Just before Christmas, my parents lost their house-trained dwarf rabbit. She had been sick for some time, and simply didn't wake up one morning.
There might be some who think, "Oh, it's just a rabbit . . . it's not like it was a real pet, like a dog or cat," and I will firmly and respectfully disagree with them. "Bunny," or "Rabbit" as she was called, was litter box trained, had free run of my parents' family and laundry rooms, knew when her bedtime was, and would come over to my parents, my father especially, when they were watching television in the evening and wait to be picked up and petted. If that's not a real pet, then I don't know what is.
But more than that was the literal companionship this little rabbit provided. She was a rescue, being found by my parents one Sunday morning wandering around the parking lot at church. She wasn't wild, and didn't run away when someone simply went over and picked her up. Perhaps she escaped from someone, or was released for some reason, but for the seven years she was with my parents, she was a loved member of the family. When they first brought her home, my parents would block the steps and slats on the deck behind their house, and let Rabbit wander around unsupervised. Until a hawk landed on the deck railing, eyeing Rabbit as an easy meal and was luckily shooed away by my mother. After that, Rabbit stayed in the house.
When I still lived in Maryland, and my parents would go away on vacation, I would go up to their house every night after work to care for and "play" with Rabbit per my mom's written instructions. I would come into the house and let her out of the laundry room, and she would do a once-around the family room and kitchen and then head down the hallway to the living room. The living room, especially under the piano, was a forbidden zone, and Rabbit would inevitably sense a new person in the house and head right for the piano. As Mom recalls, "When you wanted to get her out, you had to sharply say, 'Rabbit, Rabbit, where are you?' And then rattle the Ritz cracker box and say, 'Want a cookie?' And she would come out to the the laundry room and you could close the door...it was funny and sad at the same time to remember those instructions."
My father's nighttime ritual of watching "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" included petting Rabbit, either holding her on his lap or tucking her next to his leg as he sat on the floor. And much like a cat purrs when it's relaxed and content, Rabbit would let out a series of small grunts and clicks when she was with my dad, thoroughly enjoying the gentle petting.
Once the two game shows were over, Rabbit knew it was time for bed, and she would leave my father and hop into her cage, waiting for her nightly graham cracker, and the top to be placed on her cage, ending her day.
And after I moved away, Tori, the daughter of my mom's colleague Amy, would watch Rabbit, or "Flopsy," as she called her, as an unknown disorder caused her to lose her balance and somersault. This condition grew progressively worse, and ultimately proved fatal.
The morning Rabbit died, my father, always the soft-hearted one, cried softly as they wrapped her in a soft towel, placed her in a shoebox, and then my father buried her under a tree in their backyard.
The importance and value of a pet cannot be underestimated, nor can the loss of a pet, even a rabbit, be dismissed lightly. Even before she died, I asked my mother if she would ever replace Rabbit, and she was adamant that she wouldn't. I believed my mother then, and still believe now that she and my father won't have another pet.
Because no pet could ever replace Rabbit.