I left Jemima and Elvis out in the garden unsupervised yesterday morning. I went into the house to get something and left them playing outside. I was only popping in for a second but got myself distracted.
When I realised, I felt really sick and rushed out to check on them.
I'd only been gone about two minutes. But I'm a worrier. Two minutes is all it takes.
A few weeks ago I was returning home and saw a whole group of wild bunnies playing on the grass near my house. They looked so cute and full of joy. But as I continued on I saw a fox. Silently closing in on them. I was in the car. I could have turned round, could have done something. But I knew it would be too late.
Foxes are cunning. Foxes are bold. I have foxes in my neighbourhood, seen them less than a minute from my house. On a busy Saturday afternoon, my friend's father caught one marching up the road with a neighbour's chicken hanging frightened, but thankfully still alive, from it's mouth. Foxes can dig under and climb over fences. I've seen photo's of them, staring down into gardens, sizing up their next meal.
Back to yesterday.
Jemima and Elvis were fine of course. But something wasn't right. A noise. A shape. Something.
I looked up and there it was. On top of the shed, a big black cat. It was sizing up Elvis, who was merrily munching on the grass directly below, totally oblivious.
Cat vs Jemima - no contest. She'd just sit on it. Cat vs Elvis - not sure, he tends to panic in the face of the anything resembling danger (or claw clippers). Cat vs me?
When I first moved bunnies into the garden it seemed like every day I was chasing cats away. Never seemed to make a difference. They'd still come back. Me mildly annoyed and waving my arms? I guess they could sense I was no real threat. So I changed tactic. Now I "hunt" the cats that dare to cross my boundary. I quietly creep, I stalk, I pounce... They always see me long before I reach them. Unaware that this is my intention, they rapidly make their exit and rarely come back. How do YOU like being hunted, Mr Moggy? The claw is on the other paw now, huh?
So no real danger this time. Cat fled, job done.
I love my bunnies. I can't begin to imagine the grief I'd feel, knowing they had been torn apart by a wild animal. Knowing that their lives had been cut short, that they'd lived their last few moments in unbelievable pain and utter terror. I don't know how I'd live with myself, knowing I failed them in my responsibilities of keeping them safe from harm.
It is exactly these cheery thoughts that sit at the back of my mind every time I go out to check for the second (or third) time that I really did lock them back in after playtime. Am I sure I shut all the doors? It's too important to get it wrong - if I'm not positive I'll check again. The possible gruesome consequence fuels my cautiousness. The time spent predator-proofing the run, hours spent digging up earth, burying slabs. It's too important to get this wrong.
Not everyone imagines this horror. In the last few weeks we have had four rabbits we've adopted out reported to have been killed by (suspected) foxes. Four rabbits who have been left to roam free all day in a garden or open run, with no roof to protect them, or left unsupervised to escape. Rabbits who we cared for, got to know as individuals with their own little personalities, found seemingly perfect homes for. Not everyone imagines the horror and guilt - there are three families in Cambridge now living it.
In the next few weeks, as always, someone is going to visit the Rescue and tell Caroline (or me, or Debbie, ...) that they've had rabbits for years, let them roam free in the garden all day and never had a problem. "Do we really need a run attached to their hutch?"
Forgive us if our answer is a little on the short side.