Our neighbors across the street have a couple house dogs and a rescue rabbit. Due to the nature of dogs and rabbits, they keep the rabbit in cage on their back porch. They told me the rabbit was a rescue from a breeder who would otherwise have destroyed it for being less than perfect. So she instead lives alone in that cage.
I know this because from time to time they leave town and ask me to care for "the bunny." I always say yes if possible, because we have them care for our lovebird during our family vacations. Anyway, whenever I see the bunny I feel very sorry for it, because it obviously gets no more attention than its feeding and occasional cage-cleaning. When I open the top of the cage it cowers in a corner and if I try to pet it, it hurries away or, if I catch it, trembles 'neath my hand. Rabbits are social and sociable animals that do not do well in isolation, but they are also passive so that sometimes people confuse silence with acquiescence. [Point of clarification here: I was guilty of the same misunderstanding as a kid, when we had a rabbit; it wasn't until years later when I had a "house rabbit" that I understood their nature.]
Anyway, it makes me sad. I'd like to intervene somehow but I don't have standing or anyplace to put the rabbit, and it's probably too late anyway. Patterns can become set and futures fixed.
I saw the same thing happen with fancy rats, who are lively, inquisitive, and friendly little creatures. If raised right. We had two pair of them, the second pair hand-raised by us, so that they were perfectly acculturated to human touch, and for the three years they lived with us (rats always die after 3 years no matter what) they were perfect, engaging, and entertaining pets.
A friend of my daughter's got a pair of rats about the same time, though we rarely went to their house and never the rats, which were always tucked away upstairs (ours were kept in our "family room," where we spent most evenings). The friend's family went on vacation and asked us to look after the rats. The moment we saw the rats was a very disappointing one. The rats had been kept in a small wire cage, devoid of toys, and never taken out. They were fed dog food instead of rat chow because it was cheaper. They were fat and devoid of interest in the world around them. We tried to entertain them and interact with them, but it was of no use. They had grown wooden, almost brain-dead, obviously incapable of interaction beyond eating and pooping. So incredibly sad. Sparks of life all but extinguished through benevolent neglect. I think those people, and the rabbit owners, would say that at least the animals are alive and safe from predators. Which begs the question of which is the better option, a life of endless monotonous existence versus the excitement of living surrounded by the risk of sudden death.
That came to mind when I looked out my back window and saw a cottontail rabbit lying on the ground beneath our bird feeder, munching seeds from the grass. His life is likely to be short, but at least it will have its sweet moments. Like then, when he simply looked happy. Beautiful weather, tasty food, nice breeze; the night might bring its evils and dangers, but he got to taste the good stuff. Unlike the rabbit in the cage -- she feels constant lonely fear and, while she might not think in such terms, her death will likely be a deliverance; whereas for my backyard bunny, death will be a disappointment, denial of delights that might lie ahead.
As for our rats, they died within days of each other, slowing down imperceptibly at first, then more and more. But they never quit trying, never seemed to lose interest in the world around them, only losing the ability to interact. One of them spent her last month or so mostly sleeping in a Dr. Seuss hat on my daughter's desk, keeping mutual company as daughter did her homework. Then one morning she didn't wake up, and we all had tears.
I may be projecting here, but the whole thing reminds me of how fragile our social networks can be and how easy it would be to slip in to a safe, secure, and soulless existence. I hope I never do. "I hope I die before I get old." The Who, My Generation.
Whoops. I'm already old and I'm not dead. Hope I die before my soul does and that I stay aware enough to know the difference.
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