Animals, Nature, Pets and Livestock

Macedonia Baptist Bunnies!

It’s been, as my mother used to say, “as cold as charity” around Chateau Right for the past few days, chilly, damp and blustery–very reminiscent of a long-ago Thanksgiving and one of the most magical episodes of my life.

I refer, of course, to the strange case of the Macedonia Baptist Bunnies. If I were Arthur Conan Doyle and this were a Sherlock Holmes story, I’d never mention the “Macedonia Baptist Bunnies” again and, as with “The Giant Rat of Sumatra,” I’d leave you hanging, and forever wondering about the loose end. But, unusually for me, and just this once, I’m not going to digress, so here it comes:

It was a little over twelve years ago, mid-November, cold and rainy. I got an email from a friend of mine in the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club about a group of abandoned rabbits in a rather dodgy area of Duquesne, a small city along the Monongahela River, just outside Pittsburgh. (When I’m talking about abandoned rabbits, I’m talking about domesticated (pet or meat) rabbits that have either escaped their living quarters, or which have (more likely) been dumped by their owners, usually in a grassy area such as a cemetery or a field. Many people think this is a kinder alternative than taking the bunnies to an animal shelter, but that’s misguided. Domestic rabbits are unable to fend for themselves in the wild, and are very likely fall prey, if not to horrible diseases, then to predators; they will almost certainly end up dead, and often in horrible ways. Please don’t do it.)

These particular bunnies were described as a group of between eight and ten, of varying ages, and which group was living in a field, in the woods, and under a trailer on the property of the Macedonia Baptist Church. The parishioners were concerned because Winter was coming, and the pastor of the church contacted the local humane society, which in turn contacted the House Rabbit Club for advice and assistance.

Now, you need to know that there are nutcases people like me who answer such calls, and who do what we can to rescue such creatures. We are the fools stalking rabbits in cemeteries at midnight (that can be an uncomfortable feeling, believe you me), or carefully rounding them up on the median strip of the interstate highway (pretty uncomfortable too, actually). Sometimes, we get lucky, and we work in warm, sunny climes and on moonlit nights, in landscapes, fields, and gardens straight from Beatrix Potter.

But not often. And certainly not this time. November of 2008 was, weather-wise, one of the foulest months I’ve ever seen. Chilly and damp, and by mid-month, pretty much given over to wind, sleet, and night-frosts, day after day. “Lovely weather for ducks,” as Great-Granny’s maid Maudie Nichols used to say. And supremely awful weather for a bunny roundup.

We arrived at dawn on the first day, to reconnoiter the territory and familiarize ourselves with the bunnies’ world. The church stood on a flat piece of ground, clear around it, with plenty of room for parking. Behind the church were woods. In front of the church, past the field and the parking lot, was what was basically a swamp, bounded on the other side by a busy highway. And in the parking lot was a large green construction trailer. Around the trailer, the parishoners, bless them, had placed bowls of food and water for the rabbits, and the pastor explained that they seemed, largely, to have made their home underneath it.

We had a chat with these dear, kind, people, and the church bulletin that Sunday contained a notice that read as follows:

At dawn on Monday, a group of us showed up armed with what seemed like miles of temporary fencing (I’m good for that) a number of humane traps, and various other bits of paraphernalia deemed helpful for the roundup. We deployed it in what seemed like appropriate ways in the area, baiting the traps with a few treats like apple chunks and bananas, and then sat back to assess the situation. (Did I mention, wind, rain, sleet? Frost? Fortunately, there was a McDonald’s not far down the road, and someone volunteered to go get hot drinks. We gratefully accepted. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m sure our group single-handedly helped double that MacDonald’s profit for the month.)

A couple of hours later, we noticed some activity under the trailer, and bunnies started to emerge. So we knew we had at least some of them corralled, and not wanting to startle or intimidate them, we went home. This began a regular series of shifts in which several of us descended on the location at dawn, and several more at dusk each day. Each shift lasted an hour or two, which, since most of us were working, was all the time we could spend at the job. The weather was horrible. But, slowly, inexorably, we managed to round them up, sometimes in a trap, sometimes by confining them to a smaller space and then catching them. Sometimes, we saw one in the woods, or in the swamp. That was a bigger challenge. But we persevered. One at a time. One . . . two . . . three . . .

At this point, we were almost thwarted by our adversaries, who cleverly set up comms from an unknown location, and started an energetic and very public media campaign. Their first SOS/press release went thus:

Over the course of the next several days, these media assaults continued, and since we were clearly losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the bunnies, we finally budged, and provided the evidence demanded:

Not that our concession made any difference. The remaining rabbits simply redoubled their evasive efforts and counter-attacks, tunneling under fencing and perfecting ways to get the treats out of the traps without being caught in them. The weather, and our tempers, got fouler. But still, we persisted.

About two weeks after the start of operations, we had rounded up nine rabbits, and there seemed to be no more. So we called a halt, pronounced the mission completed, folded our tents, and left. The following Sunday, an update appeared in the church bulletin

and a few days later, “General Mary” received a package including a video, and a absolutely lovely letter from the deacon of the church, explaining that the pastor had

used [our] act of caring and devotions as an example of what our Lord Jesus Christ spoke about in God’s Holy Word, in Luke 15:4, when He speaks of leaving the 99 safe sheep to search for the (1) lost sheep. We have enclosed a video of that Sermon, and hope it will uplift and encourage your hearts, as it did ours.

Boy howdy, did it ever. What beautiful people. I’ll never forget them, or the bunnies.

“Pip” (the rabbit in the photo above) lived nine years. She was named for Philip of Macedonia, but the shortened form, as it’s virtually impossible to sex young rabbits correctly, so we were not sure if she was a boy or a girl until she got a bit older (this uncertainty is at the root of much of the “rabbit dumping” mentioned above, as folks get two young rabbits with the assurance that they’re the same sex, and they’re not, and then, well, it’s rabbits everywhere . . . . because they breed like . . . umm . . . rabbits. I’d suggest never leaving two young bunnies together until they’re older, or until you’re absolutely sure they have been spayed or neutered first.)

Oh, wait. I mentioned Thanksgiving. Let me tie up that loose end. Along the way, it was a Thanksgiving like no other. Thursday, November 27, to be exact. The day I caught Pip. We had a family dinner in Pittsburgh, at my stepdaughter’s. Since she lived only a couple of miles from the church, I dropped Mr. She off at her house, then drove to check the traps and look for rabbits. That’s the day I saw Pip in the swamp. On the umpteenth try, three of us secured her (the photo at the top of this post was taken moments later), and I took her back to my stepdaughter’s, arriving shivering, wet, and bedraggled for Thanksgiving dinner. And with about a dozen of those sticky burdock thistles tangled in my hair. I realize my hair doesn’t look great in the photo. You should have seen it after Jenny hacked out the burdock with a large pair of shears, though.

Or, maybe not. Come to think of it, there’s no “after” photo. Just as well.

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