by Cecil S. Webb
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1957
Dear Mrs. Blanc, Thank you very much for loaning me your copy of A Hare About the House. I thoroughly enjoyed it and, as you can see by the book jacket, so did my rabbit Patrick. I walked in to see that my little thief had pulled the book off the night stand and was indulging in a snack on the bed pillows. Evidently he found the old paper delicious, for he did not stop his nibbling even when he saw me. He hasn’t done anything this upsetting since he was a year old and bit my roommate’s Bible. (Fortunately, after a while she found the bite marks endearing–all God’s creatures, so to speak. That is, after she cooled off.) Thank you so for sharing it with me. And, I am truly sorry about the cover.
You can meet such nice people working in a used bookstore. That’s where I met Pauline Blanc several years ago. Seeing a photo of my rabbits had reminded Mrs. Blanc of an old book she had. The cover, she said, was an amazing photograph of a hare hopping up a flight of stairs. A few days later she loaned me the prized book. So one can imagine how mortified I was when I caught Patrick in the act of devouring it. The title and the picture were still intact, but Patrick had effectively created separate front and back covers. In my embarrassment, I put the book, the jacket pieces, and the above note in a sack and hoped Mrs. Blanc would come to retrieve her book on one of my days off.The irony of a lagomorph (a member of the order featuring rabbits, hares, and pikas) chewing a book about lagomorphs would not have been lost on the book’s author. Cecil S. Webb’s attitude about long-eared, short-tall mammals with two pairs of upper incisors was forever changed the day his wife rescued a day-old orphan Irish hare. As Webb puts it: “Occasionally the opportunity arises for one to live on intimate terms with a great character of the animal kingdom who, bereft of fear, reveals his extraordinary individuality. …” As superintendent of the Dublin Zoo, Webb and his wife were used to their kitchen becoming an overflow nursery for a variety of wild animal babies, but this was their first wild hare. The leveret, or baby hare, quickly took to sucking warm milk diluted with one-third water and a touch of glucose D from a fountain-pen filler and was named Horrie, short for Horace.
A Hare About the House is about several orphaned wild Irish hares and one domestic rabbit, but it is primarily Horrie’s story, and Webb’s preference for him is obvious early on. One difference between hares and rabbits is that hares are born above ground, fully furred, with their eyes open. Day-old Horrie is described as “fearless” and “perky and full of energy.” When he’s 16 days old, an orphaned domestic white rabbit joins the household and is named Squirt, as in “poor little…” Newborn rabbits, usually called baby bunnies or baby rabbits, are born in burrows and, in Webb’s words, are “naked, blind, and ugly…By comparison with the beautiful wide-eyed, alert, fluffy little leveret, this was one of nature’s monstrosities.” When Squirt’s fur grows in, he and Horrie become pals.
Written in the fifties, the book’s charm is in its many photographs and the fascinating yet familiar descriptions of how secure-feeling lagomorphs behave indoors. Surprisingly there’s not a lot of insight into the differences between hares and rabbits because much of Horrie’s unanticipated behavior has also been observed in house rabbits. Horrie is relentlessly inquisitive; he chews walls and curtains; he prances. As a youngster he’d suddenly jump straight up, “a sort of involuntary bounce as if a spring had been released.” Both hare and bunny take to using a litterbox from the very start.
Webb concedes that “In his way [Squirt] is a great character….He is full of fun but has none of Horrie’s devilment and love of getting into mischief.” Horrie is indeed an individual with some flamboyant tastes and talents. A possibly unique skill emerges at six days of age when he begins loudly drumming his front feet on hollow items and cardboard boxes. Webb wonders if this is how leverets tell their mothers where to find them, though Horrie drums every evening of his life.The wild hare matures into an adult and lives in the yard and house. On occasion, Horrie would hop out a window. When Webb goes to find him, Horrie willingly comes when he hears his name and lets himself be carried home. Indoors, both lagomorphs excel at creating games. Horrie observes that if he drops an apple it rolls: “He learned that by flicking his head as he dropped the apple it would roll farther, and so the game went on, with Horrie chasing it all around.” Squirt shows Horrie how to lift the lid off a pot and drop it for an enthusiastic bang. They also delight in “jumping on the footpedal of a garbage can [for] a similar clatter.”
Squirt demonstrates that male rabbits can dig and what is required for excavating Irish land: “he pushes the mound forward, while his belly is flat on the ground, like a miniature bulldozer. Large stones are pushed out of the way with his nose. A great lump of iron was dragged up with his teeth while walking backward, and finally his nose was brought into play to push it clear.” For interactive play, Webb runs around dragging a rug onto which Horrie “takes a flying leap” for a slippery carpet ride.
Horrie also “loves tearing up and down stairs, going up two at a time with a most beautiful action. Once on the upper landing the urge to dance is irresistible.”
When Mrs. Blanc came to pick up her book, I held it in its brown wrapper and described which parts I recognized in my rabbits and what was new to me. As I was about to confess what had happened to the cover, Mrs. Blanc said, “You know, that book means a lot more to you than it does to me. Why don’t you keep it.” Happily I have. It’s been one of those funny reminders of what it means to have a lagomorph in the house.
Editorial comment: The fact that an orphaned wild animal was able to prosper in the home of an experienced animal handler does not mean that wildlife in general should be kept as pets..
For further wildlife rehab questions, please email here.
House Rabbit Journal Volume III, Number 1, Winter 1994