When my sister and her family moved down to Canberra at the end of last year, they told my niece that if she left her guinea pigs in Queensland then she could have a rabbit in Canberra (you are not allowed to keep rabbits in Queensland, because they are a feral pest, which is a good principle but it should also be applied to cats). So, they move down south and she gets a rabbit. They call it Charlotte. Charlotte is a nice enough but not at all friendly rabbit, so then they get a another rabbit, who my niece calls Sophia. Sophia is an adorable snuggly little rabbit. Unfortunately two rabbits of the same sex turns out to be a really bad idea. Charlotte was so aggressive to poor little Sophia that they ended up having to give Charlotte away. So it’s down to just Sophia the sweetie. Charlotte had actually turned into a free range rabbit, because she was a bit wild and couldn’t be in the cage with Sophia, and there was never a problem with this arrangement. Sophia was always locked up at night, though allowed to roam the yard at times during the day. Except for one night the other week when she was in her little burrowing spot under the bushes so they left her there overnight. My sister went out first thing in the morning to get her and discovered a large cat actually in Sophia’s cage. Unfortunately the cat had also just attacked and killed poor little Sophia over near the bushes.
We are all very cut up about this. There was something very endearing about Sophia. Even the two-year-old nephew took to this rabbit when he was up visiting. Here is the evidence.
But such things are hard to take. When I was a kid we had some Chinese silky bantams as pets. They used to roam our yard and were generally locked up at night. Mine was called Chloe and my sister’s was Henrietta. One night we were careless and it seems that both a gate was left open and the chicken cage wasn’t locked, such that the chickens were out early in the morning and a dog happened to come by and get Henrietta. I was so distressed about this that I tied one side gate, which was a little less certain when it was locked, up with so many knots of rope that no-one could ever be bothered to use it again. And every night before I went to bed I would terrorise myself by going out and running around the side to check that the gate (which was all tied up with rope) was still locked and the cage was locked. One night my Aunt was babysitting and while I was out on my chicken run in the dark she locked the back door, so I came flying back around and had a panic on the back verandah because I couldn’t get back in (we lived in an outer suburb of a country town, on a large block with a small house on it). The trauma I put myself through every night so that nothing got our chickens!
Then years later when I was at uni I had a pet budgie, called Wembly. Wembly was my little friend who used to follow me around the tiny shearer’s hut that I lived in and do quirky things. Eventually I got another budgie called Charlotte because I felt sorry for Wembly being on his lonesome during the day. I took Wembly and Charlotte home for the holidays and I had told my sister not to take the cage outside, but for some reason, one day while I was out somewhere, she took the cage outside. Then she thought she’d change their bath water, but while she took the bath away she left the door open, outside. Wembly got out. So I came home and my budgie was out of his cage and flying about the neighbourhood. I was trying desperately to call him back and coax him back to Charlotte. He flew across the road and landed low in a bush, and I though that was my chance and was hurrying across the road when a cat suddenly jumped up and swiped him out of the bush. And that was the end of Wembly. I cried and cried.
I also, while at uni, got my WIRES licence, after a weekend of training, and used to take phone calls and go to the rescue of injured wildlife. I enjoyed this, but I buried a lot of wildlife. For years I used to pull over every time I came across an animal that had been hit by a car and check it’s pouch (because most drivers don’t, so pouch young are left to die a slow and painful death). The problem was that unless it was a very recent roadkill in a lot of cases the pouch young had been drinking putrefying milk, so they’d get sick and die about four days later in any case, after all your efforts to get up during the night and feed them etc. Then I took up a research position in far north Queensland, which involved trapping wild bettongs, possums and rock-wallabies. It was beyond manageable but I used to set 120 traps a night, on two different grids, and spend hours and hours clearing them and weighing, measuring and tagging what was in them. I did not like feeling so responsible for so many animals in traps. One night around midnight a tropical storm came through. The black soil up there can turn into a treacherous bog rapidly and I didn’t want to drive out and leave animals in traps in case I couldn’t get back in again the next day (and it’s not nice being an animal in a trap in a storm) so I left my volunteers in the car (because they were slow and I could get around the traps faster without them), and went racing around the bush in the thunder and lightening of a tropical storm at midnight letting animals out of traps. There was also the odd pouch young tragedy.
Start to care about and feel responsible for individual wild animals and that gets overwhelming. I haven’t had a pet since the budgies and I don’t stop very often anymore to check roadkill pouches. There’s something about that that now seems too hard. I'm conscious that if I were to get a pet I would get very attached to it and it would become a kind of emotional burden. So I don’t let myself have one. I know I am not living as a fan of CS Lewis in this, when he writes in The Four Loves:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.I am also a hypocrite. In the card I did buy and give to my devastated niece I wrote something along the lines of ‘loving things can hurt a lot when something happens to them, but it is always worth loving things because it makes life more beautiful and rich, so I hope you keep loving bunnies’. Ahem.
The good news is there is now a new rabbit. And I wants it. I was looking at rabbits online with my sister and getting rather besotted. They are seriously cute. The new rabbit, who is going to live indoors, will follow you around the house, and snuggle in your lap. These are very bad photos of me, and it’s not the carefully curated public image I was aiming for (it was a very bad hair moment, the pic in the middle is taken while I was talking, and in the others I am slouching on the floor and frowning while watching the Lion King and unbeknownst to me my brother-in-law was apparently killing himself laughing at my facial expressions – I get a little over-involved in movies), but this is Marshmallow (my sister did the photo arrangement, and I don't know how to undo it). I’m now pondering whether it’s at all practical to have a rabbit in my house.