Changing Roles

Ethan’s frail little body wobbles down the length of the run. Buster greets him with a bow and thrusts his nose under Ethan’s chin. Luke does likewise. At eleven years old, Ethan maintains his position of chief rabbit, though he has never fought a battle in his life, except for the current one–with cancer.

How does a small benevolent rabbit become a leader? Since rabbit society has changed, perhaps the qualifications for their community roles have changed. We’ve had marvelous nurses, both male and female, as well as sentinels, receptionists, and entertainers. I’ve never understood how their roles evolved.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a talk by Margo DeMello. She brought material from Stories Rabbits Tell and explained that during the course of history, some of the early wild rabbits, who retained their infantile fearlessness and curiosity (neoteny), came into contact with humans. These were the rabbits who became “domesticated.” But it wasn’t until rabbits were released from the burden of reproduction (i.e. the spayed/ neutered rabbits in our homes) that many other traits began to manifest themselves.

This is where I feel excitement and anticipation, even though I’ve been fostering for over 21 years. Our house rabbits, without the pressure of mere survival, are free to be individuals and to develop themselves within their own generation-often to our surprise. I am still getting acquainted with the bunnies in my house, whether they arrived recently or have been here a long time. As they process their own experiences and create their own role in the community, I never know what yet undiscovered trait may flower.

By Marinell Harriman

House Rabbit Journal Summer/Fall 2007: Volume V, Number 2