Can a rabbit love a cat?
Those of you who have been following 1000 Hearts for a while know all about our rabbit, Remy. He is a small, black Netherlands Dwarf who rules his devoted minions with an iron paw. He has long been a mascot of this little kindness project and my love for him knows no bounds.
Actually, I feel a deep kinship with Remy. We are both sensitive and highly-strung creatures, on alert for bad news and potential disaster. We both take a while to adjust to new people and changes in our world, but once we are settled, we love deeply and become highly attached to our key companions/minions.
Before Remy, I was a cat person – I can love and appreciate dogs on a case-by-case basis, whereas I have a general admiration for cats’ independent nature and considerate tendency to bury their poo. I had cats as a child and always said that I would have thirteen cats when I grew up, so it was only a matter of time before it came up as a possibility. Then my friend Gabrielle started fostering abandoned newborn kittens and featuring them on her Facebook page, so it started to look like an inevitable outcome.
But...what about Remy? Would he survive? Would he forgive me for bringing a cat into his domain? Wracked by doubt, I did what any modern woman does when she has a dilemma – I googled. The article that came up was full of optimism about pairing cats and rabbits, but it was the final line of the article that really got me; “…when you see your bunny and cat snuggled up together in loving harmony, you will truly begin to believe that world peace is possible.” Take my money, cat’s home! Full of Hallmark visions of Remy snuggled up in loving snoozes with an adorable kitten, I started looking at the fostering page in earnest.
Soon enough, I saw a particular kitten on social media – a little boy called Earl Grey. My cat-loving, tea-drinking heart soared – this must be our cat! I went to meet him and he was indeed a gorgeous little fellow. He moved foster homes and I went to visit him again, this time with both kids. We were having a perfectly lovely time with Earl when in flounced the merest scrap of kitten-shaped fluff.
Grey and white with huge eyes and bat-like ears, she looked a bit like a feline version of Dobby from the Harry Potter series. Smaller than all the others, she was feisty and brave, waving her wisp of a tail like she owned the world. Not wanting to offend Earl, I whispered to the foster carer “who is that?” She replied “Oh, that’s Sylvie, our little social butterfly. She’s a feisty one.” She then proceeded to tell me Sylvie’s story; abandoned at about 4 weeks old, she developed pneumonia and was extremely ill when she was found by bushwalkers. Gabrielle nursed her back to health, expecting that Sylvie wouldn’t make it. “You’d never know it now, but she had an incredibly tough start” the foster carer explained. The kids and I looked at each other and Mads reached out to Sylvie. As soon as her hand brushed the top of Sylvie’s head, a mammoth, grumbling purr erupted from this miniature skerrick of fluff. Her purr was so over the top and out of proportion, we all laughed and took turns giving her cuddles. It was obvious to everyone – THIS was our kitten. A couple of weeks later, she came home with us as a foster-to-adopt, with one condition – we would only move forward with adoption if Remy would accept her.
I like to research challenging situations and I have a tendency to request information that can be unhelpful. A good example is seeing a vet for Remy’s vaccinations and asking her about bringing a cat into our home. My fatal error was asking her what the worst-case scenario might be (why do I do that?! There is no winning answer here!) She looked at me, deadpan, and said “cat eats rabbit.” Trembling and pale, I carried Remy carefully out to the car and shed a quiet tear on my way home. But we persevered and introduced Sylvie and Remy through a barrier which seemed to go OK. They were an odd couple, for sure. Sylvie just wanted to play and as soon as she spied Remy, went into excited mode and tried to lunge at him. Remy was mildly curious but mostly cautious and easily startled. Contrary to what I expected, he didn’t make a show of his dominance – he was gently inquisitive and nervously dubious about this new addition to his previously peaceful household.
As time went on, Remy’s fear did not abate and we were unable to progress to increased contact. Rabbits can die of shock and we all agreed that this was not a risk worth taking unless he relaxed a bit, but he never did. An unforeseen flaw in our plan was just how much we all fell in love with Sylvie. A quirky, hilarious and affectionate puss, she stole into all our hearts and brought so much joy and laughter to our home, but it was marred by our concerns for Remy, who became more and more withdrawn. Keeping them separated forever wasn’t a practical solution so after many tears and pros-and-cons lists, we admitted defeat and put the word out to find Sylvie her forever home.
It sounds like a small thing, to foster a kitten for two months and to surrender her because your rabbit doesn’t like her, but the whole experience profoundly affected me. I learned that when fear rules, peace is not possible and that sometimes our natural tendencies towards aggression and playfulness can be a barrier to connection. I learned that love makes us better people, especially when we act selflessly in the best interests of the other. At one point, as I sobbed down the phone to Gabrielle “why did you get me into this? I can’t give her up…this is too hard,” she gently helped me realise that the experience was helping to prepare me for when my children grow up and leave home (it’s not that far off for me these days). I learned that love means releasing the other to their best possible life, even when it hurts.
Sylvie’s new owner sends me photos and keeps me updated (she is blissfully happy and so loved). Remy is king of his domain again and hardly spends any time in his hutch these days. As for me, I’ve received a timely reminder that we can never own another creature and goodbyes are heartbreaking, but love is worth it.
This is My Brave
In May 2018, I gave a talk about anxiety and heart-making for This is My Brave Australia, a non-profit organisation reducing stigma around mental illness through storytelling. Here's what I talked about that night.Read more
Can a rabbit love a cat?
What fostering a kitten taught me about love, anxiety and world peace.Read more
Be The Change
Last weekend I was invited to attend a Mindful Compassionate Leadership workshop organised by the fabulous Polly McGee.Read more