Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Belgians and bunnies, a cautionary tale

Phoenix and the remains of the "bunny stump"

One night last week, I noticed Phoenix in the back yard engaging in odd (even for him) behavior. He was pouncing on a tree stump. The stump was squeaking.

I admit, for about 3 seconds I thought about just going back in the house and not coming out until the pouncing and squeaking had stopped.

But I ran across the yard hoping whatever he had discovered was not going to involve bleeding, biting or spraying. (The Farmer had had an interesting experience with a skunk earlier this summer.)

Phoenix had found a nest of baby bunnies. He wanted them to run, hence the pouncing. They did not want to run, hence the squeaking.

I could tell a Bad Thing was going to happen. The pouncing would soon give way to poking which would  soon give way to nipping which would soon give way to baby bunnies as a bedtime snack.

I drug Phoenix back into the house. If ever a dog has been drug kicking and screaming, this was it. Jamie, on the other hand, was completely oblivious.

I went back out and set up an ex-pen around the nest, which had been cleverly burrowed into a rotten tree stump. The nest would have been even more clever if it hadn’t been located inside the dogs’ fenced yard. A yard which had to reek of carnivore scent.

If you were a small, helpless prey animal, would this be your first choice for a nursery? No wonder rabbits reproduce at such high rates. Only the rabbit Einsteins survive and there are clearly not a lot of them.

Honestly, the fact that the bunnies were big enough to have fur and hop around a little bit indicated they’d probably been there, undiscovered, for a fair amount of time. Amazing.

Last summer I’d fenced my tomatoes with an ex-pen with less than ideal results. Phoenix weaseled his way in and ate the tomatoes anyway. Not wanting a repeat performance (substitute bunny for tomato), I brought him outside to test the set up.

He poked, clawed, shoved and jumped up and down in agitation. The fence held.

Ha, I thought. Fixed your wagon.

Then he started digging.

Holy crap.

The fact that we’ve actually gotten some rain lately, combined with the soft, rotten wood of the stump, provided excellent digging conditions. Dirt flew. Grass flew. Chunks of stump flew. Before bunnies started flying, I called it a night and we went in the house.

After consulting Google and Facebook, I was assured mama rabbits would remove their offspring if their nest site was “disturbed,” but was cautioned not to touch them myself.

If ever there was a disturbed nest site, this had to be it. I went back outdoors and opened the pen so mama rabbit could lead her babies to the Promised Land, which had to be pretty much anywhere outside of the dog yard.

Next morning, the dogs and I went outdoors to check the bunny nest. I slammed the ex-pen shut on Phoenix’s nose as he tried to dive through. The bunnies were still there.

They were freakin’ adorable. Seriously. I know they’re just wild rabbits but they were seriously freakin’ adorable.

Flash forward 36 hours. It’s now been 48 hours since the initial “disturbance.” Bunnies still there. No mama rabbit in sight. Phoenix had been making multiple assaults on the ex-pen and digging like a backhoe. He had a trench at least 12” deep most of the way around.

The dogs and I stood and watched the bunnies. They were hopping around in their stump nest like little brown popcorn kernels. Hop . . . hop . . . hop . . .  

Then the Bad Thing happened.

One of them hopped BETWEEN the ex-pen wires. It landed right between Phoenix’s front paws. 

I remember thinking about the time I heard a seminar presenter discussing using toys in play and how, in order to incite prey drive in your dog, you should always move the toy away from the dog versus shoving it at him because “the rabbit never jumps into the coyote’s mouth.”

I guess this was the exception. The little rabbit probably didn’t even knew what it was doing. Rabbits are not known for their Mensa-level decision making capacity.

It was an executive decision moment. I drug Phoenix back in the house and got a shovel. Using the bunny-on-a-shovel method, I relocated the remaining bunnies to what I hoped would be a safe site. They may not have met with a kinder or gentler future on the other side of the fence but at least I wouldn’t have to watch it happen.

It took at least two more days before Phoenix was convinced there were no more bunnies in that stump. He also pretty much demolished it in the process. If this obedience and agility gig doesn’t work out, we can open a stump removal business.


  1. I lost that battle with baby robins...why can they not leave the nest until they know how to fly!

    It does give you a chance to see what your dog is like when it is very determined :)

  2. awwwww Sally LOVES finding baby bunny nests in the garden - like yours our bunnies aren't too smart :(
    Sally is usually silent and very very quick...

  3. WHY are there no photos of cute little baby bunnies????!!! :) I can't even imagine what my dogs would do if bunnies hopped out in their yard...probably run away based on their reaction to the last rat they saw.

  4. It was very unpleasant watching what my dogs did to the baby rabbits they found in my flowerbed last summer. I made very sure no bunny nests were constructed there this year!

  5. I tried to remove a baby bunny from the cats once, it hopped back through the fence and they got it again. I let them finish it off the second time.

  6. Hmm, some dog moms spend good money for rabbit kibble and rabbit dog treats. I can't stand it when my dogs get bunnies, however.

  7. Baby bunnies are seriously the cutest things alive! Jazz does not kill them. Sometimes they hop away and sometimes they die of fright, but he will be laying there licking them and nose poking them for hours if they live.
    Coach doesn't care much for nose poking or squeaking. Coach is ALWAYS very hungry. The last one he caught was an adult rabbit and it was the ugliest disaster I have ever been too late to prevent.
    Good job preventing a similar nasty scene in your yard!

  8. The bunnies is West Des Moines are just as smart it seems. Last year we had a bunny nest smack dab in the middle of our the flat where near a single bush, tree, plant or even lush weed for pete's sake. I rigged up a varikennel and chicken wire but once the bunnies were fully mobile the dogs got two of them. :( I was able to usher the others through our wood fence before they were snacked on. Since then, when I do poop pick up I stomp around the entire yard to make sure they don't try it again!