On Easter Sunday in 1991, a friend of the family came to visit and brought two tiny brown dwarf rabbits; one for each of our children. To say my husband and I were taken aback would be an understatement; we had no idea our friend intended to give our children rabbits and we were just as surprised as the kids, but not nearly as delighted. It wasn’t that we didn’t like rabbits, in fact I had one when I was a kid. It was just that we weren’t asked about it in advance and we weren’t prepared. We didn’t have a rabbit coop for them to live in.
Although some people keep rabbits as house pets, we couldn’t do that. We had a German Shepherd at the time named Kelly and one of her favorite things to do was chase bunnies in the yard. Oh, she never caught one, but she tried hard, so having bunnies loose in the house was not an option. Fortunately, our friend did supply a small rabbit cage, complete with a water bottle, a feeder and some rabbit pellets. And she assured us that both bunnies were females so we did not have to worry about getting over-run by bunnies in the future.
None of that mattered to the kids of course. They loved their rabbits. And truthfully, there are not a lot of things that are cuter – or softer – than baby bunnies. So the rabbits lived in the house for about two weeks until my husband Steve got them a rabbit coop. During their stay in the house, the kids would take them out of cage and play with them when they got home from school. Of course, being kids, they’d soon lose sight of them and need help finding them. A favorite place to hide was under the sofa, and once found, they were not easy to get out from under there. I’d move the sofa forward but before one of the kids could grab a bunny, the bunnies would both scamper forward and end up back under the sofa. I’d move the sofa back, they’d do the same. And so we played the game, moving the sofa back and forth until finally, both rabbits were caught and returned to their cage. It was through trying to catch the rabbits that one, Speedy, got her name. She was the hardest to catch and was very fast. The other rabbit, the lighter of the two, was named Cocoa.
Once we had their coop set up, they moved outside. It was the kid’s responsibility to feed and water them every day and to clean their coop. Although our kids were only nine and seven years old at the time, they did a good job caring for the bunnies. In addition to caring for them every day, they played with them every day too so both bunnies were used to being handled and were very calm and tame.
The following year, in the summer, after the kids were in bed, I noticed the rabbit coop door was open and the coop was empty. I looked in the area right around the coop but didn’t see Cocoa or Speedy. I went into the house and got Steve, and armed with flashlights, we went out to find the missing bunnies.
After making sure they were not in the front yard, we headed to the backyard. Our backyard joined our neighbors creating one very large backyard. Standing there shining the flashlights across both yards, we saw at least 50 eyes reflected in the light. “How are we going to do this?” Steve asked.
It looked over whelming; there were at least 25 rabbits in the yards. With the light illuminating one suspect, I approached it. It hopped off, fast. As it took off, I saw its white tail. “That’s it!” I said to Steve, “Our rabbits don’t have white tails. Look for bunnies with brown tails.”
So, rabbit by rabbit, that’s what we did. We’d shine a light on a rabbit, walk towards it, if it took off we could see the tail color. But one I approached did not take off, so I reached down and picked it up. It was Cocoa. Score! I put Cocoa in the coop and while I was doing that, Steve found Speedy and returned her to the coop.
The next day we talked to the kids about the importance of making sure the coop door was closed when they were done caring for the bunnies. About two weeks later I saw the coop door open and no bunnies in the coop and once again, Steve and I managed to catch them both and return to them to the coop. But that time, Cocoa and Speedy were not as dumb as they were the first time and they were harder to catch because they both hopped off as we approached and we had to run after them in the yard to catch them.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to catch a rabbit, but it’s not easy. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen was my Great Aunt Doe catch a wild bunny. When we were kids, my cousin Lisa and I stopped by her house to see if she had any cookies. We found her outside working in her vegetable garden. There was a cotton-tailed rabbit nearby and for whatever reason, Lisa said, “Doe, I bet ya can’t catch that rabbit.”
Doe said, “Oh, I can catch that rabbit.”
Doe had to be at least 70 years old at the time. She was wearing what she always wore, a printed dress, a baggy sweater and nylons rolled down to the tops of her shoes. She ran after that rabbit holding the sides of her dress straight out from her body like it was a big parachute. The rabbit zig-zagged through the yard, and Doe zig-zagged right after it as Lisa and I howled with laughter. Eventually Doe cornered it near the house and dropping one side of the dress from her hand she reached down and picked the rabbit up by its ears. She turned to Lisa and said, “Now what do you want to do with it?” We were amazed. Doe helped us build a little corral for it out of cinder blocks. We petted it and played with it for an hour or so and let it go.
But Steve and I were not Doe, catching rabbits was tough and we didn’t want to do it again. The next day we told both kids that if the rabbits got out again, we would not catch them. We told the kids that if they forgot to close the coop door and the bunnies escaped that they would have to catch them themselves or the bunnies would have to live in the yard with the wild bunnies.
A few weeks later I arrived home from work to find my daughter standing at the end of our driveway, in the rain, wearing her bright yellow rain slicker and holding a very large fishing net. As I pulled in the driveway she scowled at me and held her finger up to her pursed lips to tell me to be quiet. I continued up the driveway and saw my son wandering around the backyard. They were looking for Cocoa and Speedy who were on the loose again.
Over the next few days they tried several times to catch the rabbits, and although Steve and I did try to help them when we could, the rabbits could not be caught. We put out some of their rabbit pellets for them and some water, but they didn’t bother with any of it. They had a taste of freedom and it evidently tastes better than rabbit pellets.
Cocoa and Speedy lived in the yard for quite some time. They’d let us get close, but not close enough to catch them. Speedy used to sit outside of our dog’s kennel and eat grass. Kelly would sit there, staring at her but wouldn’t bark. And when I’d let Kelly out of her kennel when I got home from work, if one of the bunnies was nearby, she’d chase it, wagging her tail. But one day, Speedy wasn’t so speedy and Kelly, the dog who chased everything but never caught anything, somehow put her paw on Speedy’s back and broke it. Speedy was dead, the kids were crying, the dog was whining and upset.
Cocoa though, didn’t just live in the yard, she thrived and before too long she had babies and for some reason none of us ever understood, Cocoa and one of her babies stayed together. As the baby grew, it followed Cocoa around the yard. The two of them were inseparable. After about two years or so of living on her own a cat or something attacked Cocoa and we had to put her down.
But Cocoa left her mark. We moved out of that house in 1997 and several days before we left we saw what looked like a cotton-tail rabbit in the yard. But it had a brown tail. It was one of Cocoa’s grandbabies.
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