When I was a kid, my best friend Jane’s house was the 'awesomest' place to go. She had three bunnies, a dog, AND a cat. At our house? We had guppies. They died. We had a tiny turtle. It died. We needed better pets. I made this point abundantly clear to my parents, annoying them day in and day out with my proclamations:
“I want SOFT pets.”
“I want FLUFFY pets.”
“I want CUDDLY pets.”
Their response was always a resounding, “NO!”
One Saturday afternoon; however, I discovered there was something that looked like a cage on raised wooden legs in the backyard, painted dark green to match our swing set. Then I noticed there was a bale of hay sitting on the ground next to it. My mom just smiled and said nothing. A few hours later, my dad walked in the front door with a box in his arms and called for me to come over. It was a bunny! My dreams (and annoying pleas) were finally coming to fruition.
Later that year, my classroom had an open house – a show-and-tell for the entire school. My friend Jane told me she was going to bring her favorite bunny. Obviously, I was going to have to bring my bunny too. Little did I know how fateful that decision would be.
I brought my bunny to school in a cardboard box, with little bowls of food and water. And my bunny box was on the table right next to Jane’s bunny box. I told the kids about my bunny, who I’d named “Peter,” because, duh, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I was so proud of my bunny. For once, I was as cool as Jane.
But just a few months later, I went out to the backyard before school one morning to make sure my bunny had food and water, as was my daily routine. That’s when I discovered that the cage had fallen off its legs and onto the ground, and it was tipped over on its side. That’s weird, I thought to myself, as I ran over to the cage. The door hooks were unlatched and the door was slightly open. My heart sank. I opened the door and my bunny wasn’t in the main part of the cage. Then I opened the little hidden compartment on the other side of the cage where my bunny usually slept, but he wasn’t there either.
And, because I was only 9-years old, and still quite naïve and innocent, I thought the cage must have blown over in the wind and the hooks fell open and my bunny had just run loose in the yard. He couldn’t have gotten far; the whole yard was fenced in and there were no holes he could escape through. I kept calling out, “Peter! Peter? PEEETEERRRRR???” but nothing. I thought my bunny must be very scared, but also, that he would come when I called him. He did not.
I ran inside the house and called out for my mom and told her Peter was missing because his cage fell over. But I was already getting dangerously close to the point of being late for school if I didn’t head out on the 4-block walk immediately, so Mom told me we’d look for him after school. We never found Peter.
I was such a mess that my dad knew he had to do something about it. First, he moved the rabbit hutch close to the back door of our house. Then one night he came home with the teeniest little black bunny with a little white nose and white paws. I was in love. I didn’t think it was possible, but this bunny was even cuter than Peter. I named him “Flopsy,” because, duh, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I was determined to raise him right, so he’d be less scared of me than my first bunny, Peter, was. Every night, I sat on the steps to our backyard, holding Flopsy on my lap for at least an hour to get him used to being held, while feeding him a carrot, petting him, talking to him, and singing him songs. It was true love.
Not even a week later, I went outside to check Flopsy’s food and water before I left for school and the hooks on the cage were unlatched. Flopsy was gone. For a child, this was completely perplexing. I had no understanding of, nor experience with, crime. I didn’t know that some people do really bad things. Thankfully, my dad knew exactly what was happening. I had inadvertently showed someone at school where they needed to go to get their own pet bunny.
That very day, my dad went to Radio Shack and bought all the components he needed to install a very elaborate wired alarm system, which he wired from the bunny cage, across the ground, under the door, up the stairs, up the wall and across the ceilings of the kitchen, dining room, living room, and hallway…all the way to his bedroom.
Then he removed the tiny little light fixture by our back door with its 60-watt bulb and installed a massive floodlight.
Next, my Dad told me to go outside every morning and every night to pretend I was feeding a new bunny #3, in case someone was lurking somewhere behind our house and watching.
Daddy was no fool. Less than a week later, we were all awakened to the sound of a loud bell ringing in my parent’s bedroom at 3:00 a.m. I heard my dad run quickly down the hallway, then down the stairs, after which he flipped on the ridiculous floodlight, which could light up an entire football stadium, then he ripped open the back door. What I didn’t know was that he had loaded up a shot gun with rock salt and was fully prepared to shoot that rock salt at the perpetrator.
I was way too tired to get out of bed and find out what happened but when my dad came home from work the next day, he told us the whole story. He had caught someone in the act of trying to steal make-believe bunny #3 – a young teenage boy – and shot at him with the rock salt. He said with a smile, “I got him in the butt just as he was trying to jump the back fence to escape.”
Dad was pretty sure the perp wouldn’t return, but still, a few weeks later he brought home a gigantic new rabbit, which would be extremely hard for a teenage boy to easily pick up and steal. And he installed padlocks on the rabbit cage doors that I had to open with a key.
This time, I would not be invoking a name from The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I let my dad name the bunny. I didn’t want to get too attached. Dad was laughing out loud and promptly named him “Hasenpfeffer.” Oh brother, he's speaking German again. But he kept on laughing and wouldn't stop. "Ok, Dad," I sighed, "what does that mean?" After he told me I shrieked, “That’s not funny dad. It’s gross!” But the name stuck. So did the rabbit. We had him for many years.
This true story brings me to a very important question, “Was my Dad the greatest, or what???”
Epilogue: My father passed away last October. This is one of my fondest memories of just how much effort he would go through just to keep his little girl happy. (And stocked up on soft, fluffy, cuddly pets.) XOXO Daddy!