Palmer and the Magic Box

If a legend is a person about whom a popular story is told, then Palmer Holt fits the description. Before I knew his name or what he looked like, I heard about Palmer through his pet sitter, who works at my veterinary hospital. And I continued to hear Palmer’s story, the legend, even after I met him.The legend goes like this. Once there was a rabbit who so loved his human, and was so loved by her, that when she went away from him, he despaired and ceased to want life. Human beloved, prevented from returning to her rabbit’s side, desperately sought a way to comfort him. By magic, her words were recorded in a box, and the box sent by messenger to where beloved rabbit lay. Hearing the voice of his beloved, the rabbit rose up from despair, put away thoughts of death, and waited patiently for his human’s return.

This is how I came to meet the legend.

Super Crown Books in Santa Monica had invited HRS for the day, to display homeless rabbits for adoption. Arriving early to set up the adoption day, I was stopped by a woman who asked if I was with the House Rabbit Society. When I said yes, she fought back tears. She said her rabbit was sick, and she had to leave town, and there was no one to give him the kind of care he needed. To my surprise she began to tell me the story—the story I already knew. The last time Shannon went out of town, Palmer, although healthy when she left, stopped eating, and was hospitalized. Shannon made a tape over the phone and a friend took it to the hospital where Palmer lay unresponsive, hooked up to an IV line. Hearing Shannon’s voice, Palmer began to groom himself and recovered.

Now Palmer was in trouble again. At ten years old he had developed a tumor in his hind leg, and the leg had been removed to save his life. Palmer had been weak before the surgery, and the surgery had taken his remaining strength away. He couldn’t stand up and was eating very little. At this delicate moment, Shannon had been called out of town for 4 weeks, and was leaving in a few days. I told her I would think of something.

Thanks to Andrea Leonard, Pam Barrows and the other L.A. chapter volunteers, I was able to make room and time for Palmer in my foster home while Shannon was away. I hoped my experience with disabled rabbits and my sympathy for Palmer would help me care for him and I was ready to do whatever it took. Besides, I had part of the legend: the magic box, recorded by Shannon before she left.

Like many of us, Shannon over the years has developed a funny voice for talking to Palmer, what is often called baby talk. After listening to her tape many times, I would say it’s more of a language, a funny voice yes, but one based on words and tones that Palmer responds to. Shannon makes her voice high and drops it down now and then. Certain words have become sounds, and sentences (describing Palmer’s life as king of the forest) are punctuated with clicking and kissing sounds. Does it work? No question. Play the tape, and up come Palmer’s ears. Stressed from your bath, or from trying to walk on three legs? Take a break, and listen to your tape. Breathing slows. Energy is conserved.

Shannon says Palmer has listened to music all his life—jazz, classical and primitive—and will move to a position between the speakers, vibrating his teeth with pleasure. In her home, morning begins with a recording of natural sounds: wind, water, birds. In Palmer’s active days, clapping and silly talk would elicit running and dancing.

As for L.A.’s adoption day… little did Shannon know the outcome of her visit would be to adopt. While Palmer was with me, I thought about the possibility of a rabbit friend for him. That way, if Shannon had to leave again, Palmer wouldn’t be alone. A rabbit named Patrick, found running loose in a park and sheltered by the Glendale Humane Society, arrived in my foster home around the same time as Palmer. I introduced them carefully, and they liked each other right away. When Shannon came back, two handsome boys went home with her. One with a second chance at a life, and the other, king of the forest and subject of legend.

Palmer’s days are filled with sounds—jazz and classical music, recordings of wind and birds—but his favorites are the spoken words from his special human.

Holly O’Meara

House Rabbit Journal Spring 1997: Volume III, Number 9