Over the course of almost this entire decade that will end in 2010, while I’ve been working with clients on their books, on other innovation projects, and on my own work, there has been one completely bizarre constant, often literally at my feet. Many conferences in my office have been momentarily interrupted when someone looked down and noticed that under my desk, not far from my shoes, rested a large and very real jackrabbit. She was not really a pet in those years. She had been injured, I had rescued her, and she decided to stay. We weren’t friends, it was simply that she decided we were less likely to eat her than many of the predators that lurked just beyond our sliding glass doors. Here’s a little piece I wrote to celebrate Rascal’s eighth anniversary sharing the same roof.
I’m trying to read the morning Times, but I can feel her eyes on the back of my neck. My wife, Leanne, is reading the paper, too. “Someone wants you to pick her up.” The someone is not our German Shorthaired Pointer, Tesla, who is pointing the last morsel of bagel at the moment.
I look back over my shoulder to meet her gaze, knowing her head will be crammed up against her wiry cage. She stares at me with her miniature camel eyes. “I love you too, Rascal.” I get up and reach through the hole that I cut eight years ago in the top of her cage, and gently pull her away from the door. I swing up the little door, cradle her in both my hands, and draw her out of the cage, as I have done thousands of times. I hold her close to me, and she, being right-footed, places her right paw on the side of my chin in gentle greeting.
Rascal is a hare, a true wild jackrabbit with tall stiff ears and impossibly long back legs. Eight years ago today my youngest son Max breezed past my office with the news that “Tesla may have killed a rabbit,” up on the mountain top at the end of our street, Ridge Road in Tiburon, California. I am by nature a rescuer, can’t be helped. “Are you sure it’s dead?” Tesla wasn’t the kind of dog that would harm a rabbit. Max thought the rabbit, at very least, was severely injured. I grabbed a blanket and we went hunting for the shrub were the rabbit was last seen. Within a few moments, a scrawny rabbit came tearing out of the bushes, sort of running sideways, and stopped, resting on its side. I approached carefully and swooped the blanket over it. When I gingerly peeled the blanket back, I found myself being evaluated by a surprisingly calm little being. “Well look at you!” I gathered her up and Max held her as we drove to our favorite pet shop in Mill Valley. The brothers who owned the place fawned over the rabbit and were full of advice. We left with a cage, food, and a flea collar.
Dr. Debra Scheenstra specializes in wild animals and makes house-calls. She listened to her patient’s heart and peered into her ears and mouth. The rabbit wasn’t injured — she had an inner ear infection which made it hard for her to stand up. Could she be nursed back to health and returned to the wild? The doctor said it was unlikely. But the infection could be treated. I received instruction on giving injections to a jackrabbit (lift a fold on her back, don’t stick yourself) and thirty syringes.
I decided it was okay to bond with the little creature, so I named her Rascal. The doctor has said she was a young adult female, probably a year old. Few jackrabbits survived in human care. Life expectancy in the wild was five years. In my eclectic library I dug out an old reference book on care for wild animals by the zookeeper of the London Zoo. The paragraph on hares was brief and to the point. Jackrabbits don’t survive out of the wild and they hate the smell of human hair. I lowered my expectations.
Rascal soon regained her balance and responded to my experiments at rehab. Before long she had free reign of my office, and had housebroken herself to her cage. We offered her occasional opportunities to roam the rest of our house and she soon found her preferred spot under our piano. She stayed away from open doors, going outside on her own only twice. For the next several years she kept her distance from people, adoring only Tesla, who ignored her. And then, five years ago, we had moved to Napa and my office was now right off the kitchen. Rascal’s cage was next to me, and she was now part of the family at all meals. She suddenly became affectionate, relaxing in my arms, licking whatever part of me was close to her. This morning her preferred spot is my nose, and remembering how she once, accidentally, bit through Leanne’s fingernail, letting her lick my nose takes courage.
I cradle her, with her long ears draped over my left arm, and her long legs stretched out over my right arm. I stroke her tummy for a moment, and then return to the paper. Whenever I turn the page, she fidgets, wanting me to look at her. I do, and she smiles. I swear it.