This is the story of how a small homeless rabbit took over our law office. As an apartment-dweller and attorney, I don’t have much daily contact with wildlife other than my three cats, the squirrels in the park, and the rats and pigeons in the alley. I’ve always loved animals of all types, though, and fortunately I work for another attorney named Dean who shares this passion. Instead of diplomas and press clippings about our big cases, photographs and prints of birds, bears, cats, wolves, and other assorted wildlife adorn our office walls.
Nonetheless, as a small but successful personal injury law practice, we take our work and the professionalism of our office environment seriously. Even I was surprised when one day Dean consented to my joking suggestion that we adopt a rabbit to live in the office. Neither of us had the slightest idea what we were getting into, but within ten minutes I had located a rabbit which was available for adoption through the local Washington (D.C.) Humane Society, and seconds later I was out the door on my way to see him. He was a white and brown mini lop-eared rabbit, and I fell in love the instant I laid eyes on him. Minutes later I was filling out the papers to apply for his adoption. He seemed more like a “bunny” than a “rabbit,” and I have always called him Buns, though his official name is “Justice.”
Buns had had his share of problems. He had grown to adulthood without ever having been handled or well cared for. The humane society confiscated him from a local department store, where he had been kept in a cramped, filthy glass aquarium. His coat was so matted and soiled that even a bath had only partially removed the dense tangles and unsightly stains on his underside, legs, and feet. Both of his eyes were weepy and infected. He was unaccustomed to being handled and tried to bite me twice when I attempted to pick him up, though he did let me scratch his velvety brown nose.
I knew that adopting Buns would require much more effort than buying a healthy young rabbit from a breeder, but the humane society had done all they could do to find him a home, and he was scheduled to be euthanized shortly. When I saw that the animal control officer who rescued him made the note “very sad-looking rabbit” on his record, I knew we had to try to give Buns a better life. I already considered him my responsibility, and, anyway, I was crazy about him.
I was entirely straightforward about telling the humane society that Buns would be living in an office, but I hastened to add that this was where most of our waking hours were spent and that he would have plenty of company. Dean and I awaited the interview to see if we would be fit human caretakers for Buns as nervously as we might anticipate an important hearing. Fortunately, Michelle, the humane society employee who had worked to rehabilitate Buns, was delighted with our work environment, which is sunny, quiet, and cheerful, and we started to prepare for his arrival. One corner of my office became occupied by a large wire cage fitted with food and water dishes, toys, bunny treats, and a box filled with alfalfa.
Buns arrived the following day and immediately took command of the office. He proved remarkably responsive and intelligent, though Dean protested when I described him as “brilliant” for learning to use his litterbox within hours. Buns craves freedom, which is entirely understandable to us, particularly since he probably grew to adulthood constantly confined in tiny cages. We try to be respectful of his freedom and only confine him for his own protection when we are away from the office or when we have a visitor who may not appreciate his company. Occasionally he has outbursts, which one book on rabbits aptly refers to as “bunny explosions,” during which he races madly around the office with his ears sticking straight out.
The paper chase
He also has an amusing, if occasionally inconvenient, penchant for seizing pieces of paper, including pleadings and memoranda, and racing around with them. We no longer leave important papers within Buns’ territory, but Dean likes to clip particularly appropriate ads and cartoons for him to carry about. I have also learned to immediately save any document in progress on my computer when he leaps into my lap, as this usually precedes a mad scramble over the computer keyboard. In general, though, Buns has adapted remarkably well to the office routine, and after a few exploratory adventures, he usually stretches out to sleep beside my chair or under Dean’s desk.
Unfortunately, Buns’ health has been precarious, and the poor creature has required treatment for fur mites, ear mites, malocclusion, and his eye infection. It makes me furious that a department store would mistreat and ruin an animal in this manner. I was told by the humane society personnel that many stores sell animals just to get customers to buy the more profitable pet equipment: cages, bedding, litter, food, and other accessories. To the store it really doesn’t matter if the animals live or die–they are just a “hook” to attract customers.
Finally, after months of veterinary visits, antibiotics, clipping and washing, Buns is in stable condition. At present he is active, fluffy, shiny, and healthy-looking. Whether he will ultimately survive his underlying infection and dental problems remains to be seen, but we are giving him a fighting chance.
The just cause
In the wild, animals must find a niche where they can survive, and it is no different with domesticated animals. If they fail to find a home where they are loved and cared for, the result is most often tragic neglect or abandonment. I hate to think of the many rabbits and other animals humane societies are unable to place, and of those others who aren’t even lucky enough to be spared a painful death following prolonged abuse and neglect.
The suffering of rabbits is particularly poignant because a rabbit is mute — it has little voice to cry out in pain and frustration. Perhaps this is why rabbits are favored as laboratory animals. However, as one author said in discussing the basic rights of animals, the question is not whether they can think, but whether they can suffer. Even a five-pound rabbit is a vital and responsive creature full of longing and curiosity. It repays care, respect, and a reasonable degree of freedom with its contentment and affection. Absent these basic necessities it can suffer immeasurably. I hope that all of us can discourage breeders and pet stores from producing unwanted animals and encourage all dealers in animals to ensure that humane treatment is a prerequisite to their custody, not a haphazard fringe benefit.
Despite all the work and expense involved in adopting Buns, he has paid us back a thousand times in the comfort, amusement, and affection he provides. He delights us as well as our visitors and clients.
This is one law office that will never be without a rabbit.
Elizabeth A. Karasik
House Rabbit Journal Volume III, Number 3, Summer/Fall 1994