Rabbits Are Boring Pets. I Love Them Anyway. – The New York Times

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Letter of Recommendation
My friends and family don’t get it. All I can do is try to describe what it’s like to be with them, the moments I’m not sure I can do without.
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Everyone who knew anything about animals warned me against getting a rabbit in my early 20s, but I ignored them, and ended up with three. I inherited my first from a housemate, and then found the other two online after moving to the Czech Republic: one came from a teenage girl with too many extracurricular activities, the other from an elderly man who lived at the top of a tower block on the outskirts of town. He’d kept her for three years in a cage designed for pet rats, feeding her bird food and slices of brown bread. When I took her to the local vet, I was told that my rabbit had uterine cancer and a whole set of other health problems that needed treating at once. I duly shelled out the cash and spent the next couple of months nursing her back to health.
It turns out that all the naysayers have a point: Rabbits get sick all the time, and there are very few vets who specialize in their care. They often have gut issues and fall victim to ear infections that can lead to torticollis, which is something I regret having seen. (Don’t search for it online.) My years with rabbits have been a carousel of syringe-feeding, panicked trips to the vet, sleepless nights and begging for advice on the internet. I’ve learned how to inject a rabbit with penicillin and how to massage an abdomen swollen from gas until something shifts. Now that my animals are old and arthritic, I mop up urine and clean their legs with a rabbit-friendly shampoo. I spend a lot of time on the floor, because although my rabbits are socially demanding, they also hate to be picked up.
As a rabbit owner, it can sometimes feel as if the world could be divided into two groups: people who are for rabbits and people who are against them. I often have the sense that my family and friends will be relieved when my two surviving rabbits finally pass away and stop taking up so much of my income and time. (As my rabbits get older they become increasingly expensive.) My grandmother and the Uber drivers who take us to the vet ask me: Why rabbits? Why not a dog, or a cat, or — if I have my heart set on something boring — a fish? My answers never satisfy anyone. But I’m not sure about the question, either — it so often implies an instrumental sense of value, as if the correct reply might be, “They make good companions,” or “They’re nice to look at.”
I don’t have the right kind of reason. My first rabbit just happened to be there; I got the second because I knew he needed a friend. My third rabbit was listed on a website selling secondhand items. She looked so unwanted and lonely that I thought I should help. In a world so full of disasters, who was going to pay attention to one as little as hers? It’s also the case that I like them, and that’s never been anything I’ve wanted to quantify or enumerate.
A few months back, an article about one woman’s experience with her pet rabbits caused a lot of furor among the members of the House Rabbit Society Group on Facebook. Though for the most part a place for bunny pictures, funny videos, memes and amateur paintings, the group is serious in its commitment to rabbits, and often prone to great stirrings. Its members disagreed with almost everything in the piece, especially with the way the writer seemed to suggest that her companions were valuable for the lessons they provided. (In the final paragraph, she says that the point of small pets is to teach children about death, but they end up teaching her to fear mortality more generally.) Among the members of the group, where rabbits’ lives are celebrated as inherently worthy and their deaths are treated as tragedies, both the article’s central idea and flippant tone were met with severe disapproval.
I don’t believe in the use value of any living thing. Like humans, animals just are — that’s it. When answering my grandmother’s question, I try to describe what it’s like to be with them, the moments I’m not sure I can do without. The sound of Pumpkin eating hay at 3 in the morning, or of Hero thumping her back legs on the floor so loudly she almost gets us evicted. The apricot-colored fur on the back of Mr. Rabbit’s neck. Pumpkin sleeping in a sunbeam. Hero growling at me as she eats, as if she thinks I’m going to take away her food. Mr. Rabbit binkying across the big carpet in our front room before surreptitiously ingesting one of its corners. How I’d never felt a real duty toward anything until I had my rabbits.
At our best, we do not look at other people and think about how to make them work for us. Yet so much of our way of seeing the world is founded on the assumption that animals are meant to serve a purpose. They are ours, but we are not theirs. This seems wrong. But I can’t pretend to have any answers to the catastrophe of our interspecies relations, and I can’t recommend rabbits, either. If I did I’d be implying a use for them, when what I really think is that they are as useless as we are. After all these years with my trio, the only thing I know is that there’s no lesson to be learned or value to extract. There’s just an effort to be made, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what living is.
Missouri Williams is a writer whose work has appeared in The Baffler, Granta and elsewhere. Her debut novel is “The Doloriad” (FSG, 2022).
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