No other animal had ever inspired in me so much fear; not the neighbor’s dog that chased me into the house when I was three; not the horse that threw me, blackening both my kindergarten eyes; not the hand-sized spider that crawled up my leg when I was turned the neglected compost pile behind my house. None of those creatures held the terror of the adolescent lionhead bunny.
After months of research and bluffing my way through two separate interviews, I convinced the Seattle Animal Shelter that our household was competent to care for a six-month old purebred rescue rabbit. Like criminals fleeing with loot, we quickly loaded the pet carrier containing The Bunny into the car. A feeling like indigestion rose in my stomach. My mind raced, repeating the mantra, “I hope we don’t kill it,” over and over again.
My daughters felt none of my fear. Even my younger daughter, who fled the critter aisle at the pet store when we went to buy timothy hay saying, “My eyes are watering because of the hamster cages,” did not seem to think the rabbit was in danger. She seemed to think we had learned our lesson after killing her tiny pet hamster in the first week only a month ago.
The rabbit certainly didn’t sense any danger. He quickly explored his new cage and settled down to eat hay and pellets.
Then the cat walked in. He strutted right past the cage that had been sitting empty in our living room for weeks, then, in a double take worthy of Looney Tunes, startled and turned to see the rabbit. He puffed up to twice his normal size and bolted out of the room, only to return minutes later with a hunter’s stare and raised ridge of fur along his back. Then he decided discretion was the better part of valor and haughtily pranced to the kitchen for kibble.
Maybe The Bunny would be okay after all.
I had a big day ahead, so I went to bed early. Half an hour later, my husband entered the bathroom to brush his teeth, leaving the rabbit unattended in his cage for the first time since bringing him home that afternoon.
There was a big thump in the living room, like something falling, and I jumped out of bed to see what happened. The Bunny was inside the cardboard cave we had prepared inside the cage. The cat was sniffing the bars. I let him have his sniff, then coaxed him to the bedroom and shut the door. But it was too late.
My mind wandered – I’ve been working on the plot for a new story – but I could not fall asleep. At 1:30 I got up and read for a while. At 3:30 I got up again. Every time the cat moved, every time a neighbor shut a door, I was wide awake, ready for the replay of the Great Hamster Debacle. Mine has always been a home for predators, and now I’ve promised my daughter a cute and fuzzy prey animal for a pet. Not only am I terrified of disappointing her, but I don’t want to model irresponsible behavior. And I take the commitment to care for any animal seriously. I don’t want to disappoint myself.
Recently, my husband and I had a conversation about a friend whose intensive parenting style we agreed was as harmful as neglect. But I try not to be judgmental (I often fail, but I really do try) so I turned the mirror on myself. I am as guilty as anyone at letting small things turn into stressors. It’s an approach that squeezes all the joy out of life, and I’ve been trying to take a more relaxed attitude.
But here I sit at four in the morning, staring at a bunny to make sure it doesn’t spontaneously combust. And it’s keeping the bunny awake. Which is probably bad for it.