I can see most of the back garden when I sit at the dining table. A typical suburban back garden of a woman who has rabbits. Ramshackle hutches, makeshift fences, various piles of wet hay and straw. A wheelie bin for green waste abandoned due to a week's worth of Wintery storms.
Every now and then a white flash, a flop of ears, a leap of joy or a startled bolt. Four of my five rabbits get the back garden to themselves. The doors of their hutches thrown open to the weekend and the chance to expand their horizons and their muscles.
You can keep your crazy cat woman stereo type
I've upped the ante
A year ago I didn't have rabbits. My grand daughter, Tandia, had a rabbit. His name was, and continues to be, Charlie.
Charlie is a humble French lop. He is white with blue eyes. He's one of the best bunnies I've ever met. He knows his name; he tolerates a good snuggle; he gets on well with the other pets of the household most especially our Jack Russell terrier Bailey who likes to chase Charlie around the backyard. Charlie loves a good run, and teases Bailey with his speed and agility. Sometimes we find the cats grooming Charlie, sometimes Charlie grooms Bailey. We're all one happy family.
One day we noticed a black rabbit in our garden. We assumed the rabbit had escaped a pet enclosure somewhere in the neighbourhood, so captured the black rabbit and put it into Charlie's hutch. He was pretty happy to have another rabbit to play with. We made posters and placed them around the neighbourhood but no one claimed the black rabbit.
After a few days she was gone. She had dug through the night and burrowed out of the hutch. We saw her often in the coming weeks. She lived on the front yards and grass verges of her neighbourhood. She was a streetwise bunny. People would often stop and say "Did you know there is a rabbit over there?" and I would tell them the sorry of the homeless black rabbit.
I worried for the rabbit. On a few occasions, I noticed small white and tan bunnies in the back corner of the garden. There were also a few reports of baby bunnies being found dead in neighbourhood yards, and I thought it would only be a matter of time until a dog saw to the end of the roaming black rabbit too. The worry and the rough living rabbit went on for a few months until one night my daughter decided to recapture the black rabbit and reunite her with Charlie.
A couple of days after we reunited the rabbits, my daughter came running into the house, breathlessly announcing she'd seen baby bunnies in the back garden. My childhood bird catching practices with boxes, sticks and string finally paid off and we managed to capture the six tiny bunny rabbits. It didn't take a DNA test to see who the parents of this hungry little band of bunnies was as they were all black, white, black and white, lops - and Charlie was the only lop in the neighbourhood.
We brought the bunnies inside and they took over the dining room I now sit in to watch their grown up frolics. Oh we gave four away and kept two, as well as the black rabbit, and also recently adopted a third French blue eyed lop.
So I have four females and one neutered male rabbit. Lady, Bella, Snowflake, Mops, and Charlie.
Lessons from a rabbit obsessive
Just like people don't just get on with people because they're people, rabbits don't just get on with each other because they're rabbits. Charlie and Bella live happily in one hutch while Lady, Snowflake, and Mops live together in the other.
In the weekends I let all but Bella out for a run around the back garden. Poor old Bella has to watch all these white lops tear about the grass while she's still in her run. She's still a fairly wild rabbit and I have grave doubts of my ability to get her back into her cage at the end of the day and the last thing this neighbourhood needs is a fertile rabbit on the loose again.
Sometimes I sit inside the hutch run so they can get used to me. They're curious but wary creatures. They nibble at my jeans and clamber over my legs. Sometimes they lick my hand or scratch at my top. But mostly they're not interested in a close relationship with me. They tolerate my presence, but are very clear to let me know when it is no longer required with a firm thump of their hind legs and a flick of dirt across my shoes.
They are such characters, these bunnies. They're smart and agile and full of beans. They're also a lot of work and do a ton of damage to the back garden. They still dig holes and eat the grass to nothing. They chew at the bark on the lemon tree and I guess it's just a matter of time until it gives up the ghost. They eat all the guavas and feijoas that fall so we've not had the fruit to make any jelly or jam this year. They eat the rose petals and the bread we throw out to the birds. They also chomp their way through bales of hay we buy in from the farmers in South Auckland. They also love the high calorie pellets that supplement the deep green silver beet and other greens of their diet. Charlie loves bananas and will eat them skins and all. he gets those as a treat as well as apples, carrots, and parsley about once a week.
These five bunnies are well feed and, I hope, pretty happy as rabbits can be. I'm sure they're rather be free but they're safer here in these ramshackle accommodations, being overfed by a benevolent giant.