Mike, my burly general contractor, stopped mid-sentence and looked past me towards the source of that thunderous sound: The oversized back feet of a large, black-and-white splotched rabbit. The bun sat upright and defiant, in the center of the kitchen floor.  If it’s possible for a bunny to glare, this one was doing it.

“Is he OK?” Mike asked.

“You’re fiddling with your keys.  He doesn’t like it.”

Mike had been absent-mindedly running his fingers through the collection of metal bits in one of his pockets.  Despite the “this woman is insane” look on his face, his hand went still.  Satisfied, the long-eared protestor turned and hopped away to attend to his waiting pile of greens. Not even a 200-pound adversary could intimidate Elwood.

I wasn’t planning on having another pet rabbit. When my first, a beloved friend for 9 years, had died I was devastated. Though I tried to replace her, I wasn’t able to find another bunny that seemed to fit.

I got rid of all my rabbit equipment and moved across the country: started a new job, found a new apartment, new boyfriend. Everything was going great and pets were not on my mind.

Then one day I got some sort of flu and went to see my doctor. After a routine blood pressure check, the nurse told me to lie down and stay there. Apparently the numbers on that meter weren’t good. They kept me lying there for a couple of hours before they let me leave with medication and a pamphlet: how to reduce your hypertension.

The most effective method was exercise, which my doctor had already ordered me to get at least three times a week. Six a.m. would find me at the gym, effective immediately.  But one additional suggestion caught my eye: petting an animal can reduce blood pressure. Sounded to me like medicine I’d enjoy taking!

Now clued into rescue groups, I sought help from a warm young woman named Katie with a cellar full of adoptable rabbits. Though Katie preferred to adopt out bonded pairs, I wasn’t ready to commit to two.

“Well,” she said, “Mark is a pretty perfect guy, but we’ve had trouble getting him to bond.  If you aren’t willing to take two, how about him?”

She pointed to a large, grumpy-looking rabbit whose fur looked like someone had hurled paint at him. If there was a bunny equivalent of a junkyard dog, I was looking at it. Not the one I would have picked, but “pretty perfect” was a solid recommendation.

A few days later, he and Katie arrived at my apartment. Katie inspected the newly-purchased hutch in my kitchen, decked out with litterbox, and the rooms “Mark” would be allowed to freely roam. She seemed satisfied and left him to me with her blessing.

From the first, “Mark” made himself right at home.  He explored everything. Even mysteriously vanished one day, to be found, after a panicked search, in a small crevice behind my 50’s era gas stove. Thank heavens we hadn’t turned it on. Some emergency rabbit-proofing effectively blocked his access going forward.

Bunproofing complete, the next thing to fix was his name. I’d had a college boyfriend named Mark, who took our break-up badly and made sure I knew it. A new moniker was in order for my gruff little roommate.

What’s a good name for a rabbit who looks like he’s perpetually wearing shades? After some brainstorming, he was christened Elwood Blues. The name would turn out to be even more perfect than we expected.

One day soon after, I had an opportunity to work from home. I’d set up a small desk in the kitchen near Elwood’s hutch. He was sleeping on the rug outside of it, as I focused intently on the software I was writing.

Out of the silence there came a sound. It was voice-like, but not speech. A bird? The sound persisted, got louder, breaking my concentration. I got up to look out the window and see what it was. But it became clear it wasn’t coming from the back yard. It was coming from… Elwood!? I had never heard a rabbit sing before. Until that moment, I didn’t know it was possible!

Elwood sang throughout his life, composing original musical works for years. I’ve had other rabbits since who have sung a bit. Usually when they get older. But none so far could compare with this boy for prolificity and volume. Elwood could really belt out a tune!

I always think of Elwood as a “Rabbit Ambassador.” He loved people! He immediately charmed all my friends. My house cleaner, from what I could tell, spent most of his weekly visit feeding Elwood treats.

But it was when my boyfriend and I moved to Southern California that Elwood really came into his own. Any time the doorbell rang, Elwood was right next to me to greet whoever was calling. He expected to be recognized, and petted, by every visitor.  When we threw parties, he would hop from guest to guest demanding (and getting) their full attention!

When I rose at 6am to work out in the living room, Elwood would welcome me with raucous binkies each time. It was so delightful to see that morning greeting! Though sometimes he continued to binky underfoot while I was “binkying” (doing aerobics) and a few times nearly caused some serious accidents!

In the evenings, while we were on the sofa watching TV, Elwood would come bounding into the room, fling around the noisiest toys he could find, and nip our ankles just to show us who was in charge.

And indeed, there was one thing he did not tolerate, and that was the sound of keys or coins jangling in someone’s pocket. Before Elwood, I never noticed how often people absent mindedly fidgeted with the contents of their pockets.  But it never escaped his attention.

It wasn’t until years after Elwood’s time that a possible explanation occurred to me. Could his distaste have originated from the sounds of tags jingling on a dog’s collar? Might Elwood have had a pre-adoption history of conflict with a canine?

Elwood inspired several of my paintings, including the featured image at the top of this post, and this one, entitled: Big Bunny is Watching You

Jinglephobia aside, Elwood was a joy to live with. He rarely had the indiscretion to discard a poop outside the litterbox and certainly never peed outside it.  He did very little “recreational chewing,” happy to confine himself to hay and his food.

Notably, however, he was the only rabbit who ever disabled my vacuum.  He accomplished this slyly in a moment when I was called away from cleaning to look at something on my boyfriend’s computer.  Upon returning, the machine wouldn’t start. There was a strategic slice about halfway down the cord. Since then I never leave a vacuum cord exposed and unattended around a bun!

I adored Elwood. I doted on him. Spent hours on the floor near him, petting him, and he was more than happy to soak it in. One night, I fell asleep laying on the living room rug. I awoke to find he had curled up and fallen asleep right next to me.

After we’d had him only about 5 years, Elwood began to slow down. By then I’d come around to the idea that a rabbit companion would be good for him and had contacted a local rescue. They would board him for a week or so to do a bonding while we were on vacation. But being taken away from his home, or perhaps, us, his people, was too upsetting for Elwood. He went into stasis that week from the stress (stopped eating – a condition that can quickly lead to death). It was only through the rescue’s quick and skillful medical intervention that he survived that separation.

Though he fully recovered, eventually age took over. His eyes clouded with cataracts and he began to get weak in his back legs, unable to hop easily. While this is common for aging bunnies, Elwood also developed an inexplicable illness which manifested by him regurgitating. That’s not supposed to be possible for a rabbit! I caught it on video and showed the vet, who was also baffled and could do nothing to help us.

Though he was deteriorating, unable to get out of the litterbox, and wasting away, I couldn’t part with Elwood.  I would hold him on my lap daily to hand feed him. He still had an appetite. I would spot-clean him in the sink every morning and blow dry him carefully, lying back in an easy chair and holding him on my chest, which he gently nipped.

A couple months into this routine, we had a trip planned – a week in New York for a friend’s birthday. I left my competent rabbit sitter and a devoted neighbor in charge of Elwood’s care, but we got the call a few days into the trip: Elwood was gone. Though he never really bonded with another rabbit, I suspect he had a great bond with his people and perhaps the separation had again been too much for him.

The Fluffy Tail of This Blog Post

Pet lovers love all their pets. But sometimes one comes along that digs down to a nook in your heart that you didn’t even know existed. Elwood was one of those pets. He was a tough-guy bunny, shattering stereotypes and redefining rabbithood. So devoted and fearless I could swear he’d take a bullet for me. He had opinions, too, strong ones. You always knew where he stood. Elwood raised my expectations for what living with a rabbit can be and should be. He’ll be remembered always.

5 thoughts on “Elwood Blues: A Bunography

  1. Jean Calandrino says:

    Your story touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. We recently had to euthanize our 13 year-old Havanese pup, Ollie, due to liver failure. Like Elwood, Ollie was a big personality in a little (12 pound) body. He was my happy, loving, playful, mischievous shadow and devoted “bodyguard”. Ollie was a special little guy. Luna, our bunny, has noticed his absence, but only because she can now explore the house without getting her butt sniffed or being urged to play chase!

    • So sorry to hear about Ollie. He sounds like a really great dog!

      Those end of life decisions are absolutely heart wrenching, in addition to the loss of a very good friend. As someone who has in the past exited through crowded veterinary waiting rooms while sobbing uncontrollably, I know how you feel. They leave their mark. But the love is so worth the price!

      Also, very impressed you were able to make it work with a dog and a bun cohabiting safely! That’s wonderful. I hope to do the same one day. Any tips?

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