San Diego Each throw rug is neatly rolled into a sausage. The small gray rabbit dozes in a fluffy lump under a rattan plant stand, a half-lidded sleep, alert for any coyote that might leap from behind the couch. A rabbit can't rest until his daily chores are done. Most important, apparently, is rolling the rugs -- digging frantically at one corner until it flops over, then furling it into a tube with a well-coordinated dance of scratching and retreating, scratching, retreating, until the offending rug is secured. Larger, heavier rugs are simply dog-eared at each corner. Rabbits are orderly, compulsive pets.
This particular rabbit arrived in this particular house, my house, unanticipated. It began when a friend with more kids than good sense surrendered to weeks of whining. "We'll take care of him. Pleasepleaseplease? We'll feedcleanbrushwalkplaywithhim, keephimoutofyourway, takehimtothevet... Pleasepleaseplease! He's so tiny! He's so cuuuuuute!" Eventually the rabbit seemed like less aggravation than the children. Soon my friend's neighbor was $10 richer and one rabbit lighter, and the kids had something to chase around the house after school.
When I first saw the rabbit, he was hunkered in a hamster cage with the remains of cartoon rabbit food -- a flaccid carrot, desiccated lettuce. He looked grumpy and hot. And cute. "Oh, yeah, isn't he cute?" my friend said casually. "But the kids aren't taking care of him, of course." (The children would later deny this.) "If you'd like him for a while, until I can fix up a place for him, go ahead and take him. But you don't have to, of course..."
Of course I didn't have to, but I did.
Pet-wise, I usually don't fall for "cute." An energetic, alert working dog, a Springer spaniel, perhaps, would be the ideal. Rabbits figured nowhere in the mix, real or ideal. They were storybook characters or things people bought in pet shops as doomed Easter gifts. Education was a necessity.
Lesson one came right away. Freeing the bunny from his tiny cage as soon as we were in the house, I learned: Keep the Doors Closed. The neighbors' terrier had come in through the patio. Spotting the rabbit, the dog was galvanized into a yelping, bunny-seeking missile, the rabbit a wide-eyed gray streak frantic for a rabbit hole. He hid behind a bookcase. The terrier quivered and snuffed, his nose wedged into the tiny space. Is it true that rabbits can die of fright?
Boot out dog, put down water for electrified bunny, go to pet store for alfalfa pellets, take bunny to vet to check his runny nose, go to library and find out what's up with house rabbits.
Finally, some peace and order. He dove into the dish of pellets as if he hadn't eaten in a week. The library was illuminating. Books in the adult section bear titles with words like "breeding," "farming," "profit." How to fatten, kill, and skin them. Rabbit-in-wine-sauce recipes. Books on rabbits to be pampered and played with are on the kids' shelves, full of colorful pictures and general advice. The vet's prescription had bunny back to what apparently was his old self.
It turns out the rabbit is a chinchilla rabbit. Full adult fighting weight: two pounds, maybe two and a half. Short, straight-up ears. Silver-gray on top, pure white undersides from chin to butt. Huge, round black eyes. Fat cheeks. One of the smallest of the domestic rabbit breeds, and the liveliest, with an air of perpetual childhood. Enough to turn a trucker all baby-talky.
His name, apparently, is Boo. It just evolved somehow and stuck.
He settled in and made himself even more adorable, if that was possible. At sunset he'd rouse himself from a nap under the plant stand, stretch, yawn, and race around the house, chased by imaginary wolves. He'd bound over furniture and execute little midair dance steps. He begged like a puppy for anything edible. Up on tiptoes, front feet on your shin or pawing the air, eyes huge, nose twitching. His favorite game -- picking things up in his teeth and tossing them over his shoulder: cat toys, strawberry baskets, hay, a piece of stiff netting from a Halloween costume.
He woke me up one night when he sat on my head. He'd taunt the neighbors' dogs by stretching out full length in front of the patio door while they woofed and pranced in frustration on the other side of the glass. Pick him up, and he'd wiggle free and launch himself across the room. But scratch his face and ears, and he'd close his eyes and lick and groom your hand like a long-lost love. When totally relaxed, he'd suddenly fall over on his side as if he'd been shot, rabbits not being rigged up to lie on their sides very gracefully. Dinner guests were wowed, reduced to kitchy-cooing idiots.
On the other hand, from all indications, Boo was about six months old, in the prime of his adolescence. With full run of the house, he indulged in every terrible-teens activity he could. Rabbits' front teeth grow continuously. They must gnaw to keep them short. Baseboards were Boo's favorites. The day the phone and modem stopped working, I learned that rabbits love to chew cords. If it's a lamp or a TV, electrocution is a real possibility. Despite their cat-like preference for a litter box, rabbits drop random pellets to mark their territories. And Boo had a lot of territory to cover. He turned the throw-rug fringe to stubble. He even had friends in while I was gone -- Boo and a wild cottontail in the den, sitting on their haunches, staring at one another. He shredded towels and phone books, grazed on rugs, ate each new baby off the huge spider plant. Then he started farting. Just occasional and odorless, but surprisingly loud.
I gave Boo away to live in an outdoor hutch with a couple of big, hulking specimens. Filled with guilt, I took him back the next day, maybe saving his life. Rabbits can be bloodthirsty fighters. Things were definitely out of control.