Rabbit Reading

Okay, I admit it. I was more than a little reluctant to embark on rabbit ownership so soon after taking on the responsibility of a new puppy. But Alice had worked so hard, for months, researching for hours on the internet, buying books on rabbit care, special toys and equipment out of her pocket money, and even building a palatial hutch pretty much all by herself, that we couldn't hold out any longer.

So Momo and Meyer entered our lives. (Meyer was originally christened Maya, until a visit to the vet set us straight on his gender. Now we think of him as Meyer Lansky, the small but crafty gangster from Boardwalk Empire.)

At first it all seemed to be too much. Plastic tubs full of hay and pellets and litter; daily cleaning; thrice daily food supply; the mysterious nightly noises emanating from their hutch; the sweeping up of pellets, emptying contaminated water, removal of spoiled hay; the worry that we might soon be hosting unwanted baby bunnies (at least now we know that's not going to happen)... Even though Alice is doing most of the work, it just seemed like a lot of labour for not much reward. I remembered with dread how friends had warned us that rabbits were boring. They weren't like the puppy, who barks and frisks and cuddles up to us, who is frantic with joy at the sight of us, who looks contrite when she makes a mistake, and expresses her personality every moment of the day. The rabbits just kind of... sat there.

Then I read Watership Down. Because fiction holds the answer to every problem.
And in this case, it did.

Losing myself in the story of Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and the rest, I was completely caught up in their adventures, their rabbit mythology, all the careful, vivid details of the English countryside, their special language and their rabbit-centred view of the world. But most of all, Richard Adams made me care passionately about the fate of these characters -- steady Hazel, uncanny Fiver, clever Blackberry, loyal little Pipkin, desperate Strawberry, the courageous hutch rabbit Clover, the terrifying General Woundwort.

Because this is the gift of fiction: to make us empathise with people whose experiences and view of life are very different from our own. Even when those people happen to be rabbits.

And now I find that I can appreciate beautiful Momo's sweetness, and his tentative forays into the unfamiliar. I can applaud the bold leadership of Meyer, who made three daring escape bids in as many days. Watership Down has made me see that our bunnies are people, too. Not humans; but people.

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