The lettuce in the garden was a mystery. It had just three leaves. Then two. It looked healthy enough, but leaves kept disappearing. It was as if someone was snacking on my lettuce.
That's because "someone" was.
My dog, Shaggy, spotted her first – a brown rabbit with a white spot between her eyes. She stood on the other side of the fence – the side the garden was on – and stared back, unafraid, as Shaggy raced back and forth along the fence, barking and growling.
I worried that my whole garden would be lunch for this rabbit, but she ate only the lettuce. Although she was an uninvited guest, she wasn't a gluttonous one. She had manners.
One afternoon, I watched Shaggy dig in the pine needles. His nose was buried deep in the dirt, while his front paws worked furiously. Digging was a favorite pastime for him, and we usually paid little attention, but he looked particularly enthusiastic that day. I looked closer.
"What is that fluff in Shaggy's mouth?" I asked.
My husband leapt up and ran to the hole Shaggy had just dug. Two baby rabbits, their eyes still closed, snuggled together. The rabbits were brown and had a white marking between their eyes. The fluff in Shaggy's mouth was the mother rabbit's fur, which she had used to build the nest.
After a frantic Internet search, we learned what to do: We dug a hole in the pine needles a few feet away, but on the other side of the fence (away from Shaggy's teeth and nails), and rebuilt the nest with as much of the original fluff as we could find. We gently laid the bunnies in the hole and covered it with pine straw. Mother rabbits come back at night to feed their babies, so we decided we'd check in the morning to see what had happened.
The next day, the nest looked undisturbed but the tiny rabbits were gone. The mother had come back and moved them to a new nest. I was glad they were being cared for and relieved that I didn't have to check on them anymore.
Only then did it strike me as ironic that we had saved the rabbits from our dog, when those same rabbits would be back next summer eating my lettuce.
But you have to try to save baby rabbits, I decided. It's one of the things that civilized people do, like tending to injured enemy soldiers that have been captured. These rules of engagement show our humanity.
So the mother rabbit and I seem to have a tacit agreement: I kept her babies out of harm's way, and she can eat as much of my lettuce as she wants, as long as she leaves my other plants alone.
Next summer I expect to see three brown rabbits with white markings between their eyes on the other side of the fence, driving Shaggy crazy.
I think I'll plant more lettuce.