53. Lenny the Bunny

53. Lenny the Bunny

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Lenny the Bunny

Animals are my friends… and I don’t eat my friends.

~George Bernard Shaw

Okay, before everyone out there starts e-mailing me about the hazards of giving a three-year-old a pet for his birthday, let me say that you’re right—it’s wrong. I’ll never do it again. I wish I had never done it in the first place—maybe not as much as Lenny, but I do regret it. Mea culpa.

My husband Prospero and I were still dating at the time of his nephew’s third birthday. Never having shopped for gifts by himself, Prospero sought my advice on a memorable gift, as Leonardo was not just his nephew, but his godson—a very powerful bond in Italian families.

It was March, and stores were preparing for Easter.

“You know, the pet shop across from my mother’s office has the cutest bunnies. I was over there looking at them today,” I said to him with the enthusiasm of someone who has thought of the perfect gift.

My in-laws are from a rural part of Italy, and have kept rabbits and other animals on their property even though they live in a large city. I didn’t think that giving a bunny to their little boy would be much of a burden to them, and it wasn’t. In fact, Prospero’s family was almost as thrilled with the gift as Leonardo.

“What are you going to name your bunny?” Prospero asked his nephew.

“Lenny!” announced the boy, proudly giving his new bunny the American version of his own first name.

And so spring became summer, and Lenny the Bunny had a lovely hutch of his own in the backyard. Whenever we visited, Leonardo would grab our hands and take us out to see Lenny. His love for that bunny was obvious to all. We would feed him carrots, lettuce, and other greens from my brother-in-law’s abundant garden. Lenny was probably the best fed rabbit in the world.

Autumn brought a nip to the air, but we still went out back with Leonardo to visit Lenny. At least, we did until that fateful weekend. Leonardo dragged us over to Lenny’s empty cage.

“Where’s Lenny?” I asked.

My in-laws were of the philosophy that animals should be kept outdoors, so I highly doubted that they brought the rabbit into their warm home for winter.

Leonardo spread his arms in the air and looked totally baffled.

I turned to my future father-in-law. “Where’s Lenny?”

“Heh, heh, heh,” he replied.

The language barrier between us often made communication tricky so I turned to my husband’s brother. “Where’s Lenny?”

He just stood there smiling as if sharing a private joke with himself.

“Well, where is he?” I demanded.

As if placating a child, he replied in a sing-song voice, “He ran away.”

With that, the two of them started chuckling.

I felt Prospero’s hands on my shoulders firmly steering me away. “Come on, let’s go,” he said.

“But we just got here,” I protested. “Where’s the bunny?”

“Never mind,” he said. “We’re going.”

As we walked across the lawn, his brother’s voice rang out, “He was delicious!” Their laughter followed us. “But a little tough—he was old.”

I looked up at Prospero. “No!” I gasped. But he kept leading me to the car.

Omigod, they ate Lenny the Bunny!

Seriously, this family raised and fed their child’s pet for the sole purpose of providing a festive Sunday dinner!

The words of Euripides rang through my head: The gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children. Thankfully, that wasn’t true in this case. My husband is the family member who marches to the beat of his own drummer. He’s the man who rescues a bird that flies into a window. His love and compassion know no bounds, and yet to this day he still gives me the same lecture.

“What did you expect?” he asks. “Did you think my family was going to let a rabbit run around their house?”

No, but…

“It’s a cultural thing,” he always continues. “They raise rabbits to eat. What did you think they did with all of those rabbits?”

But Lenny the Bunny wasn’t a farm animal. We bought him in a pet store. He had a name! For what we paid for the bunny, we could have taken them out to dinner.

One thing is for certain—I will never buy a pet for another child. I learned that lesson the hard way. Well, it was harder on Lenny, but I’m still upset about it, and it’s been thirty years.

Rest in peace, Lenny. Please forgive me for causing you pain. I promise you, we’ll never eat rabbit in this household. Your relatives are safe with me.

~Lynn Maddalena Menna

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