How Ms. Pete Won Our Hearts

What a quizzical name with its gender disparity. But, yes that was the name of our black Rex bunny, whose tenacity to not give up on us won a place in our hearts forever. It all began on Good Friday, 1993, when my wife, Marilyn, having coffee in the kitchen nook, glanced out on the patio to see something black approaching. It was early morning, and sure enough a black bunny was hopping along the edge of our patio near some newly planted shrubs. How appropriate to have a rabbit visiting us just before Easter! We wondered whose pet it was. At this time in our lives, we knew absolutely nothing about rabbits, didn’t have children, and felt the last thing we needed in our busy two-career schedules was a pet. So we watched with fascination as the little guy explored our backyard and hopped off into the distance, thinking we’d never see him again.

A few days later, we discovered the black bunny again in our yard, lounging under bushes and helping himself to our beautiful rose petals. Marilyn and I went out to try and stop this nonsense and discovered a nicely built rabbit-run along the back of our fence, with exit tunnels to our neighbor’s yard. We had worked so hard getting our yard in order, fighting snails, gophers, and other pests. There was no way we would allow this guy (as cute as he was) to wreak havoc on our plants. We tried to shoo him away, but he only looked at us as if to say, “Why don’t you just chill out.”

Marilyn was perplexed. Later that day I spoke with a neighbor and learned that our new tenant was an outcast from a neighboring home down the hill. They had moved and abandoned the bunny. We felt sorry for the little guy and thought we’d let him live in our yard, provided we could contain his delight with eating our rose bushes. We named him Pete.

Throughout the summer, Pete would visit us regularly and spend most of his daylight hours lying in the backyard. After a while, we got used to him; and he, to us. We began to observe Pete more closely and became concerned when we’d see him roll over on his side from a normal standing position, as if convulsing. Was he injured, or did he have some neurological disorder? We later learned this behavior was actually a “body smile” in bunny language. Marilyn grew close to Pete during the summer, feeding him regularly. I remember her excitement when she came in to tell me Pete had let her pet him. Later I also got to pet him while working in the garden where he made his daytime home. My admiration for Pete had grown immensely, as I watched him fend for himself but never giving up on us as his potential caretakers. Marilyn also shared my feelings and began investigating more about rabbits. As the summer drew to a close, we wondered what would happen when the winter rains approached. Marilyn’s research revealed that domestic rabbits don’t fare well in the wild or with inclement weather conditions.

Garden Rabbit to House Rabbit

We made plans to rescue Pete using a pet carrier. This would be Marilyn’s first pet, and excitement, tempered with apprehension, prevailed. Winter, 1993, arrived early, with three days of very cold rains preceding Veterans Day, November 11. During four days that week, Pete did not show up in our yard. I constantly looked for him during my daily jogs in the neighborhood. We were very concerned and thought he had succumbed to the weather. Each day we’d search the yard for Pete, hoping he’d come back. Finally, after four days, he reappeared in the cold, wet grass, standing in light shining from the kitchen window. He was wet, shaking, and looked desperate. We swung into action. Marilyn grabbed the apple-chips treat, and I grabbed the pet carrier. We sprinkled apple chips in the entrance to the carrier. Pete hopped inside to get them. I quickly closed the door. Finally, we got him! With great relief we went into the house with a frightened, cold bunny. After towel-drying him, we took him to a local veterinarian and left him overnight for blood tests and to check for neurological problems regarding his “rolling-over condition.”

We made a little home in our laundry room for Pete and went back to the vet’s the next morning. To our surprise we learned that Pete was not a he but a she! So we renamed him/her “Ms” Pete. With a healthy rabbit and an appropriate name, we returned home. This marked the beginning of a very loving and cherished relationship. Ms Pete’s living accommodations were quickly upgraded from laundry room to her own bedroom. After all, a girl needs her privacy. Soon the gate to her room came down, and she had full run of the house. She earned her freedom by quickly using litter boxes. We soon got accustomed to her frequent “body smiles” and often joked about how we’d misinterpreted them as convulsive behavior. By now Marilyn had joined the House Rabbit Society. We thoroughly absorbed all information printed on living with a house rabbit.

As time passed, Ms Pete not only won our hearts but also the affection of neighbors and friends. She loved attention and would run around the house, investigating things as we watched. Marilyn and I loved Ms Pete so much. Anytime we were away, we’d worry about her. Friends would tell us laughingly that when they died, they wanted to come back as our bunny.

From House to Condo

The years sped by, and Ms Pete continued to remain a central focus in our family. We sold our house and moved to a condo. Ms Pete adjusted nicely. She staked out her bedroom, and of course we accommodated her wishes. She quickly learned our routine in the condo and would effectively position herself at the right place to get attention whenever she wanted petting and loving.

Marilyn had now retired and was able to be home with Ms Pete during the day. They grew very close, and Marilyn lavished time and love on Ms Pete, who returned the love many times over with her purring (grinding of teeth), licking, and body smiles to communicate her love and appreciation. Even her yawns were cute–mouth wide open, that little pink tongue and teeth exposed. We just couldn’t get enough of it. Fascinated by her many poses, we labeled each of them. To express her happiness, contentment, and love, Ms Pete vigorously licked anything and everything available, especially while being petted-the towel she was laying on, our hands, the litter box rim, herself, a chair leg, anything her tongue could reach and lick-all in her fury to tell us she liked what was happening right then and there! Her little pink tongue was dry, soft, and velvet to the touch.

During the years Ms Pete was with us, she had remarkably good health. It was such a shock, when in early November, 1998, she suddenly developed an infection and passed away. A week before she died, I recall getting ready to run out the door early that morning for work. But there was Ms Pete, beside my chair, where she routinely lay waiting be petted. I said to myself, “Why now Ms Pete??” I was in a hurry. Needless to say, I spent time petting her and giving her love and affection. I’m glad I did that and have reflected back on the moment many times since her death. Most importantly, our relationship with Ms Pete has not only nurtured our lives but also taught us many things. Rabbits by their nature are gentle, kind, and humble creatures. These virtues are refreshing in a world that is often marred with cruel and senseless pain. Ms Pete shared these virtues with us during her stay, and I remember them often since her death. She has also made us aware of the rich and unconditional love that animals can add to our lives. My mother-in-law has a sign in her home that says

Yesterday is gone forever;
Tomorrow may never come;
Today is in my hands.

Ms Pete enjoyed every moment, each day, and taught us the same. I thank you, Ms Pete, for not giving up on us when we first met and for all the richness you added to our lives. God bless!

Dick and Marilyn Bottom

House Rabbit Journal Winter 2000: Volume IV, Number 2