Inara & the Rabbits

In what has now become a trilogy of posts, I'm here again to write about the RSPCA Badly Drawn Pets fundraiser because last night it was my turn to get sketchy. The fundraiser has done really well, sailing past its 3K target, but that has meant there is a backlog of pets to be badly drawn and the pool of 'artists' has had to be extended. I am now within that pool, bathing in the inks and paints. Well, its more like colouring pencils and felt tips, but you get what I mean. My subject was a black rabbit called Inara (Hittite goddess of wild animals - cool name!) who stands proudly in her picture sticking her ridiculous cartoonish tongue out. I've not posted the full drawing here because I thought it better for the owner-donators to see it first, but this detail shows the aforementioned tongue. It was a fun exercise, taking me back to those heady days of GSCE art where I would gamely reproduce various Still Lives and be awarded Cs for attainment and Bs for effort. But I was pleased with my effort in regards to Inara. It might not quite capture the spirit of the Goddess of Wild Animals, but you can tell its a rabbit sticking its tongue out and its cute.

Our own rabbits Marble and Finch were hopping about causing mischief as I sketched and shaded. The latter, Finch, is a doppelganger of Inara: pure black with olive eyes and the tendency to occasionally stick his tongue out. He's in the bad books this morning though because I caught him chasing Marble around last night, nipping her back, pulling out chunks of her fur. It happens occasionally; a little spat or disagreement over something and nothing. They were fine fifteen minutes later, snug up beside each other, heads together. They are an anxious pair, generally speaking. We've had four house rabbits now and each has had their own distinct personality. Delphi, the first, was gentle, demur, quietly affectionate, then along came her partner George who was a proper Jack-the-lad; lively, confident, fearless, spirited. After Delphi passed away along came Marble to partner George in his old age. She was sturdier than Delphi, but feistier too, and less patient of anyone's nonsense. Then George departed and along came Finch who is cautious, aloof, mysterious.

It took a full year for Marble and Finch to be 'bonded'. It is a fraught and difficult process. Often people mistakenly think you can get a 'friend' for a solo rabbit and just put them together and everything is fine. Ho-ho, if only. Rabbits might look all cute and cuddly on the surface but underneath they are beasts. A rabbit fight is one of the most suddenly terrifying things, a whirlwind of tooth, claw and fur that speeds impossibly fast around the room in an explosion of scratches and thumps. When it gets really bad you get 'shrimping'. This is when the combatants lie on their sides and use the claws of their massive back feet to hack and slash at the other's soft belly. Fortunately, it's never got to that extreme with Marble and Finch but they were both such bundles of fury that it took months and months for them to start tolerating each other. We had to build a divide down the centre of our living room to give them each their territories. I took to calling it the Berlin Wall and kept pleading with each bunny to make peace so we could tear it down. And then, two Christmasses ago, after a year of cold lagomorph war, they just decided they were friends. Perhaps some of the sickly sweetness of the yuletide atmosphere settled into them, or they just grew fed up of the endless sniping. Perhaps they had always been in love; there is something of the Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy about them. Ever since, they've been thick as thieves - aside from the occasional scrap.

I could write all day about rabbits. Ever since Delphi, I've adored them. I think its something to do with the fact that they are such default animals in our minds; one of the first we encounter as infants in our picture books and very easy to track down in the not-too-far-away wilds. But when you actually get to know them, as animals, as pets, as house-bound companions, their delightful intricacy reveals itself in various behaviours and habits. It's their character, I suppose, which emerges from behind all the cutesyness that we've ascribed to them. The fighting is one thing (which soon puts cutesyness to bed), but its also all their little micro-movements and routines, and the subtle changes in their poise which mean different things at different times. We've become quite attuned to most of it now. We can recognise when they've positioned themselves in a particular part of the room so they can keep a close eye on everything that's important. Their radar ears will be trained on competing sounds - often its one listening to us humans, the other pointed at the fellow bunny. And then there's wild times. Rabbits are crepuscular by nature, liveliest at dawn and dusk. Often, as twilight fades away outside, Marble and Finch come to life. One minute they're silent, the next they're charging around in a big circuit, thumping, grunting, leaping and twitching. If you've never seen such ridiculousness just search for 'binkying' or 'binky' in YouTube and bear witness to the fitness.

Rabbits are a mainstay of cutesy greetings cards and printed homewares, such as duvet covers and dinner plates. On these items you'll get the fluffiest, fuzziest specimens, often in pairs, often snuggled up to each other or seemingly 'kissing' (they're not: one is checking if the other has anything to eat), or generally being all cuddly and soft and harmless. In reality, like all animals both domestic and wild, they are living, breathing creatures who fight, wreck, get ill, and do all manner of delightful and unexpected things. Contrary to received wisdom, they are not the best pets for children as they are not naturally particularly affectionate, given that they are prey animals who will do anything to not be picked up (in short; get a cat instead). But they are fascinating creatures if they are allowed to range around and be themselves and take up big, messy spaces in our lives. 

Inara is not actually sticking her tongue out in jokey defiance. The camera has just happened to capture her licking moisture off her lips, probably after drinking water. But we see what we want to see; what amuses and soothes us and renders our animals safe and contained. But her name gives her away: there is great power and majesty inside each and every creature that will always burst free and there is nothing we can do to stop it. So embrace it. We say the word 'pet' because its neat and it feels safe and gentle. But we must never forget that we have brought an animal into our lives and pet is just a euphemism. These creatures of ours may well be domesticated but they are still wild. Goddess Inara will never be fully suppressed.


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