Trust No Bun
Every Easter, I see the signs. They’re posted in pet stores, outside vet clinics, on Instagram. They warn people, mostly well-meaning parents, to avoid giving bunnies as gifts. “RABBITS ARE NOT TOYS OR ACCESSORIES,” they read. “They’re at least a 10-year commitment and require a lot of care and attention.”
The concern is very real. Most rabbits purchased around Easter are abandoned weeks later, domesticated animals left to fend for themselves on playgrounds or the side of the road. I didn’t get it. How does anyone do that to an animal? And how bad can a bunny be?
Several years ago, while living in Los Angeles, I started contemplating getting a pet rabbit. I was unhappy living in L.A, which is where I’d gone to pursue acting following grad school. I desperately needed the comfort of something other than a Tinder date with their own podcast. I found rabbits to be perplexing animals -- and not just because their faces always look perplexed. Nothing about them made any sense, least of all how they’d survived this long in a world where every other animal would enjoy them for dinner. Their entire body was a system of strange checks and balances that seemed to be for Mother Nature’s amusement. Case in point: the sheer force of the hind quarters can cause a rabbit to break its own back while “binkying,” a gleeful hopping they do when pleased, akin to a person clicking their heels. They can literally die from happiness.
That’s exactly the animal I need in my life, I thought.
Lucy had been given up by a family who couldn’t take care of her following the death of the elderly matriarch, the original owner of Lucy. When I first saw Lucy in the pet store and reached into the large open-top cage to pet her, she first cowered then closed her eyes in contentment. I marveled at her beautiful coat, which was thick and fluffy, pure white colored by caramel splotches. She was a Holland Lop, so her ears were floppy and large and hung down at the sides of her face. When I stopped petting her, she opened her yes, sat up straight, and loudly stomped her back foot. I thought she was sassy.
“She’s perfect!” I squealed.
“Yes,” said the pet store employee, smiling nervously. “She’s...a character.”
I brought Lucy home to my small apartment that I shared with my roommate. It quickly became clear that what I perceived as sassiness was actually an unabashed hatred of humans. I couldn’t reach my hand in her cage without getting bit or lunged at, and she regularly woke me during the night with loud thumps demanding attention. She hadn’t been spayed, so she peed on the carpet every time she was out, smugly marking her territory while I screamed in protest. She also took to sexually assaulting my roommate’s terrier, who was afraid of her. Even after getting fixed, she remained a bully, one who commanded with terror so obviously meant to disguise her own debilitating fear. A visiting friend quickly coined the nickname Lucifer -- and most of the time, that’s what we called her.
When I did get her fixed, the vet told me she was old for a rabbit to be fixed (a little over a year), and that she’d probably retain some of her territorial behaviors. This included, in addition to biting and lunging and grunting and peeing, occasionally pulling fur from her body and using it to build nests in her cage. “For the babies,” the vet said.
Pets are wonderful distractions, even the bad ones. For entertainment, we gave Lucy a narrative. She had a backstory, as do all beings, particularly orphans, and hers was one of struggle that did much to shape her hardened exterior and jaded personality. After spotting an ad for Easter portraits outside a photo studio in a mall (“with LIVE bunny!” read the sign -- because dead ones tend to damper the experience), we decided the identical markings of the baby rabbit being clutched by a small child in the photo were indisputable evidence Lucy had spent time selling herself as a prop in exchange for food. Truly, what else could have hardened this bun any more than life in a shopping mall portrait studio being carelessly grabbed at by the tiny hands of kids who wished/thought she was a dog?
I grew to love Lucy, and maybe it was because of all these things. I knew she was awful, but I also felt sorry for her. She’d been abandoned at least twice, and clearly hadn’t been properly cared for. But I didn’t love her like most people love their pets. I loved her because I was convinced no one else would, like you do an unpopular family member. And maybe because I couldn’t give up the attempt to prove to her that some people (me) are not bad, and do not want to harm you, or eat you, or take away your imaginary babies. I loved her because I kind of liked her sassy personality and because maybe I saw a little of myself in her. A little rough around the edges, a little broken. And she was deeply unhappy, as was I.
My love for Lucy was clearly unrequited -- which is precisely what’s not supposed to happen when you have a pet. I knew when I got a rabbit I wouldn’t be getting the blind affection of a Labrador, all sloppy kisses and eager anticipation. But I had at least hoped for some kind of acknowledgement that I was her person. That I was the one who housed and fed her and gave her nose rubs and toys that never got used because why play with toys when you can chew cords and carpet and pillows? Instead, I was little more than a threat to her and her non-existent children, which broke my heart and angered me all at once. At night, I’d hear her digging into the bare floor of her cage, building a nest out of nothing for the babies she’d never have.
But there were some signs I was OK. She only protested a little when I would come home from working double shifts, tired and sore and maybe a little buzzed, and would grab her from inside her cage so I could hold her on the couch. I’d bury my face into her thick, fluffy fur and try to remember why I’d come to L.A. in the first place. On days or nights when I had a tough audition, or no audition, or when I’d been sexually harassed or had my heart broken or when I felt alone, I’d lie on my back in bed and cry with Lucy held tightly to my chest. She’d stare at me with blank eyes that I sometimes read as scared or judgmental. And she wouldn’t protest when I made her dance like a marionette to Iggy Azalea to make me laugh, though she should have because anyone should have protested me playing Iggy Azalea.
When I’d had enough of LA and wanted to return to New York, I wanted to do it as fast as possible. Emotionally, I was drowning in L.A., with only Lucy as my fluffy buoy. But I’d also started getting work that was opening up more opportunities in New York, and the move made sense. I wanted to take Lucy with me, but I knew the logistics weren’t simple. Travel was a huge concern. There are only three airlines that allow rabbits to fly in the cabin, and even then, the risk is great; rabbits are high-strung and easily stressed, and the terror of flying can literally kill them. If it doesn’t, it can leave them rattled and unable to eat or poop properly for days afterward. I had no desire to inflict that stress on any animal, let alone my own.
Once I made the decision to not bring Lucy to New York, I felt simultaneous guilt and relief. I despise people who get animals without realizing the commitment they’re making. Yet here I was. I was nervous about finding her a place to live; I knew people would want her, but I didn’t know if they could handle her. Finding the right family became an obsession -- and I was in a time crunch.
When I posted on ad, it was concise, yet informative. I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to warn them of all the things that made Lucy a less-than-ideal pet, but also all the things that made her worth loving. I wanted to say that Lucy will have a hard time adjusting and she won’t be quick to show affection. She’ll destroy everything, so rabbit-proofing is a must, and it’s probably best if you don’t have carpet. She really loves bananas, and all food really, and she’ll probably always bite you but she always follows it up with a kiss. If she’s making a mess or digging at carpet, just put her in the bathroom because she loves to lie on the cool tile, especially behind the toilet where she feels covered and safe. You may hear her digging at her cage at night and she may toss her hay around and she lunge at you anytime you stick your hand inside. It’s OK, she doesn’t hate you. She’s just protecting her nest and the babies she doesn’t know she’ll never have.
Instead, I dotted my brief ad with euphemisms like “sassy” and “spirited.” But I worried that if I didn’t love her, no one would. My roommate understood this. She kept Lucy for several weeks after I left, due to Lucy’s adoptive parents going through a move. When the time came for the handoff, my roommate told them that if they changed their minds, they could bring Lucy back.
On the morning I left, I lied with her on the couch and held her tight while she stared at me with wide eyes until they slowly closed in contentment as I rubbed the space between them. I felt dirty for leaving her. But I was so grateful to have had her -- ruined carpet and all.
I don’t know what happened to the rest of Lucy’s narrative. At first I received a video of her from her new owners (who already had two baby bunnies), then nothing at all. I don’t know if she got along with her new family or if she lashed out in defense, always protecting her imaginary nest built for no one. But I’d like to think she’s content, now with two young buns to boss around. I’d like to think we both got what we really wanted.