The Story of Alice the Rabbit: A Moment with Bill Reflection
A Lesson from the Distant Past
“Bill, shut your mouth and open your damned eyes and ears. You just might learn something.”
So sayeth my loving father.
Oh, he loved me all right. He was blunt for sure. He was a no-nonsense fireplug of a man who knew without a doubt that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. It made no difference to him that there were obstacles along that straight line. This was a guy who did not detour. And the shortest distance from ignorance to enlightenment, for my father, was blunt language.
Thus, he told me to shut up, listen and observe. He also told me that what I knew about life at the ripe old age of twelve wouldn’t fill a thimble, but if I was willing to learn I just might be halfway intelligent by the time I died.
So here I am today, fifty-four years after my dad taught me that lesson in his own loving manner, and I’m still practicing it. My mouth is shut, my eyes and ears are open, and damned if I’m not still learning.
Let me tell you a story.
A Rabbit Named Alice
That was her name at the animal shelter so please, don’t shoot the messenger. I doubt we would have named her Alice. Based on her actions early on while living with us, we probably would have called her “Witch” or some other appropriate name.
Alice was a year old when my wife, Bev, picked her up one fine summer’s day at the Olympia Animal Rescue Center. She’s now been with us about eight months. She is a Satin Angora rabbit, just the softest, fluffiest rabbit you could ever hope to hold. There was only one problem: Alice did not want to be held.
Now this poses a problem with Angora’s because they need to have their wool harvested from time to time or it will become matted and gross. Trimming Alice was a very unpleasant adventure, for her and most certainly for us.
Did you know that rabbits growl? Well Alice did, every single time we reached into her cage to pick her up for her trimmings. Growl first, then lunge at us, and if that didn’t get our attention she would nip our fingers. I’ve got a small scar to prove it.
We were told by Animal Rescue that Alice had previously been owned by a disabled woman who really had no time or way to properly care for Alice. Basically Alice spent the first year of her life in a rabbit cage with little or no human interaction. She was rarely held. Hell, she was rarely talked to. Day after day she just sat in her cage in a room. So by the time we got Alice, she was, to put it mildly, anti-social and a bit aggressive towards her new owners.
That Left Us with Two Choices
We could either cut bait and give Alice away, or we could do what we had signed on to do, which was take care of Alice with all the love we give to our dogs, cat, quail and chickens.
That choice was a simple one to make. We happen to love animals and we’ve never met an animal we were willing to give up on.
We took it slow with her. We interacted with her daily. We spoke to her by name. We put our hands next to her cage, and after about a week she would voluntarily come over and sniff our hands. A few weeks later we would open the door to her cage and give her a treat, all the while speaking softly to her.
Slowly the transformation happened. One day when I was reaching into her cage to give her a treat she came over and sniffed my hand. I asked her if I could touch her and then, miracle of miracles, she let me stroke her fur without growling, lunging or biting.
We took that encouraging sign and built upon it. We built her a rabbit run in the back yard where she could run and eat grass. We sat next to that run and talked to her. Eventually she would see us coming and come over and greet us. We built on that.
Today Alice has her outdoor hutch attached to the house and she can come and go through a doggie door. When the weather is bad she goes into our bedroom and hangs out with us. We sit on the floor and Alice climbs up on our laps and we pet her, talk to her, and tell her everything is okay.
She still has her moments when she has no desire for us to pet her. She lets us know by lunging or just turning away from us, and that is fine. But compared to those first few weeks, she rarely has those moments any longer. Color this story a success as Alice is now a functioning member of our family.
Observe and Learn
So I got to thinking about Alice and the lessons learned. Are you listening, Dad?
This is what I have learned.
For her first year, Alice had little or no interaction with humans. She lived in a 2’x3’ wire cage. Humans terrified her. They were big, they were rough in their treatment of her, and they treated her like she was nothing more than a fiber-producing machine.
Her reaction to that treatment or lack thereof: she struck out in fear and anger. She growled. She lunged. She bit. Survival-mode kicked in, and Alice relied on her defense mechanisms to keep her safe.
Slowly, Alice has responded to love. She has learned to trust. She has been given a safe environment where caring people interact with her daily, and in turn she has taken the first tentative steps towards mutual trust and love. It is a wonder to behold. She has allowed herself to be vulnerable and in return she has received compassion.
What do you think? Could you learn something from Alice?
If you think this story is just about rabbits you obviously need to open your ears and hear the message.
Is it not the same with human beings?
Treat me with disrespect….make me fear…and I will lunge and bite.
Treat me with love and respect and I will give the same to you tenfold.
My dad would be proud if he were alive today. I don’t talk much. I spend most of my time listening and observing. There is much to be learned if I’m willing to learn.
Some of my greatest teachers are animals.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)