Hazel Part 1 How We Met
by Stanley McFarland
Some friends chose me to drive them to a local shopping mall. I was the only one among them who was pushy enough to borrow a car. Of course, they were pushy enough to have me borrow the car. Such was the logic of late adolescence.
It was the late seventies and I was in college. College textbooks made a dusty pile in the corner of my dorm room while I read the science fiction, fantasy and other light fiction that my underachiever friends were also reading. I’d just finished, Watership Down by Richard Adams. It might not have been the best time to visit the pet store. I had rabbits on the brain.
I borrowed a sixty-six Pontiac. It would probably be considered a classic today. Back then it was just another twelve year old college kid’s car. It was plenty big enough for the five of us as we headed across the border to the Virginia side of the city of Bristol.
When we finished our shopping, someone suggested we head over to the pet store and look at the animals. They had their usual selection of puppies and kittens in the window display. To college kids, most things are more entertaining that studying so we stood by the window and watched.
Easter was a few weeks away and the pet store had an opened top glass case of bunnies. Little children raced up to the case. The bunnies huddled together on the other side of the case. I watched parents lift children up to pet the bunnies. The bunnies were quicker; a kid would be lucky to have an ear or tail brush his hand before the rabbits found a new spot of sanctuary.
“Please don’t pet the rabbits,” a bored store clerk said at intervals. She wasn’t any older than us, probably working her first job out of high school. No one paid any attention to her and this didn’t surprise her at all.
“What’s the name of the rabbit in the book you were reading?” asked June. The shopping trip was her idea and we all were following her lead.
“Hazel,” I told her.
“So, do you see Hazel in the case?”
“Hazel wasn’t a normal bunny,” I told her. “He took chances and did things other rabbits wouldn’t do. These rabbits are all frightened and I don’t think they’re particularly intelligent. See?”
I put my hand down into the case, not trying to pet any rabbit but just to show how they reacted.
Of the eleven bunnies in the case, ten ran to the other side away from my hand. The eleventh stood her ground and looked at my hand warily. I made no attempt to pet the rabbit and after a few seconds, she nudged my hand, encouraging me to pet her.
“Ha!” June laughed. “That one heard you. Now you have to buy her.”
The rabbit nudged my hand around, showing me the areas she liked be scratched below her chin and at the base of her ears. I knew nothing about rabbits. I lived in a dorm with a “no pets” rule. I didn’t have enough money for a cage. I barely had enough for the rabbit and about a week’s worth of rabbit pellets and there was no telling what I was going to do after that.
June was right though. The rabbit had decided we would be together, and there didn’t seem to be much choice in the matter. I bought Hazel.
Hazel taught us all the first lesson about rabbit ownership on the way back to school. Rabbit urine is strong stuff and you need more than the thickness of a cardboard box to stop it.
“Yup, it’s on the seat,” June told me. “It’s really soaking in there too. Phew! Al’s going to smell rabbit pee for months. What are you going to tell him when you return the car?”
“I don’t know.”
We couldn’t find Al when we got back. Kenny, who was even pushier about borrowing cars than I was, saw me in the lobby.
“You got Al’s car keys?”
“He said I could borrow it after you got back.”
“OK,” I told him. “Just don’t have anybody sit in the middle of the front seat.”
Kenny smiled. “I can’t wait to hear about that.”
I handed Kenny the keys and went off to look for Al. He wasn’t in his room or the lobby and I didn’t work too hard trying to find him. Kenny was using the car tonight so Al wasn’t likely to use again till tomorrow. I asked the guy across the hall if he’d seen Al, not because I actually wanted to find him but so I could prove I wasn’t avoiding him if it came to that.
Hazel was getting frustrated in that little box. There weren’t any rabbit cages sitting around but I found some larger boxes and old newspapers in the trash. I shredded the newspaper and used it to line a good-sized box and set her in it.
I went back out to throw away her old box. She’d only been in it two hours and it already smelled pretty bad. I gathered as much newspaper as I could find and knew I was in trouble. The first time they emptied the trash, the college maintenance guys would know someone had a rabbit in their room. I considered dumping my trash at another dorm but decided I wasn’t going to be able to hide Hazel no matter what I did. If I tried to be sneaky about it, I was less likely to manage to keep her.
When I returned to the room, Hazel was hopping around. She wasn’t frightened, just curious. It was a double room but I had no roommate so there was a lot of hopping space. It also had no carpet and about five minutes later, I was happy about that.
A small yellow puddle gathered in a low spot on the floor. I looked around and saw half a dozen little brown balls scattered about. She must have left those when I was in the trash room.
“What am I going to do, Hazel?”
The rabbit looked at me. She didn’t have that blank stare you see in hutch rabbits. Her eyes were soft and round like a normal rabbit’s but there was some personality there.
I bent over to pick her up and didn’t have to chase her at all. I placed her in the box with the shredded newspapers. She pooped immediately.
“If only you would save all your pooping for the box,” I said.
Can a rabbit be litter box trained?
The school I went to had single sexed dormitories. About a dozen guys came in to see my “secret” rabbit that night. Hazel was sociable with everyone. She was happy to let people pet her and even pick her up. After a while, she started squirming. The smart holders let her down then.
Tom didn’t take the hint and held on to her tighter. She positioned her body so she faced Tom squarely, coiled her body tightly and kicked out with her back legs.
Hazel was still a small bunny, about the same size as a two-month-old kitten but even at that size, she had powerful back legs. Hazel went flying through the air and landed gracefully on the floor. Tom was clutching his chest like he’d had a heart attack.
We’d put her down in the box frequently and she almost always pooped when we did. At the end of the night, when I changed her newspaper there was a good amount of urine and poop with the paper. There were no puddles and only a few brown balls in the rest of the room.
Did she understand about litter training? How did she do that?
Al wasn’t one of the visitors that night, nor was Miles our head resident. About half of the dorm now knew about Hazel. It wouldn’t be long before I’d have to talk to Miles about her.
I settled her down with water and some rabbit pellets for the night. The bag wouldn’t last long. What was I going to do then?
The next day at the dining common, I took an apple, some lettuce and some carrot sticks and put them in my pockets. We weren’t supposed to take food out of the common and the apple was too big to go unnoticed. After making certain the lettuce and carrot sticks were well concealed, I took a bite out of the apple as I left the common.
The dining common attendant wasn’t about to take an apple out of my hand that I was already eating. Hazel wouldn’t mind missing one bite.
Al was in the lobby when I got back to the dorm. He was sitting there watching TV and only nodded at me as I came in. He must not have been in his car yet. I wondered how a car seat soaked in rabbit urine smells twenty hours later. I didn’t think that time would help it much.
I sat down near Al and tried to think of how I should put this.
“Al, about the car…”
“Oh, you heard?”
Heard? What was there to hear? Certainly a car seat soaked in urine is not some natural event that has nothing to do with the guy who borrowed the car.
Still, I didn’t see how it would hurt things if I played along.
“Kenny got in an accident last night.”
“Is he alright?”
“He went to the emergency room with some cuts and bruises but he’s back now. He’s hiding in his room.”
“He totaled my car. I barely had a chance to get the stuff out of the trunk before the junk yard took it.”
I felt sorry for Al. He was a good guy and didn’t deserve any of this. I did my best not to smile.
I told him, quite sincerely how sorry I was. I didn’t tell him how relieved I was.