I, like many people, talk to animals. Anyone who owns a pet – whether it is a dog, cat, bird, gerbil or lizard – and does not talk to it is most unusual.
But what is really unusual is that, in two cases, the animal has talked back. The first time this happened was 17 years ago. I don’t know why I was thinking about that episode, but I was as I walked into our snow-covered backyard a few days ago.
There sat a rabbit in the same spot where that first one had sat. And it looked identical to that other bunny. Of course, all rabbits look pretty much alike, but this one seemed to have the same downcast, Rodney Dangerfield “I don’t get no respect” character as his predecessor.
Before I could think what I was doing, I blurted out: You’re not Peter, are you?
The rabbit seemed startled by this question, but he responded: Yes, of course I am.
Our conversation continued:
Are you the same Peter who talked with me 17 years ago?
Are you nuts? No rabbit lives that long.
You have the same name as the rabbit I talked to then.
Is that unusual? I happen to know that you have a son with the same name as yours. In my case Peter is a name that represents a tradition in our family. I am probably Peter the zillionth, but I don’t think anyone has kept track.
I suppose then that the Peter I talked with earlier was your grandfather or great-grandfather.
Are you kidding? You need a lot of greats before that grandfather. As it happens, that talk with you has become a legend in our family so I can trace it back exactly. That other Peter was 23 generations ago.
Wait a minute. That’s more than a generation a year.
That’s pretty rapid breeding.
Wake up, mister. We don’t live long so we have to mature fast.
OK, I can see that. But with all that breeding, where are all your brothers and sisters? Or were you an only bunny?
No. My family has always been typical so we have averaged about five kits in each family, but my great-aunt Flopsie had a dozen.
Wow, that’s a lot of rabbits. And with 23 generations since I talked to your forbearer, we ought to have a lot of rabbits around.
Buddy, join the real world. If I were a pet, coddled in a cage, I could live eight or 10 years. But in the wild, we live at the bottom of the food chain. I’m considered a really old rabbit at 28 months, because our average life span is only 13 months and only a fifth of us live a second year.
I’m sorry to hear that.
And well you should. You are a good part of the problem.
Do you mean hunting?
Well, there is that, but consider this. How many miles of roads are there in your town?
There must be hundreds.
Well, for each of those miles 10 of us are killed by cars each year.
I can see that is a lot of deaths.
I’ll give you some more statistics if you want to hear them.
It’s pretty gruesome, but here goes. Almost half of us are killed by dogs, foxes, cats, weasels, raccoons, to say nothing of hawks and owls. Then there’s disease: tularemia takes another fifth. Those cars and hunting take the rest.
You’re right. Not an easy existence.
Then there are the people who don’t want us eating their flowers and bushes. Your wife is one of them and, uh-oh, there she is at the window. I’m outta here.