The first time I chased a bunny was a half-hearted, stooping, grasping reach for Fern, our new doe. I wanted to hold her and pet her soft fur, but she kept hopping away from me. I followed her around the porch for a while until I finally gave up and settled for sitting down and watching her munch on an apple. Lately, chases have gotten more serious. I have cuts on my hands, bruises on my feet, and a significantly deforested cedar hedge. We have fourteen baby bunnies from two litters, and one little white bunny that has escaped the enclosure on three separate occasions—and so far only been recaptured twice.
Our rabbits live in an absolutely beautiful enclosure along the cedar hedge that borders our little parcel here in Craftsbury. They have a raised wire cage full of delicious hay, as many pellets as they can eat, and fresh water. The cage is roofed with steel, complete with overhangs, drip edge, and fascia boards. It is by far the nicest bunny house I have ever seen. The house sits inside a generous fenced enclosure, with grass to munch on and places to play in the stacks of hay underneath the house. Our doe, Fern, has free range of the place—she goes up and down the ramp, along the catwalk (or bunnywalk), up on top of the cage into the loft area, and up to the gate whenever we enter to see what sort of treat we brought. The buck, Bruce, unfortunately has to remain caged. His relentless sex drive necessitates separation from Fern. He seems to have accepted his lot and embraced a Zen lifestyle: he sits impassively, meditatively chewing or dozing. Fern visits often, lying beside him or touching noses. She likes knowing that her guy is there.
Fern has produced three lovely litters of “kits”. The first, a surprise, was discovered in early Spring in Vermont (read: Winter), when Fern and Bruce lived on our porch. She made a nest in a bale of hay, and while we were away on vacation, our house-sitter accidentally let Bruce out of his hutch for a few minutes. That’s all it took. There were seven babies—three albinos just like Bruce, and four brown just like Fern. We constructed an outdoor enclosure one weekend, eager to get the growing, pooping, peeing herd of rabbits off our porch and out of doors. Once their new home was ready, we got to practice our first serious rabbit-catching.
Rabbits are very difficult to catch. They are remarkably quick, can leap quite high, and can change directions faster than a human can think. They start practicing their evasive techniques from a very early age—darting back and forth, popping up, zigging and zagging, tearing across open space and then stopping to listen and munch on something. My wife and I had a heck of a time catching those seven, but eventually we set up an obstruction in the corner of the porch, chased them to the corner, and trapped them. Even then, they slipped through our hands, jumped over our grasps, and tore back across the porch. I dropped the first couple that I did manage to catch, not knowing how to hold it, worried I would do damage with a tight grip. They trembled in our arms once we had them, their little hearts racing, eyes wide. But they loved their new spot, and as soon as their paws touched earth they started nibbling on grass. The last two rabbits standing were both white, and both made some miraculous escapes before being finally caught and brought outside with the rest. My heart got going pretty good too. The great thrill of the hunt, I suppose.
We put the bunnies to bed in their new home, said goodnight, and went in through our quiet, torn-up porch. When I woke up in the morning, I came out to the kitchen and looked out the window towards the hutch, and outside the fence were three or four rabbits, hopping along, nibbling at grass. It was 5:45am and I was supposed to be getting ready for work, but being a good bunny farmer I woke up my wife and together we wrangled the rabbits. They were still young enough to be caught. The grass and weeds hadn’t grown up thick in the cedar hedge so they had little cover, and the two of us were able to outsmart and outrun and grab every single escapee. We threw in the first of many stopgap measures for bunny-proofing the enclosure: a series of boards stood on edge around the entire perimeter of the fence. I was late for work that day, and so began a recurring story for my colleagues: how many bunnies had escaped last night, how we caught them, and then, the usual discussion of how we were going to kill them and if we’d really do it. After a few chases, my wife and I agreed that we would have no trouble sending the bunnies to the other side. I had an indignant emotional reaction to their escapes: “after all that I’ve done for you?!?! This is how you repay me?!?”.
Eventually, with much added wire and wood, the fence became more secure; meanwhile the rabbits got bigger and couldn’t easily squeeze through the holes. Escapes became but a memory, and we enjoyed feeding our bunnies snacks and watching them grow until finally they started to hump each other and bother Fern, and we decided it was time for processing.
Fern’s next litter was also a bit of a surprise. We’d bred her (Bruce made an uncertain descent from his open cage, took a few exploratory runs in the yard, found Fern, and engaged in furious copulation, after which both rabbits tipped over to one side), and thirty days later we saw no signs of babies. We thought that she had looked pregnant, and that perhaps she’d had a miscarriage. Another couple of weeks went by, and one night when I was feeding Bruce, Fern was there on the bunnywalk, eagerly shoving her way into the cage. I thought “well okay Fern, go ahead. Maybe it’s for the best”, and watched her go in and mingle with Bruce. I shut off my headlamp to allow them some privacy, and listened to their scuffling. They made their unique little social sounds—soft, high-pitched grunts—and then there was a clear staccato rhythm that rattled the cage, at which point I turned my lamp back on and said “everything okay in there Ferny?”. Eventually she made her way out, with Bruce hot in pursuit, at which point I intervened, detained Bruce, and shut him back in his cage. “Good boy, Brucey,” I said.
A week or so later, we spotted a good-sized baby bunny coming up out of a burrow in the back of the pen. First a single white one, then another, then a brown one, and eventually a full litter of six kits: three white like Bruce, three brown like Fern, and three weeks old: right on schedule. We were overjoyed, effusive in our apologies to Fern for having doubted her, and amazed at her ability to dig a burrow, make a nest, and keep it covered up for all that time—only digging it out to nurse her little ones when nobody was watching.
One morning I remember waking up, walking out to the kitchen, looking out the window, and seeing the distinctive bright white of a bunny on the wrong side of the fence. Again, I had to awaken my sleeping wife, and together, with an attitude more full of grim purpose than humor, we worked to track down the escapees. I think there were three: two whites and one brown. Somehow, the brown was again easier to catch. Perhaps it’s our imagination, but the brown bunnies seem more docile and friendly—like Fern—while the albino rabbits seem more aggressive, like Bruce. We found a few more gaps in the fence that we hadn’t quite filled, and I began weaving strips of cedar, like a huge basket, in and out of the lower courses of wire fencing. This would surely hold them.
For the most part, it did. Five of the six bunnies happily settled down to a life of luxury inside their fence, but one rabbit did not. One white rabbit continued to escape. Each morning I would wake up, grab my water bottle and phone from my bedside table, and groggily pad out to the kitchen, where I would set my things on the counter, and through bleary eyes, peer out the window into the early morning light. Too often, I would spot a blotch of white. I’d take off my glasses, rub my eyes, and squint out again, hoping I’d been mistaken. Too often, there he was: a white rabbit nibbling away with glee at the clover outside of the fence, moving around without a care in the world.
With another litter on the way, we separated the six from Fern so that she could focus on birthing and nursing the next batch. We joined together two of the wire cages and put the six bunnies inside, leaving just Fern to freely roam the enclosure.
Naturally, the sight of six bunnies cooped up in a little cage made me sad, despite the fact that, as my wife pointed out, they had way more space than rabbits in a typical meat rabbitry. Nevertheless, I decided that they needed a mobile grazing enclosure, or “bunny tractor”. I built one out of wood and placed the six bunnies out on evenings when I would be outside for some supervised play. They loved it! They got right to munching on grass, and got to stretch their legs, and they saved me a very, very small amount of lawn-mowing. Naturally, the white one escaped. I don’t know if he jumped over or tunneled under or what, but when I looked up from stacking wood, there was the white rabbit bouncing around the yard again.
After a couple of unsuccessful chases around the pen, I put the rest of the bunnies back in their cage and returned to stacking wood in the yard. I watched him over the stacks of wood, browsing around in the cedar hedge, coming up close to the pen, taunting his captive brothers and sisters, and hopping away. I kept on stacking wood as dusk settled in the yard, and I could hardly make out his little bright-white body. He moved closer to the pen, seeming more and more interested in getting back inside. I removed a few of the cedar slats where he’d been probing, and sure enough, after I retreated behind the woodpile, he slipped back inside to snuggle up with Mom. “I’ve got you now!” I exclaimed. With lightning-quick hands I slid the cedar slats back through the fence; I grabbed a cinder block from the fire pit, let myself into the enclosure, and as the white bunny danced back and forth in surprise, I planted the block over the mouth of the old burrow—knowing that he’d dive down if he could. He was trapped now, and as I closed in to grab him and put him back in his wire cage, he zigged and zagged furiously. “Where are you gonna go?” I asked, as I backed him into the corner. Just as I neared to make the final grab, he turned and leapt into the air, sailing above the cedar slats I’d woven into the fence, and began wriggling through a hole in the fence a good 18” off the ground. I lunged and grabbed hold of his hind legs, hauling him back through the fence. He screamed bloody murder into my face: “Eeee!! Eeeee!! Eee!!” he yelled—a truly awful sound. I did not comfort him. I held him on his back and stared him down and said “That’s right! That’s right,” and, shoving him back into his cage, “This is your f***ing home now!”. I stalked out, heart racing, and immediately felt remorse. I stood panting, watching him snuggle up with his brothers and sisters, looking scared, and thought “Gee, he’s just a little bunny being a bunny”, and wished I’d been kinder, hadn’t swore at him, and simply returned him with love to his home.
Fern’s latest batch is eight babies, evenly split as usual: four white and four brown. This time, escape came in unexpected fashion: I woke up, saw no bunnies outside, put on my shoes, and went outside to feed and water the growing brood. It was strangely quiet in the pen. Bruce was in his cage, the six were in theirs, but there was no sign of Fern or her latest litter. Then I saw some rustling in the woods, and sure enough, baby bunnies foraging freely behind the hutch. I went outside, and back to the hedge, and saw them all trundling along with Fern—of all bunnies—in the lead. There at the back of the pen was a huge hole, leading down to the burrow and back into the pen. “Fern!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing?!?”. She went on munching, happily leading her crew through the cedars. “Fern you can’t be out here”, I said. I went up to her and tried to convince her to go back inside, and eventually had to pick her up and carry her, kicking, back to the pen. I covered up the hole and decided I had to go wake up my wife again.
There was lots more chasing that day. A bit in the morning, when we thought we got them all, and then some more in the afternoon, when it turned out that we hadn’t. Fortunately, a wooden pallet leaned up against the compost bin proved an effective trap: the bunnies ran behind it, thinking they were safe, and with a human on either end of the pallet, they had no escape. Still, a white one leapt up and somehow bounced off the side of the pallet and over my grasping hands to bolt away into the cedars. Eventually we got them all. More cedar slats were added. I said a number of times “I’m so tired of this”, although the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of grabbing the little wriggling buggers never completely wore off.
After a couple of days of peace and quiet, I woke up the other morning to the familiar sight of a white bunny hopping around in the grass outside the pen. This is not, I told myself, the same rabbit. This is just a coincidence. It’s just another rabbit that is related to the other rabbit that likes to escape and happens to be white. I caught him myself that morning—dashing through the woods, cutting my toes and fingers in the process, but with relentless pursuit, wearing him down enough for capture. I suppose I should note that we have yet to “sex” our bunnies, and I’m just assuming this is a male, in the way that we sort of assume all the white bunnies are males, and all the browns are females—just like in “Lady and the Tramp”. But he or she escaped again that afternoon, and after madly tearing up all of the jewel weed that grows around the cedars that he uses for cover, and after again exclaiming “I am so freaking tired of this”, I gave up. I went to sleep and left the little bugger out there.
It has been four days now and the little bunny is still on the loose, although he has taken up residence about 10 yards from the bunny enclosure underneath our beautifully-stacked woodpile. Leaving the preferred three-inch gap for airflow beneath the cordwood provides a remarkably sound escape for a tiny rabbit. He’s completely untouchable under there, and knows it. The leisurely way that he makes his way back to the woodpile when I give chase tells it all. I’m working on letting him go. We’ve placed a “have-a-heart” trap near the woodpile that he scorns. I’ve poked at him with a long pole a couple of times, and briefly considered dismantling my three cord of stacked wood, but now I think I’m really going to just let him be. Maybe he lives, maybe he dies. Maybe we get to eat him, maybe some coyote does. Maybe he wanders off and finds some little girl bunny and starts a new colony! But from now on, instead of scrambling after him in the morning dew, I will sit inside and drink my coffee and watch him, and maybe, one day, I’ll catch him.