I remember searching for and finding handfuls of baby bunnies in freshly dug warrens in the Blaker’s back yard. Their house backed up to ours and we shared a fence line. Mrs. Blaker was a rather inattentive woman. She yelled a lot at her mean kid, smoked constantly, even when she was pregnant. But on a whim one day, she bought a few rabbits from a pet store.
She let the rabbits roam free in her back yard without food or cages or attention. After a few months, as the old cliche would tell you, there were dozens of rabbits. They had become more or less feral. They started digging complex tunnels through the yard, where they would give birth to their plentiful young, finding shelter from the weather and the hawks. They ran around in their self-made, fenced-in village, completely unchecked.
When the Blakers were gone during the day, we would climb over the fence and go searching for the rabbits. I like to think that we kept them from becoming completely feral, because we handled them so often. We’d sneak them baby carrots and celery from home. We would gently and carefully retrieve the adorable, fluffy babies from the warrens, sticking our skinny arms down dark, animal-made tunnels, feeling gently for a warm ball of velvety fur. Miraculously, we never got bit. We’d sit back there and cradle these bunnies for hours. It was a paradise for an animal-crazy child like myself.
One of the Holland lop does gave birth to a beautiful litter of white and dusky brown babies. At this time, Mrs. Blaker finally realized she had a rabbit problem on her hands and started advertising free bunnies to the neighborhood children. We convinced our parents to let us get one. It was our first real family pet, because fish and finches don’t inspire too much affection; kids want something fuzzy to love. Mrs. Blaker invited a bunch of us little girls in the neighborhood to come play with the bunnies, probably to tempt us with them while our parents were unaware. Our bratty friends, Jennifer and Allison, started physically fighting over a pretty chocolate-colored bunny, grabbing at it like it was a doll, and snapped its legs. It died the next day.
We were mortified and swore we’d never play with them again. The next morning, we quickly picked out a sweet white-and-brown male from the litter. We named him Spencer (maybe because I’d been reading a kid’s version of The Faerie Queen? I don’t know) and told all of our friends that Jennifer and Allison were never allowed to hold him. I felt a great sense of pride that we had rescued him from his quasi-feral, neglectful situation. Dad built Spencer a big bunny mansion, a two-story hutch that sat against the fence. When we let him out, he would run against the fence with his still plentiful relatives. He once got bit in the face by his uncle and his little velvet nose was forever split in two.
Spencer was the best pet. We liked to think he played hide-and-seek with us. He playfully chased us around the yard. He never bit us, which was incredible, considering how we (especially Grace) tortured that poor bunny. Grace liked to smuggle him inside and put him in doll’s clothes, zip him up in purses and swing him around. He was always good-natured. He lived for many years until one winter, we found his still, frozen body on the ground floor of the hutch. I remember wondering if we had failed him, if we should have let him live inside, if we didn’t love him enough. I imagine these thoughts, a specter of Spencer, will always resurface when any animal of mine dies.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Spencer and to my god-bunnies in the United Kingdom, Indy and Felix.