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In This Place

The cruelty of April

Liz Lerner

April is indeed the cruelest month – and it’s not just because Cape Cod weather whipsaws us into madness, with 65 degrees one day and 40 the next.

It’s the rabbits.

I’ve always had dogs and occasionally they, or one of the kids, would find a baby rabbit. You know the rest. There would be a desperate rescue attempt that would end in failure and tears.

But my current dog, The Hound, who has the nose and hearing to detect anything for 20 miles, takes rabbit hunting to a new level. I would warn you that this rabbit tale doesn’t have a happy ending either, although I have learned a few things in the process.

Earlier this month, I saw The Hound doing his happy dance out in the backyard and figured he had something. Indeed, it was a 5-inch baby rabbit, which he was shaking like an old sock. It’s easy to see, or rather hear the appeal. Baby rabbits sound like a squeaky toy, although more visceral. It’s a sound meant to go straight to the heart. Sadly, it was too late for that one.

I’m not even sure how he smells in the nests. Baby Eastern cottontails – which I’m assuming these are as opposed to the rarer New England cottontails – give off no scent of their own, according to my research. The mother does, however, and she not only lines the nest with her belly fur, but visits a couple of times a day to feed her babies. Supposedly rabbits sometimes pick nesting sites where there are dogs because they help to deter other predators, which in our case is like asking a raptor to guard your nest from a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

After getting the now dead baby from The Hound’s jaws, I allowed him to lead me back to the site and we were then in a race to find the siblings. Ironically, I needed his nose to find the rest of the nest, which we did.

I put him in the house and eventually managed to find five other babies that were scrunching through the ivy. But there was no way I could follow the recommendations of wildlife rescue organizations on how to protect the nest. For example, The Hound has dug his way out of $5,000 worth of fencing and there is no enclosure that I can create on my own which the mother rabbit could breach but he couldn’t. And, leash walking him four or five times a day for three to four weeks while the rabbits grow up is just not an option since it defeats the whole purpose of spending that much money on fencing. Finally, although I honor life, it just wasn’t a day that I could afford the time to take baby rabbits to a rescue group. I know some of you will be horrified at this. But some days we just have to do the best we can.

The babies’ eyes were open and they seemed to be of a size that, based on advice from a rehabilitator’s website, might survive on their own. So I recreated the nest on the other side of the fence where I had seen what I like to assume was the mother. I dug a depression, lined it with leaves and her fur from the other nest, and piled the babies into it, wearing gloves and handling them as little as possible.

Of course it didn’t work. I ignored them for a few days, wallowing in wishful thinking and guilt. When I checked back, the depression was empty. There were tears, although at least it wasn’t The Hound that got them.

My strategy for next April is prevention. I’ve been researching rabbit deterrents and I’m hoping the fencing that we installed to prevent The Hound from digging under the $5,000 fence will also deter the mother bunnies. I hope so. It would be nice to enjoy some days in April that are not so cruel.