"Hey, Mom! I got the biggest one! Look!"
I carefully unfolded the flaps of the large cardboard box my son laid on the floor and peeked inside. The "biggest one" was a tiny bit of gray, black and white fluff with perky ears, a cotton tail, big brown eyes, that easily fit in the palm of my hand. The "biggest one," the pet shop said, was a Netherland Dwarf rabbit, one of the smaller breeds. My husband, son and I assumed since this creature was so very small, it must be a girl bunny, so we named her, Hilda.
The "Your First Bunny" book included in the Dwarf rabbit kit offered little information regarding sexing a bunny. We discovered that bunny sexing was somewhat of an art and in very young bunnies it's almost impossible to tell which is which. Not many days passed, however, before we realized that Hilda was really a Harry.
Although, Harry was a gift for Silas,our son's 6th birthday, he quickly became a beloved treasure and member of our family. The familiar warnings, "He's your pet and you'll have to care for him," soon faded and he became my bunny. None of us had any idea just how much Harry would change our lives.
Harry lived in his little cage all the time, except for a few hours after supper. Then we would let him out to "stretch his legs." As soon as he was free, he jumped and leaped for joy, racing around the room at top speed.
Although, we put "bunny blocks" across doorways to keep his run space confined, Harry always managed to discover ways around them. He would flash past us and head for the bedrooms every time.
"Don't let him get under the bed!" we'd scream at each other. A bunny under the bed meant at least an hour or more of capture time. Attempts to "sweep" him out from under the bed were comical and frustrating. If we swept him out from under one side, he would switch to the other side. Then he learned to sit just at the edge, only inches away from the broom. Harry became a whiz at evading capture and he constantly amazed us with his adaptive skills. Silas thought the whole process was so funny, he opened the bedroom doors on purpose. "Go, Harry, go!", he'd shout, and Harry would fly past him back under the bed and the whole capture process would begin again.
When Harry was finally secured in his little cage, he showed his displeasure by biting frantically at the bars and bumping the top of the cage with his head. He bumped the top so often, I put clothes pins on each side to secure the top closed. Harry would look so sad and I would feel guilty and give him a carrot. He loved carrots and I could hear him munching them well into the night. In the morning all that was left was a very skinny carrot about the size of the lead from a pencil. Harry always ate his carrots this way and I always felt guilty when I put him back in his cage.
One bright afternoon, Harry was biting and bumping as usual, testing his confines for possible weak spots, and he found one. It was hard to beleive, but he managed to wriggle through the smallest of openings in one corner of the top of his cage. He hopped into the living room, looking rather pleased with himself and stopped in front of my chair. He "thumped" at me.
"Thumping" is rabbit communication and Harry was quite the vocal rabbit. He "thumped" warnings of danger, like when he was low on food or wanted attention. He "thumped" warnings of displeasure, like when the furniture had been moved. He, like my husband, hated it when I moved furniture. And in this case, he "thumped" in triumph at having escaped at last from his prison.
Harry lived behind bars for two years. After his great escape, we never caged him again unless he was sick and needed special care or if we were traveling. This is how Harry became a "House Rabbit!"
We didn't know it at the time, but Harry was a born teacher. He was patient and forgiving with his human students. Who would have guessed that rabbits can use litter boxes, come running when you call their names, and beg for treats? Harry taught us that rabbits can do so much more than just stare out at you from inside a cage. Most of all, Harry taught us about life, friendship and love, the greatest of the three.