73: A Furry Affair

73: A Furry Affair

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

A Furry Affair

Not-so-fun fact: If your dog has a high predator instinct, you probably don’t want to get a pet rabbit.

“We can’t keep this rabbit,” I told my husband, as he stood holding a little brown bundle of fur that he’d found outside a medical complex an hour earlier. Obviously, someone had abandoned the rabbit. Our Golden Retriever, Autumn, stretched her neck to inspect the creature cradled in my husband’s arms.

We agreed the rabbit could spend the night in our enclosed back yard, and I’d deal with finding a new home for it the next day. Autumn followed me as I put a bowl of water and lettuce near some bushes.

“Don’t worry,” I told Autumn. “This yard belongs to you, and you don’t have to share it with a rabbit.” We went back into the house and locked the rabbit outside. My husband stewed all night about the rabbit’s safety. I was fine if an owl ate it.

The next morning, Autumn and I checked on the rabbit. Suddenly, the rabbit bolted from under the bushes and charged directly at Autumn. He ran in big circles around my gentle giant of a dog, as if to say, “I’m the boss here. You might be bigger, but you’re not going to hurt me.”

Autumn looked as if she had no idea what had just happened. Since Golden Retrievers are hunting dogs by nature, I expected her to chase the rabbit, but no, the rabbit chased her.

That evening, I told my husband, “Thumper (the name he’d given his new pet) has got to go. I won’t have a rabbit peeing on my dog to mark its territory.” Autumn now smelled like rabbit urine, and Thumper was obviously trying to establish dominance over my dog.

One strong shake of the neck from Autumn and that rabbit would have been history. Instead of hurting the rabbit, Autumn made a game of Thumper’s attempts to show his power. In retrospect, I realize Thumper was wild with fear and trying to protect himself from this huge animal, but to my eyes, he seemed aggressive.

When Thumper charged, Autumn barked and lunged forward as if playing with a puppy. Then she started running in huge circles while Thumper ran after her. We watched from the kitchen window as an unusual friendship began to blossom.

Thumper quickly realized that Autumn was no threat, although sometimes she grabbed Thumper’s ears in her mouth when she got too excited. I’d holler, “No ears!” and Autumn immediately released the ears.

Even with the instinct, power, and size to kill this small rabbit, Autumn allowed Thumper to control their play and backed off when Thumper ran to his safe place under the bushes. After Thumper caught his breath and Autumn had turned away, Thumper would race from his hiding spot, bolt toward a surprised Autumn, and jump in the air like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle — front paws chopping the air and hind legs kicking toward the dog. The game was on! Autumn barked and charged Thumper, all the time using her “gentle retriever mouth” when grabbing Thumper’s fur in her mouth.

As this friendship grew, we allowed Thumper to come in the house more. We trained him to use a litter box and created an area in the family room where he could sleep and eat. Every night, I tucked him into his caged area while Autumn followed us upstairs where she slept in our bedroom.

Each morning, I took Thumper outside to stay in the yard for the day, but Autumn had the freedom to come and go through a dog door. Within days of Thumper’s arrival, I noticed the rabbit watching Autumn go back and forth through this rectangular hole with a plastic flap. I could almost see the wheels spinning in Thumper’s head: “If the dog can do this, why can’t I?”

After watching Autumn for a few days, Thumper pushed his front paw against the plastic flap. It moved! He jumped back. Then, very carefully, he poked his head against the flap. It opened ever so slightly. He stood back and seemed to say, “I think I’ve got this figured out.” As I watched, he took one big hop and jumped through the door. Freedom! Just like Autumn.

Now, he could follow Autumn in and out of the house. And he did — and still does. No more would he be confined to his cage or back yard. While I rabbit-proofed the house by moving electrical cords and closing off rooms with our computers, Thumper moved in permanently.

Just like Autumn, Thumper now stretched out on the family room floor in the evenings and watched TV with my husband and me. Quickly, a one-sided love relationship developed. Thumper pressed his tiny body as close as he could to the dog, while Autumn only tolerated his presence. It was obvious Thumper was falling in love with our Golden Retriever, and he couldn’t be close enough to her. Autumn resigned herself to the fact a rabbit was now part of our family and sharing her space. But if we gave the rabbit too much affection, Autumn gently pushed Thumper away with her nose.

Since Thumper was now fully trained to use a litter box, we let him stay out of his cage at night. Soon, he was hopping up the stairs after Autumn and stretching out on our bedroom floor. Once Autumn settled on her dog bed, Thumper snuggled as close as he could next to her. Before they fell asleep, Thumper would lick Autumn’s head and body, like a cat washing her kitten.

Today, Thumper and Autumn share our home like good friends, but Autumn has set boundaries. Thumper gets a warning growl if he goes near her food dish, but they share the same water bowl. Whenever I leave the house, I remind Autumn that she’s in charge and Thumper must obey her. But I never worry that Autumn will harm the rabbit because she’s such a trustworthy dog. When I arrive home, Autumn greets me at the door, and Thumper is usually napping under the coffee table.

Sometimes, we catch Autumn snuggling nose-to-nose with Thumper, but the minute she sees us, she moves. Certainly, she doesn’t want us thinking she actually likes this rabbit.

We remind Autumn daily that she’s a very good dog for sharing her home with a rabbit.

~Jeanne Getz Pallos

More stories from our partners