Introducing, a new friend

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A new animal on the farm is an introduction to a new species.

By Steve Doyle

Let me tell you something about the newest critter on our farm.

No, this isn’t the magnificent, golden-tailed hawk that comes to sit on the black wooden fences separating two of our paddocks, more or less watching the horses eat their fill.

This isn’t about the smudge-sized black field mice I saw scurrying under the leaves of the decaying melon patch as I was turning over the garden for fall – one of whom, I must confess, met an untimely interface when he was unearthed by the blades of my tiller, God rest his little vermin soul.

Nor is it about his colorful cousin, a little red chipmunk, who a few times, startled by my passing mower, has scooted from beneath one of our tall fir trees and skedaddled past horses in the dry corral and into the woods. The horses paid no attention, either.

And this has absolutely nothing to do with the mournful coyotes I’ve seen and heard from afar, the bellowing cows from beyond the next ridge or the geese who honk a greeting when they flap overhead in their scouting pairs while their flock takes respite on a nearby lake.

Because this guy is neither a farm animal nor a migratory or nomadic species.

This is about Benny the Bunny. My buddy.

No, Benny is not one of the farm’s little cottontails that sometimes scurry across the driveway and into the trees along the steep embankment above our creek.

He is a city bunny who has moved to the country, a slick, sophisticated cousin who might not find the hutch of the brown rabbits to be so welcoming.

Benny lives with us, in the house, in his own special little place where he enjoys a very social and somewhat pampered existence. And he deserves it.

Benny didn’t wander down the road and cuddle up to our door in search of a home, as a dog or a cat might. He was found in an animal shelter in Louisville by a doting and loving couple who, when introduced to him, determined he had the soul and spirit of a family member and must immediately be taken home.

That would by my wife and daughter, who never met an animal they didn’t like (spiders and bugs aside) or one they wouldn’t try to save or rehabilitate. Remember, they rescued birds on the streets of Shelbyville and others fallen from a nest placed precariously between the sliding door and wall of our barn.

They found Benny one moment, and the next he became ours. All parties have adapted quite well.

Now, our adopted and collected horses, dogs and other regular residents have been around for a while. All of them peacefully coexist. I don’t even think said field mice have caused a problem (yet) for anyone, unless we have an elephant hidden somewhere.

And now there’s Benny, who came to reside in our family room. He receives daily dinners of vegetables (I now see why gardens fall to these little munchers) and more hay per pound than the Buck, our Quarter horse.

Benny, coincidentally, is black and white, sort of a cross between Socks, the late cat of my youth, and Savannah, our Spotted Saddle Horse. He won’t be playing any of the Cottontails in the Easter pageant.

Now, my experience with rabbits has been seeing them around fields, darting here and there, or on exhibit somewhere. I know next to nothing about them other than some people like to hunt them and that their fur makes very soft, warm coats that some people like to wear (hence why we know that pioneers liked them quite a bit).

I don’t know breeds, habits, foods or care in any way. Though I had heard that they aren’t shy about going to the bathroom and doing, well, other quite natural acts. Frequently. Benny, thankfully, is a gelding and otherwise likes to do all those animal things, but he is neat, like a cat. He has his own, uh, litter box, which he uses with great regularity, and his fur never has a smudge. He licks his paws and wipes them on his face. He can jump and spin and run, but he doesn’t roll over or get off his feet in dust or dirt.

Benny and I bonded over carrots. I play Elmer Fudd to his Bugs. I would take him half a carrot at night as he roamed around the family room for exercise, and he munched it quite efficiently. He also instinctively knew that I had stored the other half in my pocket.

I would sit and read while he did his leap/spin trick, and once he startled me by jumping up beside me onto the divan and into my lap, where he sat quietly while I stroked his fur and ears and tickled him on the white blaze of his nose, all the time fearing he would sink those vicious back claws into a delicate spot, as he once accidentally had done to my wife.

But Benny soon learned that he could jump on one side of me, squeezing into an inches-wide landing area, balancing himself carefully and then sticking his little nose in the gap at the top of the pocket and extracting the carrot as adroitly as the stickiest-fingered pickpocket in New York City.

Since then, Benny has come to know me well, if not by name then by my sounds. He recognizes my steps on the stairs, scurries around when I’m in the room  and understands I’m the man with the meal plan.

Here’s how good a buddy Benny the Bunny has come to be:

Because he shares his room with a large TV, and I can yell at an umpire who doesn’t know how to call the Infield Fly Rule or a back judge who can’t see pass interference.

He will sit and look at me, and I can almost hear him saying, “Hey, what’s up, Doc?”