From The New York Times
by Ivy Pochoda
Photo by Bianca Bagnarelli
Here are the things I could have told you about rabbits before Evander and Greedy Panda came into my life: Bunnies are storybook creatures, runaway or velveteen. They wear blue blazers or consult pocket watches. They live in burrows or raid gardens and subsist on a diet of carrots. Rabbits are not pets any rational person would choose to have, especially not someone who lives in an apartment. Rabbits, I would have told you with much certainty, are not for me.
I’m home alone in Echo Park when my boyfriend, Justin, calls me. “You won’t believe what just happened,” he says. “We have rabbits!”
He explains that he and his brother have just rescued two abandoned bunnies that were hopping around in traffic in the middle of a busy boulevard on the west side. (I will soon learn that Justin slows down for any stray dog and keeps a spare leash and a bag of dog food in the back of his car to lure wandering canines to safety.)
Deciding to shack up, and then moving across the country to do so, will reveal the fault lines in any relationship.
My immediate reaction to the bunnies is not generous. “No rabbits,” I tell him. This is a complication we certainly do not need.
Justin and I dated for a year and a half in New York before we moved to Los Angeles, just three months before he picks up the bunnies. We are doing our best to settle in, but things are not easy. He has never lived with a girlfriend before and I have, perhaps, tried living with too many boyfriends too quickly.
In many ways we are quite similar, sharing a host of strange interests and obsessions and a roundabout approach to becoming reasonable and responsible adults with stable careers. (I am a novelist, he an independent filmmaker turned television writer.) But deciding to shack up, and then moving across the country to do so, will reveal the fault lines in any relationship.
It takes Justin an hour to get home. He stops off at a cocktail bar — the only place nearby that’s still open — to pick up a carrot, because isn’t that what rabbits eat? Before he arrives, I’ve done my homework, researching rabbit rescues and local elementary schools where I can unload these creatures in the morning.
The rabbits are small, helpless and stunned. One has floppy ears. As we spend an hour watching them hop and hide, I realize that I’ve never really looked at a rabbit before. They — or at least ours — aren’t quite as elegant as the ones in picture books. They are goofy, with little disapproving mouths. Their back legs look as if they are wearing pantaloons or old-fashioned britches. Although they make me laugh, before I go to bed I swear that I will make sure that they leave tomorrow.
Two days later, it’s clear that Evander and Greedy Panda are here to stay. We named them, after all.
When the rabbits arrive, Justin and I both work at home in our hillside apartment. We’re already struggling with how to live and work together in the same not incredibly large place. Now we need to figure out how to make room for our bunnies.
Spend 30 seconds on any website devoted to “companion rabbits” and you will quickly learn that any well-cared-for “bun” (as rabbit people tend to call their pets) does not live in a hutch. A hutch is the equivalent of rabbit Attica, a torture chamber where their paws snag on the wire mesh floor, they grow depressed from lack of space and social interaction, and they can be scalded by their own urine.
Our rabbits will live inside. “Free range, cage free,” we joke. But once we discover how frequently people quip, “When are they going in the pot?” we end that bit of humor.
We install Evander and Greedy under the dining room table, putting rugs on the floor so they don’t skid on the linoleum and giving them each a hay bin and litter box. This works for a couple of months, until we find Evander up on the dining room table one too many times and start to worry that he will hurt himself. So we move the rabbits into our rather large bathroom.
At 32 years old, after many detours, I am working diligently to become more mature. I’ve enrolled in graduate school to become a better writer, and I finally have a boyfriend with whom I can foresee spending the rest of my life.
But now I find myself, in all seriousness, using phrases that are alarmingly regressive — “bun-bun,” “binky” (a rabbit’s joyful leap) and “rabbitat” — and I worry that instead of making inroads into the adult world, Justin and I are becoming ever so slightly deranged.
Our apartment smells vaguely of hay and perhaps, in places, a little bit of zoo. Unless we clean diligently, there is always an actual dust bunny (a ball of rabbit fur) tumbling down the hall or hiding in the corners. We play down the disruption the rabbits have brought to our home — the digging in the plants, the general disarray in the bathroom, the hay we find everywhere, the ecstatic spray of urine Greedy leaves on the television. We anger our neighbors (who in fact spend 85 percent of the year in Santa Fe, not Los Angeles) when we empty our soiled hay into the deserted ravine below their house.
One morning we find Greedy Panda listing in his bin. Rabbits are inscrutable and nonverbal. They don’t express pain or discomfort, so it’s hard to understand their wishes, to translate their silent language and, most important, to figure out what’s wrong.
Internet research yields dire possibilities. A broken bone is difficult to cure and will certainly result in permanent disability or death. He might have head tilt — a disastrous and often irreversible condition in which a rabbit’s head will twist all the way to one side. He might have a parasite or an infection. In fact, without extensive tests, it will be difficult to determine what ails Greedy.
During his illness, which is never fully explained, we realize the lengths to which we are willing to go for our pets. It’s not easy to medicate a bunny, to shoot a syringe full of liquid into its mouth and force-feed it every four hours. (A rabbit must eat every few hours or it will go into gastrointestinal distress and eventually die.)
I am unable to do this. Greedy’s jerking startles me too much and I’m afraid I will hurt him. But Justin is a natural, gentle and calm. He wraps the rabbit in a towel — a bunny burrito — and works the syringe into Greedy’s mouth. (Now, five years and many, many rabbit illnesses later, Justin is able to forgo the towel and simply cradle the rabbit in his arms.) I feel helpless as I watch, unable to minister to my sick bunny.
Greedy and Evander seem to be a loving pair — “husbuns,” we learn, is the common term for their relationship.
But it’s not long before I find my place in our rabbits’ world. When we travel for the holidays, I find a rabbit sitter (yes, I know) and rescuer named Cat who becomes the portal through which I begin to understand Greedy and Evander better. Cat answers all my late-night texts about our rabbits’ health and teaches me to decode their behavior. She and I become Facebook friends. Soon I’m spending an unreasonable amount of time reading her posts about rabbit rescue, rabbit care and rabbit abuse. She recommends a better vet — an exotic animal specialist.
While Justin handles the actual triage, I become the rabbits’ administrator and advocate, organizing their health care and signing a slew of anti-animal-cruelty petitions on their behalf. Soon I have several rabbit friends on Facebook. When I am anxious, tired or just hung over I spend time looking at pictures of bunnies or watching rabbit videos on YouTube. Images of rabbits become my Zen refuge.
Greedy and Evander seem to be a loving pair — “husbuns,” we learn, is the common term for their relationship. But six months after their arrival, they have an explosive fight.
At first we think that this, like everything else our rabbits do, is the cutest thing on earth. I’m away, and Justin sends me a video of our rabbits chasing each other all over the house, juke-stepping, leaping over each other, and shooting off large tufts of fur at one another — easily the most pathetic defense mechanism in the animal kingdom. But soon we realize they are fighting in earnest and that some serious damage, both physical and emotional, has been done.
The rabbits, much like us after moving in together, are having growing pains, forgetting their deep bond in favor of small antagonisms that get blown out of proportion — the petty grievances over stupid preferences and different domestic approaches that seem momentarily monumental. They have to be reconnected.
We put them in the bathtub together. We take them for long car rides in their carrier. We put vanilla on their foreheads — they like the taste — so they start to groom each other again. Soon our bunny sitter comments that she’s never seen such attached bunnies. And somehow, watching them as they seek out each other’s company and communicate in their silent language does something for the two of us as well.
Since we both work at home, things can get tense, but we learn that a quick visit to the rabbits can be strangely soothing, defusing any misplaced anger. Many times during the workday, Justin and I find each other at the rabbit pen, sharing a snack with the bunnies (they prefer plum and banana) or just watching them go about their rabbit business.
Without quite realizing it, we have settled into our life in Los Angeles. We have settled into our lives together. We have learned to relate to each other by learning to relate to these creatures that are small but powerful.
A year after Justin brings Evander and Greedy Panda into our lives, he proposes to me in the hallway in front of the rabbits. He says that the rabbits’ love is a model to emulate. He writes comedy, but he’s only half-joking.