When people would ooh and aah over Lucy, our Holland Lop bunny, and say how cute she was, I would say, “Good thing she’s cute – that’s the only thing she has going for her.” And people would chuckle at that snarky remark and look at me out of the corner of their eye like I was some evil person. She was messy and destructive and really served no purpose, but in my heart I became ridiculously attached to her.
Daughter Jessica, on break from college and visiting her dad in Galway, came home one night with a sheepish smile on her face, and presented me with Lucy, who she had rescued from one of those fates all too common to pet rabbits – having failed to keep the interest of the neighbor children she was bought for, she was going to be set loose in the woods to fend for herself. Jessica couldn’t allow that (I’m sure mom and dad liked that payback), instead bringing her into our house where the worst she would have to fend off was a rambunctious kitten.
Initially Lucy went back to college with Jessica, who thought she could keep a bunny hidden under her bed in her dorm room. Even I could see how well that was going to work out. Though she endeared herself to Jessica’s fellow art students and dorm mates, at the next school break Lucy came home for good.
Lucy came with a large Havahart cage and took up residence in the spare bedroom. A friend gave us an outdoor hutch that with a little spiffing made a lovely outdoor condo. We set her up on the porch of our home in the village, where the neighbors visited regularly with treats and little kids would squeal at the sight of her brown floppy ears. Periodically Lucy would come in the house to stretch her legs and socialize. Larry would often comment that rabbits were “livestock,” not really qualifying as “pets,” therefore should be, ahem, outside. He was outvoted on this three to one.
Immediate rabbit-related lessons learned: 1) Rabbits are FAST. If they are not contained within an area, you’d better keep an eye on them. 2) Unless litter box trained, rabbits will poop indiscriminately. We coined these lovely little nuggets coco puffs, as they looked just like the cereal. “There are coco puffs by the woodstove, you better go clean it up.” Oh, wait, I was talking to myself… 3) Rabbits jump and kick out like little furry kungfu critters when they are happy. This, unlike the coco puffs, is very amusing. 4) Rabbits will eventually get the hang of stairs. This skill is not gained without its share of mishaps. We would hear the sound of tumbling and turn to see Lucy sitting on the bottom landing, shaking her head.
In a moment of suburban-induced insanity, I bought a harness for her at PetSmart so I could let her wander around in the grass. My not-yet-husband watched me once with my rabbit-on-a-leash, and declared that there was not enough tequila in the world for him to do that.
When we moved to Schroon in 2005, we situated Lucy’s hutch next to the porch. The porch was high enough that when we took off the top, it was level with the floor of the porch and she could hop out and roam around on the porch itself. She enjoyed this freedom until she realized there were stairs (which, after a shortened learning curve, she mastered) that led to things far more interesting than this limiting level of life – like flowers to eat and a vegetable garden to plunder. Unsurprisingly, she became difficult to catch. One late summer day, after yet again diving unsuccessfully for her, I said the heck with it, stay out, take your chances with the fox and fishers and badgers.
Thus began the legend of Free Range Lucy.
Now mind you, where we live in Schroon is densely wooded. We have wetlands on both sides of us, woods surrounding us, and across the road neighbors Bill and Dolores have a pond that attracts wildlife far and wide. Bill and Dolores, along with their sons Bill and Denny (our friends and Larry’s hunting companions), are brimming with stories of household pets chased, treed, maimed and ultimately eaten by the resident predators. Born story tellers, they were delighted to tell me these tales of horror. Denny has scarred me with one particular tale of a pet cat who was dragged off their back steps by a predator, just as Fluffy reached the sliding glass door trying to gain entry. I figured Lucy’s days were numbered, either by becoming part of the circle of life on the Hill, or running off with some stud bunny. My consolation was the thought that she was living a good life – not trapped in the confines of a little hutch, but living Born Free, doing whatever it is that rabbits do, and having a grand old time of it.
Much to our surprise, Lucy stayed close to home. I left the top off her hutch so she had her home-base option and kept it stocked with food and water. But for the most part she hung out under the porch and in the front yard and made an adorable porch ornament. Mike our mailman commented on how friendly she was when he had to drop a package off at the door. Although she wouldn’t quite come when called, she would hang out around you and she was easy to pick up and pet. When Larry was working on his brakes in the driveway, Lucy was happy to sit in the middle of his tools and pop across his lap while he worked on a part. She was the happy recipient of our vegetable residue from the kitchen.
For a homegrown rabbit, Lucy had a wide array of experiences. She was with me the January day I totaled my car on the Northway. I was working for Catholic Charities at the time and was bringing Lucy in to see the kids at the shelter. She was in a large cat carrier in the back seat. My car went into a long slide on a very icy road and WHAM – we smacked off the guardrail, leaving pieces in the road and us facing in the wrong direction. Once I realized I wasn’t dead and found my glasses, I looked in the backseat to see Lucy flattened against the back of the carrier, with a look on her face of “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!?” Luckily, we were both fine.
Lucy and Bella, our younger cat, would chase each other around the yard. With a network of paths around our house, you never knew when small furry animals would suddenly race past you. While Bella was with Lucy since she was a kitten and they were used to playing together, our older cat Rocky was terrified of her. Rocky was easily twice her size and weight, yet the mere sign of her would stop him in his tracks, and once she spotted him, she would rush at him, which sent the poor cat running in pure terror. He never did get over his fear of her.
One time I saw Bella hovering over something in the grass, with Lucy right next to her, the two of them looking like co-conspirators. When I got closer, I saw that Bella was eating a mouse, with Lucy looking on curiously. I told Larry about this, and he said, “Oooooh, that’s just not right.”
As the weather turned colder, we felt for sure that Lucy’s days were numbered. But almost every morning she would be out in the yard, and when I came home from work she would be around – on the porch invariably leaving cocoa puffs or in the driveway. Friend Bill said, “If that rabbit makes it to February, she’ll be a real Adirondack rabbit.”
I thought winter would surely be her downfall. Dark brown, she stood out against the snow in our paths. Hungry predators would find her an easy mark. Sometimes we wouldn’t see her for a day or two, but then there she was, around the corner on the porch or coming down the path from somewhere.
Spring came and Lucy continued to thrive. No baby bunnies that we saw, so I don’t think there was a boyfriend in the wings somewhere. And I had never seen another rabbit in the area.
Then, in early summer, came the phone call we had been dreading, from our neighbors across the street: “Your rabbit is in our garden.”
Lucy was grounded. Once again confined to her hutch, she went from being a Happy Bunny to being a Bitter Bunny. You could see how ticked off her was. Unfortunately, she brought this on herself by the fault of her own instinct, and now she was paying the price.
Summer crept on in its heat and humidity. In late August, Dolores said the deer had pretty much wiped out her garden, so Lucy was granted early release. Once more, she raced around the yard, greeted us on the porch, and rock hopped with Bella.
Then towards the end of September, as Larry was leaving for work, I looked around the driveway. “Have you seen Lucy lately?” I asked, suddenly unable to recall exactly when I’d seen her last. He said he hadn’t. Oh well, I figured she must be around. She didn’t make an appearance that night, nor the next morning. My heart began to sink as I figured the inevitable has occurred. As the days turned into weeks, I knew she was really gone this time.
In all honesty, I found it hard to be sad that she was gone, not because I thought she was a pest or didn’t like her – to the contrary, she endeared herself as I never expected she would. I wasn’t sad because I knew, as domesticated bunnies went, she had probably lived an exceptional life, full of excitement and contentment and lots of affection. I could feel good about what we were able to give her. Even though she has been gone several years now, every once in a while when I step on the porch I think I see a coco puff and I catch my breath, and then I see it’s just a piece of bark or dirt.
Thanks, Lulu, for adding your little furry dimension to my life.
CORRECTION: The blog I recommended in my first post is at www.thehermitcrabspeaks.blogspot.com.