.

Nigel holding court in front of an array of outdated electronics equipment

Tail No. 2: Nigel

I wasn’t sure I wanted another rabbit. Eleven years is a pretty good run with a bunny (they average a 7-9 year lifespan), and truth be told, I was still grieving. A little over a year later, Jean started searching online, scrolling through various rabbit rescue sites (in retrospect, I’m unsure if she ever stopped doing that). We ventured up to Pflugerville one afternoon, where we were ushered into the rabbit version of the warehouse scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Cages, floor-to-ceiling, housing two or three rabbits per hutch, and just when I thought I had reached the end, there was another corner to turn, and another room of rabbits. It was daunting. Jean and I wandered around for a bit, asking general questions, and then Jean inquired if there were any rabbits who were deemed problematic, or had been at the shelter for a long time. We met Tiffany, a lop-eared rabbit who had been found homeless on the mean streets of Georgetown. Tiffany had been at the shelter for eight months after being adopted and quickly returned by a family who accused the animal of nipping their children’s fingers. We took her home that afternoon. But, oh, that name. A few months prior, I had had a dream in which Jean and I were attempting to solve a mystery with the aid of a talking rabbit named Nigel (not the first time this has happened). Thus, Tiffany became rechristened Nigel, and a new era was born. But who was Nigel? I guess I thought she would be another Bart, running around like crazy and peeing on me, but that has not turned out to be the case (although she does love chewing on those old PA speakers). Nigel is laid-back and, for lack of a more flattering word, lazy. She’s pretty active at night, but she is not Bart. But did I want another Bart? I think I may have initially, but now having spent time with Nigel, I wouldn’t trade her in for anything. She’s obsessed with cardboard tubes, hates fresh fruit, and has a way of sneaking up on you that is outright uncanny.

We are all projecting ourselves onto our pets, but the more intuitive indications of love, of companionship, those come from the connection we have with them. The way Bart would just plop down next to me and flop (actually rabbit nomenclature for sprawling the fuck out), or how Nigel loves redecorating her hutch by tossing out the latest straw mat she’s mangled. These things are much-needed respites for the soul. Should you need further proof of how amazing things can be with a rabbit around, please enjoy Nigel absolutely decimating her favorite thing in the entire universe: a leaf of kale.

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