Herman: The House Supervisor

BARGING INTO OUR lives uninvited, Herman changed everything we ever thought about rabbits. With a manner that was smug and complacent and intelligence that rivaled a dog’s, she took over our house and never gave it back.

Herman spent two years with us before a rare appendix problem took her life. We wish it could have been longer, but the pleasure she gave us in those two years is still with us.

As you may have guessed, we thought she was a he when we first found her in the backyard, but by the time we discovered our error, she came when she was called and knew her name as Herman.

Fourteen pleasing pounds at maturity, she was big in every wayside, character, personality and heart. She carried an enormous dewlap under her chin, and one ear sort of lopped. Her legs were too short for her large, stocky body, but so what? To us she was beautiful.

She had the run of the house and access to a small porch but, most of the time, preferred the comfort and luxury of life indoors. She never required a dark, quiet corner for daytime rest but stayed at my feet as I worked in my studio.

Her sense of propriety was startling. Of course there was only one right way to pick her up, but she also knew how the furniture should be arranged and where things should be placed. This trait made box training a snap. She trained herself even before I knew it was possible to house-break a rabbit. She found a good place for her litter box under the kitchen window. This was very convenient for me. With a Pooper Scooper, I could toss the droppings out the window into the vegetable garden below.

She was confined to the kitchen at first but gradually took on the whole house. For chewing control, we did a bunny-proofing job on our house and offered plenty of alternatives. We tried to keep her out of our bedroom, but she was very persistent.

We had to adjust to having our faces licked every ten minutes all through the night.”

By six months old, she would sneak into the bedroom and become so exhilarated over her victory that she would turn our bed into a trampoline, We were so amused that we let her have it during the day. We continued to put her in the kitchen at night while she continued to insist on sleeping with us. It took another six months before she won. We had to adjust to having our faces licked every ten minutes all through the night. It did occur to me to turn over, but I’d usually find that she was standing on my hair and had me pinned to the pillow. We finally got used to it. To any accusation that Bob and I have something missing in our relationship with each other, I can only say that Herman always moved herself discreetly to the foot of the bed at the appropriate times. She was no dumb bunny.


Her propriety showed in fairness to Bob. When it was the correct time for him to pet her, she would lick his hand then shove her head under it. I can’t claim she counted, but after a given number of strokes, it was her turn to lick him again.

In seeing that things were properly done, she supervised all household activities, whether it was fixing the washer or sorting out magazines, and left the distinct impression of evaluating all.

Propriety could also be mixed with playfulness, as she would grab a magazine or newspaper out of our hands and run off with it. After a few times chasing her around the room we realized it was the attention she wanted, not the paper, and she knew how to get what she wanted. “You cheat,” I often told her. “You manipulate me with your charms, and it’s not fair!”

At times she was downright sneaky, but her guilt was revealed by her tail. I could walk by her without realizing that she had pulled a book out of the bookcase, until I saw her tail switching defiantly.

Some behavior may never be explained. One incident involved our cat, Nice, who was engaged in the not-so-nice activity of torturing a mouse. She would turn the mouse loose and let it almost get away, then pounce on it just before it was out of sight. Herman observed this demonstration and thumped her foot in protest. When the protest was ignored, Herman attacked the cat from behind and knocked her off her feet, allowing the mouse to escape. I had mixed emotions over the episode. A minute before, I was pitying the mouse. Now I was concerned over it being loose in the house. Then I pitied Nice for not knowing what on earth had provoked that attack from Herman. Then I began to wonder what had gone on in Herman’s little head. Why had she protected a mouse? Do animals preyed upon feel an alliance against predators? This is something I will probably never know.

The whole family used Herman for stress reduction, and at times I even questioned the idea of pets being child substitutes. Sometimes our roles were switched, and she was a parent (or grandparent). She didn’t really wipe away tears with her apron, but she could certainly soothe and comfort us and assure us that things were okay.

Having her with me at all times in my home office/studio seemed the natural way to conduct my business. She had added such a new dimension to my life that I felt I had grown an extra limb. When I lost her, I may have been less of a freak, but I felt like an amputee.

I must confess also to a psychological bondage. We took her with us in our heads to many places where one would not expect to find a rabbit. A dinner-party guest, seated next to one of us, was usually unprepared for the conversation. “Oh, you haven’t heard of our wonderful rabbit? Well, let me tell you. . .”

©Copyright Marinell Harriman. All Rights Reserved. Republished with the permission of the author.

Herman: The House Supervisor was originally published in House Rabbit Handbook (1st ed. 1985)

  • Marinell Harriman

    Marinell Harriman is the author of The House Rabbit Handbook. Over the past 35 years she has fostered and rescued hundreds of rabbits. She has published numerous articles on house rabbit philosophy, care, and behavior. She has a special place in her heart for disabled and special needs rabbits.

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