THE day I brought Max home in a box, my life changed. Not a lot, just a little - but all for the better. I thought at first of housing him outside, but he was so little and cute, and the weather was turning cold. Besides, I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. So Max lives in my study in an old 20-gallon aquarium. He is my friend and companion - a very cheering presence all the time, even when he's been naughty. He's naughty a lot. He is, in Elmer Fudd's words, a "wascally wabbit."
He doesn't mean to be naughty; it's just that he relates to the world with his teeth. But then, even the Best Rabbit in North America, which he is, has got to chew on everything handy. For one thing, mammals like Max have teeth that never stop growing, and they must be kept short. If they get too long, the rabbit can't eat.
Max has a log of wood he has been working on since he first got here. But he prefers to shred phone books, cardboard boxes, and newspapers. He can go through a lot of paper in a very little while, strewing it over the floor. Once in a while I offer him an index card or an envelope. He takes it in his mouth like a prize, and racing around the room, waves it up and down, sometimes knocking into things with it, but he never shreds those "toys."
Max, a miniature lop-ear rabbit, is a terrible mess maker. But I give him only things I don't mind losing. And since digging and gnawing are so important to him, I don't mind cleaning up the mess so very much. At least he's housebroken! He has a litter box, just like a cat.
Max is dark gray with a white tummy. Wisps of beige decorate the soft fur on his head and feet. He has a short gray tail with a white underside that sticks straight up most of the time, giving him that "cottontail" look. His funny little triangular nose never stops wiggling. He has long ears that he is very fond of washing. He's full grown now, but rather small for a buck.
Miniature lop-ear rabbits can be very beautiful, but Max is no beauty. He's really kind of plain. But he's still so cute, he could melt even the stoniest heart. Intelligent (in his own way), he has learned to come when I call him (if he's in the mood) and to sit up when I offer him treats (if he's not too busy doing something else, like washing his ears).
Every day when I come down to work in my study, I bring Max cabbage and carrots, or a piece of apple, which he loves. I talk very gently to him, and he knows my voice. "Max," I say sweetly, "oh, Maaaaxxxx, how about breakfast?" Then I give him a handful of hay and fill his bowl with rabbit pellets, along with his fresh fruits and vegetables. I also check his water bottle to make sure he has plenty of water.
BUT Max never eats when I first open his cage and let him out. He'll return to it later, after he's had a half-hour or 45 minutes of mad dashing around the study. But first, he rises up on his back paws, puts his front paws together, and looks around. "Periscoping" up like that makes him almost a foot taller than when he sits on all fours. His back legs are long and flat for balancing as well as hopping. He turns his head sideways to check out the study door. If it's open, he hops out of the cage and tri es to escape into the living room - a favorite place to behave rather badly.
When he gets to the living room, he chases the four cats who live there. Max is fearless, though each one of the cats has, at one time or another, smacked him hard with a big, bad paw on his flat face. He doesn't care.
The cats are bigger, stronger, and tougher. They are also predators: Max would be prey if he lived in the wild. But Max is not wild, and he's nobody's prey. He doesn't know the rules of nature as they are played in the forest. He only knows Max's Rules of the House - if he chases the cats, they will run away from him, or hiss at him, or sometimes even kiss his head. That is what he is really after - a little feline affection.
Max likes to play tag with the youngest cat, Belle, who is his color and only a little larger. First, he chases Belle until he corners her; then she turns on him and chases him. Eventually, she jumps on a chair, and the game is over. Max may plop down for a nap on the spot under Belle's chair or continue running around the house, lickety-split. Sometimes he leaps straight up in the air as he's running, ears flying backwards. Running in one direction, he abruptly changes course.
He "chins" everything in sight. Rabbits have a small gland under their chins that emits an odor only they can smell. When he rubs his chin on a piece of furniture or a book, or even on a person's foot, he is claiming it as part of his territory. As far as Max is concerned, everything belongs to him, including me and my family. We have all been "chinned."
We let Max run around outside the study for an hour or so every day. When I can't watch him, one of my daughters will. But he must be watched: Max eats electrical cords. The study has been Max-proofed. The furniture is metal and all the cords for the computer, telephone, and fax are up high and out of sight. Although, once or twice Max has jumped on the desk when left alone for a few minutes. When I've found him on my desk, I've picked him up gently, looked him in the eye, and said "No, no, no, Max," and
put him back in his cage. He now knows what "no" means and can usually be stopped in his naughty tracks when he's up to something he shouldn't be.
But Max is always affectionate. When any of us walks into the study, he is so glad to see us, he runs in figure 8's around our feet. If we sit on the floor, he comes over, sniffs at our faces, and hops into our laps. Sometimes, when I'm working, he jumps into my lap and wants to play. I can extend a string to him and he will play tug of war with me. He's not very good at the game, and he doesn't have much of an attention span, but he does like to play.
WHEN he wants attention, he digs into my socks. When he wants to be petted, he will snuggle down on the floor next to my feet and stretch out, head down on his front paws to enjoy the stroking. Or, he will rest on my chest, eyes half closed as I pet his face in short, quick little strokes. He loves this. He clicks his teeth gently to show his contentment in a bunny purr.
Rabbits are clean animals. Like cats, they groom frequently and thoroughly. He is sweet-smelling and cuddly, though his nails are sharp and hard to clip.
Rabbits need to be held a lot from the time they are little bunnies, given lots of attention, and room to grow, if they are to be good pets. I would never hit Max to punish him, and he has never bitten me. If he wants down, and the person holding him fails to release him, he will nip lightly as a warning. But he has never hurt anyone. Rabbits can't cry or whine like cats and dogs do, so people have to be sensitive to them in a different way.
Rabbits aren't quite as easy to care for as cats and dogs: Their cages must be kept clean, and they must be protected from eating things that are bad for them. Also, furniture has to be protected from rabbits. But watching Max sleep right now, lying on his side, one long ear extended back on the floor, the other draped over his paw, I know he has taught me a lot.
Before I met Max, I thought bunnies were just boring lumps of fur that sat around all day munching lettuce. But I was wrong. There is so much to Max, almost daily surprises. The Best Bunny in North America is Max. `Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.