My friend’s summer had been marked by grief. His beloved cat, Miss Bean, his steadfast mate of 14 years, had respiratory failure. The wrenching decision to euthanize reduced Maurice to convulsive sobs. Past breakups – even his divorce – never drew such tears.
Heart-raw, and acutely aware of Miss Bean’s absence (“I went to share the milk from my cereal bowl – our morning ritual – only to realize she wasn’t there.”), Maurice found himself pet-sitting a pair of rabbits in his home. Photo texts ensued. An orange tray laden with fresh greens, carrots, hay and pellets: “Tonight’s dinner." A bunny snuggled on his chest.
“Are you going to adopt a rabbit?” I asked.
“No,” he shot back. “I want a cat."
Fast forward a few weeks. Urgent text: “I’m having a moral quandary about adopting a rabbit. Can you call me?”
I excused myself from lunch and slipped out into the sunshine to oblige. Maurice’s voice teetered with tension. “There’s this 1-year-old rabbit that’s living in a cage… not a great situation. But he doesn’t like to be held or even touched particularly. I mean – I could adopt a baby rabbit and perhaps raise it to be affectionate… But I feel for this grown rabbit, because baby rabbits – Well, you know – it’s like with kittens – They get adopted more easily…”
“I believe in the transformative power of love,” I offered, in the gentle tone I assume when teaching yoga. “I’m sure the 1-year-old would grow to trust you in time.”
He worried aloud, “One of my friends said, ‘You’re going to adopt a rabbit?!? That’s as un-manly as your purple sparkle dune buggy!’ Do you think people will think that?”
“Oh, Maurice!” I growled, done with New Age niceties. “That’s just stupid! Look – I’m not going to tell you what to do, but – You need a companion, and that bunny needs a home. Adopt the 1-year-old. That’s what I say!”
In a gift shop I stumbled upon a greeting card bearing the face of a hare, its ears erect and eyes full of mischief. The heading read “Good Luck”. I popped it in the mail to Maurice.
The fateful text: “I adopted the rabbit. I think I’ll name him Mister B – in honor of Miss Bean.” But a veterinary trip revealed the 1-year-old was, in fact, female. “I’m going to call her Bella… I love her!” Maurice affirmed. “I think Miss Bean orchestrated your meeting Bella,” I observed.
Upon scouting baby cards I found a sketch of a bunny in a diaper bound with pink pins. The heading read “It’s a Girl!” I popped it in the mail to Maurice.
My parents shared in my delight that our longtime family friend had a new furry adoptee and were, like me, eager to meet her in-rabbit. We would meet Bella at Maurice’s house after a dinner at Tamarine, an upscale restaurant in Palo Alto.
In Tamarine’s sleek surrounds we dined on plantain empanadas and vegan ‘scallops’. Meanwhile Maurice spoke of hay: “I used to think Timothy hay was a brand of hay, but it’s not! It’s actually a type of hay. I bought Bella 4 different types of hay. Rabbits have to eat hay. It’s good for their digestive system, and they need to chew on it to whittle their teeth down.
Bella’s previous owners only gave her hay and pellets – not much in the way of fresh greens. I’ve been offering her fresh greens from the farmer’s market every day. (Rabbits need their greens!)
Bella’s training program, it turned out, included re-decorating. We entered Maurice’s always immaculate home by way of his museum-worthy garage, abode of gleaming Vipers, snowmobiles and the purple sparkle dune buggy.
“There she is! ‘Hi, Baby,’” Maurice announced in one breath. At the base of a tall window in the living room sat a Netherlands dwarf bunny. My parents took to the couch, while Maurice and I knelt down on the carpeted floor. Together we formed an adoring audience for the star of the night – a chestnut fluff ball who eyed us with caution. She hopped over to investigate us – but not close enough to be touched. Cilantro beckoned from her orange tray, a smorgasbord of leaves and hay. She chomped heartily whilst we admired her. Next to the cilantro lay an herb of a bigger leaf. “That’s basil,” Maurice cooed, as if addressing a picky infant. “Sometimes we like basil, and sometimes we don’t…” My parents and I exchanged winks. This guy was far gone.
A random romaine lettuce leaf lay on the floor – cast apart from the orange tray. A toilet paper tube. And a scattering of tiny pellets, not of the ‘dinner menu’ variety. Quirky counterpoints to the slick glass coffee table, mod lamp, and shiny car-related awards. Maurice grabbed a dustbuster to tackle select pellets but not all. “She has marked that spot as her territory,” he explained, as he left the window base poos undisturbed.
Her cilantro demolished, Bella approached me and let me pet her for a few seconds, then dashed off. I was thrilled! Moments later she catapulted into the air, flicking her hind legs back like a modern dancer on turbo boost. She literally jumped for joy! “That’s called a binky!” Maurice grinned. Off she sped in rapid circles, 'round the dining room table. “That’s the Bella 500,” he added.
Fresh from the Bunny Speedway, Bella returned to approach me again. Only this time, she presented herself and stayed put. She lowered her head, let me pet her between darling ears, and seemed to look into my soul. To be trusted by one so small and vulnerable was an honor. To commune with this sweet being was sublime. In the way of great spiritual teachers – without words and without force, she helped expand my heart.
Bella’s spiritual path for Maurice would be more involved. For one, the stress of her spay procedure on “dad”. He took to sleeping on the living room floor to keep anxious watch over her recovery. When her digestive tract resumed normal function, he texted a testament to true bun love: “I was never so happy to see a pile of poo.”
Upon considering what might become of Bella, if, heaven forbid, something should happen to him, Maurice asked me if I would be Bella’s godmother.
Godmother to a rabbit? What a request! I happily, or perhaps hoppily, said yes.
Chelsea Eng: Bella's Godmother, and the author of this article