Warming up to a surprise pet

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rabbit

When I tell folks our new house in town came with a bunny, they assume I mean a wild rabbit living in the yard. In fact, I mean a domesticated pet bunny who lives in a hutch in the tiny red barn behind the house. He belonged to one of the former owners’ children, who got him to show for 4-H, but had outgrown the hobby. Our kids are the perfect age for a cute pet, “And it’s good for them to have the responsibility,” I reasoned, so the bunny stayed.

There were two problems with this idea. One, because my kids didn’t actually ask for the bunny, convincing them they should be responsible for him once we moved in was a tough sell. Second, with the short days, it’s barely light when they leave for school, and even darker when they get home.  Plus, they are both still a little too short to open the top of the hutch easily. So I’d send them out together with a flashlight. One would hold the water and the light, and the other would open the hutch and put in the food. It was a two-minute job that took half an hour when you included all the lamenting and foot-dragging and somewhat legitimate frustrations that accompanied it every evening. I’m a big proponent of choosing your battles when it comes to parenting (or all of life, really) and consequently, I now have a pet bunny.

He was shy at first, but after discovering I always arrive with snacks, he soon began hopping over to greet me whenever I came into the barn. He likes when I scratch behind his silky black ears, and he observes me with appreciation when I scoop out the pile of tiny poop pellets he neatly leaves in one corner of the hutch.

Do I think he would be gone in one instant if I were to set him on the ground? Yes, without a doubt. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t forging a meaningful relationship in our way. It may have some elements of Stockholm Syndrome, but he depends on me, and I take that seriously.

The day after Christmas, it decided to rain and then snow and then rain some more. That night, the wind also came up and the temperature dropped, sending the freezing rain soaring sideways, encasing the north and west sides of every structure, plant, or tree in a solid inch of ice. The sun rose, and the whole world gleamed brilliantly. Our yard, the steps, the gravel driveway were as slick as the most well-groomed of hockey arenas.

The kids were ecstatic. They’d been disappointed about not having a white Christmas, but having a whole yard skating rink more than made up for that affront. I was a little less excited. “Come slide with us!” They exclaimed as they put on their snow pants.

“I’m not sure, it’s a little harder on grown-ups than kids when we fall…” I told them.

“Why?” My daughter asked, head cocked. “You have so much more padding…”

And then I remembered my bunny. So, while the kids tumbled across the ice–laughing with joy the whole time–I attempted to NOT tumble as I crossed the yard, a few carrots coins in one hand and a plastic water jug in the other.

I made it halfway before turning back. I am devoted to that bunny, but I am more devoted to my bones remaining unbroken. Later in the afternoon, the temperature above freezing, I tried again, and with a lot of effort was able to crunch through the ice to the snow beneath.

Dear Reader, I wish that were the end of the story. But as I sit here typing, two days later, I am realizing that I have not fed or watered the bunny yet today. It’s past dark, and the ice that has been melting and refreezing every day since the storm is surely a sheet of ice once again. Will I make it across the ice unscathed this time? Tune in next week to find out, and Happy New Year!

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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.

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