Another episode from Mick's fledgling work The Philosophy Of Love And Laughter - a work in progress. He's getting all Beatrix Potter in his old age, the daft get.
So the word on the street was that a pet rabbit had gone rogue. The gossip gathering over Thackley was of a small, young, fast and very smart doe that no one could get near. It was never a first hand report but always 'Blah-blah sez that….’ Might be a ghost or fevered imaginations.
Rumours exaggerate and spread faster than Usain Bolt on a travelator round ’ere, especially when it’s something as exciting as a pet rabbit breaking out to fight for its Leporidaen rights.
Everyone in Thackley knows it’s happened before, there’s sommat that rabbits like to do and all you have to do is look at the wild rabbits around the farms and common ground. The variation in size and colouring attests to the brave, pet rabbit freedom fighters of the past. We should make a plaque and lay dandelion leaves once a year to honour them.
We’d not seen the insurgent doe - so I let the rumour ride - but we had witnessed packs of frantic people across the road, moving fast, arms out, bent at the middle, shouting and trying to co-ordinate. Has to be a rabbit, a very scared and, counting the people, very astute, agile rabbit.
Confirmation of the rogue rabbit emerged when Vicky and her sister came in, hot and flustered, they needed to sit down, catch their breath. ‘Spotted the shadow rabbit, middle of the road, slip of a thing, tried to catch her, too fast. We could only get within two feet of her from either side and she was gone. Like a ghost, just disappeared.'
So she was real but too fast, too slippery and, by the sounds of it, way too clever… I was taking notes.
I suggested to Vicky - who was well aware of my ancient Leporidaen gifts - that maybe I’d go pick the rogue rabbit up.
‘Mick, that’s one special rabbit. I’m telling y‘, fastest, twitchiest rabbit I’ve ever seen, faster than Fairy… and she’s smart, learns every tricky manoeuvre you try first time, she’s a tough catch… maybe even for you.’ The gauntlet was down.
Being a member of the Ancient Order of Rabbit Whisperers - we’re sworn to secrecy but I’m not one for tradition - I’ve trained many rabbits over the last 15 years. I come out and whistle on a night and they run, jump fast and happy into the hutch. But my current rabbit was an easy train. Eevee 2 was relatively docile and compliant and she's probably three years old now. With rabbits being social, group animals, I feel slightly guilty that she lives alone but…
It’s probably seven years since I’ve had to enter the spirit of a truly wild-at-heart rabbit. I’ve had a lot of non-advanced rabbit whispering years. A lot of years without transforming mi head into that of a prey.
Facing my fear, I entered the shadow’s head, and thought, she’s probably sussed that the main road, twenty yards away, is fast and furious, a dangerous thing to face. Problem is she’s trapped, she can rattle around the back streets getting chased by giants for months but she can never make open ground. Although her instincts will be telling her it has to be here somewhere, probably over that metal box river. A dangerous thought.
What she has no way of knowing is that she’s made her break for freedom in the manor of the only known Rabbit Whisperer in Thackley. My doubt kicked in. Perhaps I’ve been getting whispering-flabby? Perhaps I’ll no longer be able to gauge and hold my patience or slow mi breathing down and relax a truly defiant rabbit enough for it to let me into its head?
The thing average, untrained humans miss is that rabbits are the ultimate international prey animal. The slightest hint of a hunter and they’ve got an automatic, genetic switch that screams RUN. They run at the smallest hint of a shifting shadow in their peripheral vision. They’re like them kids from Village of the Damned, if you even think about catching a wild-at-heart rabbit they'll know it and scat, and you’ll never beat a clever rabbit in a foot chase.
I can’t leave a rabbit living in a hutch, it’s the same thing as a bird in a cage, it’s no longer a bird but a slightly sick ornament. From the outset of keeping rabbits, I used to let them run free in our very large garden and worry about catching them, to put away, later.
My early rabbit-whispering training was fraught with hours of searching long into the night by torch light, trying to get to the rabbit before the local foxes - I dint always succeed. A few escaped the garden but I quickly returned them.
As an apprentice Rabbit Whisperer (I trained under the late, great Wilber Pussyfoot), you’re learning all the time, sussing their blind spots and discovering how to exploit them, moving without making a sound, or calculating how long it takes for a spooked rabbit to calm. Get that last bit wrong and it’ll be a long night.
Finally the moment of destiny arrived, 7.35 am. She’s crossed the road, sitting, upright in my neighbour’s garden. Now she’s over this side of the road she’s simply entered a smaller, more dangerous trap with less food. Her instinct will force her to cross the busy road again. Likelihood is, she’s going to die trying and the longer she’s out the closer she is to death. She could try to return to the known at any time.
I make eye contact but keep walking. If I was a danger, I’ve gone. Two minutes later I return and step over the fence, looking away and disinterested. I try to calmly draw out some of her moves whilst it’s safe - same as you do with a new, talented opponent at five-a-side, get ’em to show you their tricks on the safety of the halfway line.
Looking at the situation, it’s not safe, it’s not safe at all. Her obvious escape route is back out under the gate, straight onto the busy road. The second move she’ll try is to get through the fence and I bet she hasn’t reckied it to check if she can get through. Spooked rabbits, with few options, take risks.
I back off, still no threat. Return to my house to get a towel. Taking on this rabbit hand to foot would simply be dangerous vanity. I can see from her muscle twitch that she’s special. I dampen my cock-sure arrogance. Yes, I’d probably catch her but the possibility of failure and death would increase.
I’d gently tested her and quickly concluded that sometimes in life you have to accept that your opponent may simply be too good in instinctive, free play. Again, five-a-side: The lad you’re marking turns too quick? Drop off slightly and face him up. Crucially, you take the ball when he isn’t expecting it.
I return through the gate, spotting that as a rabbit danger, and angle my body to push her towards the garden fence. She agrees and goes where I asked. It seems the prior weeks of unqualified, amateur rabbit chasers have lulled her into a lazy, false sense of security. Surprisingly, she hasn’t sensed the expert rabbit catcher in her midst. This I must exploit.
Slow steps ease her, unconcerned, towards my chosen fence spot. I glance at the fence, she may slip through there and again I don’t want to spook a Houdini rabbit. If I make a first, unsuccessful move it’ll be an hour’s wait with this one and I’d have to watch her, which would add another 15 minutes until her heart would calm. I wouldn’t be able to risk her breaking through to the road, growling like a pre-storm sea, 10-20 yards away.
I survey the fence and back her up slowly to a place that she can’t get through, too many plants other side. As soon as she realises she’s trapped, she’ll try to jump the fence and that split-second before realisation is when I must pounce.
I slow my breathing, hold in a gulp, and strike like a snake, fast, solid and definite. Got her. Under the towel, she’s frozen. I wrap it around her like swaddling and search for the nape of her neck. Even with the towel, it’s like trying to hold an eel made of butter. It’s too early to go house to house to try and locate the owner. I may well lose her if I take time carrying her from door to door - she has the spirit of a newly captured wild mare in the great American West.
Then it hits me, the back garden is rabbit secure and I always feel guilty about Eevee living alone - although I reckon those two lasses will just ignore each other. Adult female rabbits are not always the best to mix but the garden’s big enough to enable distant, dirty looks without the need to physically dominate. She’s still really fighting, best get her secured and give her time to calm before she explodes.
And here the story ends. The two does did ignore each other and I went to locate the owner. When the time comes, I catch the ghost free-style, first time in the confines of our back garden. I’m at home and I can afford the risk in a secure space.
Three weeks later, the rogue rabbit’s owner comes to me as I sit out in the front garden, smoking, catching some rays.
‘You know your rabbit?’
‘You know you said she was a girl?’
I could see where this was going, I’d always called Eevee ‘he’ and was constantly getting corrected for it.
‘That’s what I was told by the breeder.’
‘Well we’ve got eight tiny rabbits that suggest she’s a he.’
She laughed but I was cautious.
‘Might not’ve been Eevee, the ghost was out for a long time. You can’t prove owt.’ I dint want to get saddled with maintenance payments.
I took Charlie over to see the kittens - we used to pretend the rabbits were for the kids but they are clearly ours. Five minutes later, ‘That’s ma boy, definitely his… Awwe, how sweet, mi rabbit lad’s had his first shag.’
Anyway, bottom line. Got one of Eevee’s daughters moving in tonight, how exciting, he’ll finally have some company. They live in groups, rabbits, so it’ll be for the best. This morning, I took Eevee to get him ‘done’ - don’t want it getting all Jimmy Savile all over the back garden.
Now I’ve got daughter of the agile ghost to whisper into sensible compliance. Might be a challenge but I’m an experienced rabbit whisperer and, experience tells me, the hutch is the safest night time place for her.
Postscript: As this is a true story, there are some baby rabbits ready to step out into the world and find a new home. So if anyone wants one, let us know.