“Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble.”
Ginny watched as the soft brown bunny gnawed at the carrot she held. Sitting cross-legged in the grass under the shade of the tall hedge surrounding the yard, she could hear other bunnies rustling in the bushes, but so far, none were as brave as the brown one. She sensed rather than saw movement in the shadows.
“Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble.”
More than half the carrot was gone and Ginny could feel the bunny’s whiskers tickling her hand. She giggled, and the chewing stopped. The brown bunny gave her a serious stare, then wiggled its nose.
Ginny giggled again, and wiggled her nose back.
“Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble. Wiggle, wiggle.” The bunny resumed eating; then she stopped and tensed up.
“Better not let it bite you,” her brother Jamie called from the front door, “It might give you rabbitsies, I mean rabies.” he laughed and went back inside.
“Wiggle, wiggle,” the bunny resumed eating, “Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble.”
Ginny scooted back, and slid the stub of carrot out onto her fingertips as far as she could. The bunny pulled it out of her grasp and hopped back into the hedge, pausing to turn and gave Ginny an extra “Wiggle, wiggle,” then disappear into the shadows. Ginny heard rustling, but saw nothing.
Inside, Jamie was on the couch wrestling with Oliver, their puppy. “Can we go outside now?” he asked Ginny. “Are the bunnies all safe and secure?”
“Sure, thanks for waiting,” she replied, “But I’m not sure that Oliver could catch a bunny anyway.”
“The thrill of the chase,” Jamie responded. “He might be better if you and I aren’t helping.” He grinned and Ginny grinned back, remembering the entanglement from last week.
Ginny skipped into the kitchen and added carrots and lettuce (with two plusses) to the grocery list her folks kept on the counter.
It all started with the ball that Oliver found at the beach. He laid in the sand and chewed on it until their dad made Jamie take it away from Oliver, since they didn’t know what it was. It could have been an old dead crab or fish or anything, but it was an old tennis ball that was shaggy and dirty. When Jamie washed it off in the waves, Oliver tried to get it away from him without getting into the water. They romped and played. Then Jamie threw the ball and Oliver ran after it and picked it up. Jamie tried to get Oliver to bring it back, but fetching wasn’t in his plan. He lay down and began to chew the ball, but when Jamie approached, Oliver leapt up and scampered away.
“That dog needs some training,” their father observed.
“Oliver isn’t the only one around here that needs training,” Ginny thought, looking at Jamie.
Their dad and Jamie began to teach Oliver to fetch. First they tried to teach him how to ‘sit and stay.’ Oliver was not impressed, but finally got the idea.
Next, their dad made Oliver ‘sit and stay’, but gave him the ball.
“Oliver must be part bird dog,” he observed, “He’s got a very soft mouth. He can carry the ball without squeezing it; just holding it gently.”
Next they made Oliver ‘sit and stay’ with the ball, then drop it. Oliver was not very interested in this act. He repeatedly dropped the ball, leapt after it and ran off. Then the whole process would start again. Ginny realized that their dad was teaching Jamie how to manage Oliver — as well as teaching Oliver.
Finally, Oliver got the message, or maybe he just got tired and bored (like Ginny was). Oliver could (mostly) drop the ball when commanded ‘drop it’, so they moved on to the next trick. Oliver was ordered to ‘sit and stay’, then Jamie threw the ball a few feet away and called, “fetch!” Oliver just looked at the ball, then at them and didn’t move.
Jamie picked up the ball and brought it back to his dad. “I’ll show him what we want,” he told his dad. Oliver watched the two of them and yawned.
Jamie’s dad threw the ball and called “Fetch!”
Jamie ran after the ball and brought it back to his dad, then dropped it when his dad ordered him to. Jamie chased the ball again, but Oliver just watched. Finally, Jamie chased the ball, looked back at Oliver sitting next to his dad, and called, “Come.” Oliver bounded to him. Jamie pointed to the ball on the ground, and yelled, “Fetch!”
Oliver looked at Jamie, then at the ball, then ran around in circles.
Once again, Jamie pointed to the ball on the ground, and yelled, “Fetch!”
Oliver picked up the ball and ran in circles away from him. Jamie yelled, “Come!” at the same time that his dad yelled, “Sit and stay.” Oliver stopped, looked at the two of them and dropped the ball.
After many trials and errors, Oliver would bolt after the ball when thrown, and either lay on it, pick it up and chew it, or just generally scamper around. When he picked it up, they would call him to ‘come’, and if he did, they said ‘drop it’ at Jamie’s feet.
Finally, their dad began to reward Oliver with a Frito from their lunch basket when he got it all right. Occasionally Jamie got a Frito, too. (Ginny felt that Oliver was learning much more quickly than Jamie, but then, she considered Oliver much smarter than Jamie.)
Ginny lay down on the towels next to her mom and listened to the orders to ‘sit and stay’, ‘fetch’, ‘come’ and ‘drop it’. It got pretty boring, but Oliver seemed to get better at it once there were Fritos involved.
Later, back at the house, Ginny went into the kitchen and added Fritos with two plusses to the grocery list. Then she went to look around for a bunny, but none were visible. “What strange colors the bunnies are,” she mused. “There’s brown, and black, then the white one with black ears and feet. There’s a grey or blu-ish one, and one that’s almost yellow…”
She looked around the yard again. “I wonder where they are?” she said.
She went inside and got some lettuce leaves, then walked around the edge of the yard and placed them next to the hedges. There was some rustling, but no bunnies.
Oliver’s training continued for the next few days.
Her folks sat on the front porch, Ginny sat in the grass, and Jamie was showing them Oliver’s progress. It was going pretty well, with minimal remedial yelling and chasing by Jamie.
“Throw it further,” her dad suggested.
The size of the yard limited how far Jamie could throw, so he stepped off to the side yard where he could throw the length of the house. Gradually, he tossed the ball farther and farther, and Oliver performed quite well.
Jamie threw again, then called, “Dang, it went in the bushes.”
Oliver charged after the ball, not stopping, but crashing into the hedge. His tail remained visible as he thrashed about then emerged with the ball in his mouth and ran back to Jamie.
“Drop it!” Jamie directed, but Oliver lay down in front of Jamie and placed the ball between his own front feet. He began licking it gently.
Jamie went over and started to pick up the ball, then jumped back, “It’s alive!”
Oliver continued licking.
Jamie peered closer as they all crowded around. Oliver looked up proudly. A tiny, very slobbery, wet bunny wiggled between his front feet.
Ginny screamed, her folks jumped and Jamie was completely bewildered. Oliver continued his gentle licking. Crowding together, they all peered closely at the little critter.
Ginny and her dad knelt next to Oliver and when she reached in the bunny wiggled at her touch. It seemed unharmed and unafraid.
Oliver licked Ginny’s hand, and looked at her as if to say, “This is the funniest ball I have ever retrieved.”
“Let me have it,” she said, and scooped up the bunny from between Oliver’s feet. He gave it one last lick as she lifted it out.
Her dad examined the bunny as she held it carefully in both hands. “It seems okay. I guess Oliver does have a soft mouth.” Jamie beamed as if he had done something to be proud of.
Her mom brought a wet washrag, and they wiped as much dog slobber off the bunny as they could. Oliver watched protectively. The bunny seemed to enjoy the grooming and joined in by licking itself.
“We need to take it back,” her father said, “It needs to be with its mother and litter-mates.”
Ginny looked pleadingly, but her father just shook his head.
Jamie led them to the spot where the ball had gone in under the hedge. Ginny carried the tiny bunny to the spot and placed it next to the hedge. The rest of the family — including Oliver — stood back to watch while Ginny gently tried to herd the bunny in. Before vanishing, it stopped and licked her hand, then wiggled its nose. Ginny wiggled back.
“Can you see the ball?” Jamie asked.
Leaning further in, Ginny was surprised at movement in the murk. She saw the ball, and when she reached for it, there was a flurry of rustling and exclamations from her family. She quickly sat back and was amazed.
A herd of little bunnies had flushed out of the bushes as she reached in! She was surrounded by small bunnies of many colors and combinations — brown, black, yellow, white and grey. They seemed timid, but unafraid. Several went over to Oliver’s wee bunny, “Sniff, sniff.” It smelled strange, “Sniff, sniff. Wiggle, wiggle.” Oliver’s bunny wiggled back, as did Ginny.
“Kerplop!” A large brown bunny hopped out of the hedge and into the middle of the bunnies. She looked carefully at each one, and then stared a moment at Ginny, then at Oliver (ignoring the rest of the family). The little bunnies began to hop slowly back into the bushes.
The big bunny found Oliver’s bunny. “Sniff, sniff.” She turned back to Ginny. “Sniff, sniff.”
She nosed the bunny back towards the bushes and turned to Ginny, “Sniff, sniff.” Then, “Sniff, sniff. Wiggle, wiggle.” Ginny wiggled back, and the bunny hopped away into the hedge to join the smaller ones.
Jamie sat next to her and Ginny laid back and breathed a sigh of relief. She closed her eyes.
Suddenly, Oliver leapt up and pounced — wrestling, nuzzling and licking the defenseless girl lying in the grass. Everyone, including Ginny, laughed at the rampaging puppy.