A Cottontail's Loyalty

by Kalee Thao
(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States)


He's on top of his cage here.

Look, his brother is in the background! Can you find the brother?

I have an amazing but sad story of true bunny loyalty in the most unlikely form: a cottontail rabbit. After a year of keeping Brownie in my house, I released him into my backyard, expecting never see him again.


Amazingly, he returned constantly, seeking my companionship (even though there were at least three other cottontails my rabbit was commonly seen with). This went on for a full month, but was tragically cut short due to a terrible turn of events.

First things first, if you didn't know, cottontails have the highest death rate of all wild baby animals taken in by humans. Even in expert hands, they only have a 37% survival rate. The fact that I raised this little Cottontail to adulthood with no help from a vet or any other specialist (except rabbit care books), is shocking to say the least.

Raising Brownie was very difficult, but in our time together, we formed an unusually strong friendship. For me, it was based on my deep respect for him. I was always reluctant to do anything that might upset Brownie, because earning his trust took so much more time than it would have for a domestic rabbit.

For Brownie, our friendship was based on his deep trust of me. To earn the trust of a cottontail is truly a rare precious gift, because so few of them would ever give it to you. Thinking of his trust still brings me nearly to tears.

Cottontails are so skittish that attempts to domesticate them (like the European rabbits) failed. Many argue that they can never be really tamed and will always fear you, no matter how much socialization you put into them.

Brownie was very tame and even learned a few tricks. What he could never learn was to be house-trained.

We let him loose in the house most of the day, and so after I released him outside, the carpets from our entire basement and upstairs living room were replaced.

Cottontail rehabbers said it was perfectly fine to have my rabbit released at his age, since surprisingly they already have all the skills needed to survive.

But Booboo never did leave.

I remember that last summer month clearly, because every day that Brownie visited me was a blessing. His visits were always consistent and plentiful.

Wild rabbits are naturally very intelligent, and Boo was up among the elite in that area. Every third day, he'd come and spend the whole day with me on my lawn. No matter the weather, if it was our third day meeting, that rabbit was there.

One time, I missed one of our meetings. I was very disappointed, sure that my rabbit was upset with me now, and plus I wouldn't see him for another 2 days. I was wrong.

Brownie was there the very next day, waiting patiently in the yard. He wouldn't miss a day with me!

One day (the day that starts the rapid downhill fall), Brownie had a tick on his neck. It fell off by itself (I had never seen a tick before, so I didn't know how to take it off at the time), but his neck was left with a small bloody spot.

I expected this to heal, as it was not that big. However, almost right after the tick was gone, a rival male rabbit bit him right where the tick had been.

After that, I believe a parasite or black worm crawled inside his wound, growing bigger and bigger each day. The thing was literally bulging out of his neck, and all my attempts to carry Brownie into his cage to take to the vet was to no avail (Cottontails especially HATE being picked up).

My rabbit continued visiting me, and the visits became more frequent as he grew weaker. Eventually, sadly, he became fed up with my constant badgering to try to get him into his cage.

He gave me one look that sighed: "My friend, not now, okay?" as if I were only a small child trying to play an especially annoying game with him! Could he not see his life was at stake?

He disappeared under my fence, and that was the last I saw of him. I marked that day on my calender (I had been keeping track of my rabbit's visits, especially after his neck wound): August 15, 2011.

Brownie was a cottontail, and he was a rabbit-- not a dog. But the loyalty he clearly showed to me, and our true friendship, I will never forget.

RIP August 15 2011.

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Nov 12, 2016
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Love
by: Anonymous

Love your sharing about Brownie. We have a gray that comes every day to see us. We feed him dry oatmeal. He now will eat out of our hand. We call him Bugsy. My great granddaughters love him. Not sure if a boy or girl. He spooks real easy. He eats and leaves. Sometimes he'll come 2 or 3 times a day. When we have left for 3 or 4 days at a time, when we get home, Bugsy comes by that night. We are thrilled. We live in Las Vegas.

Sep 27, 2016
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My cotton tail
by: Momiji

On my birthday my little brother found a young cottontail stuck in our window and knowing the fatality rate for young cottontails we took him in and took care of him.

He stayed in his cage for awhile until I let him roam around my room. He is strongly naturally fully potty trained and often times runs to his cage to do his business. He hates being picked up so I stopped trying, I would sleep on the floor the first few months and he would fall asleep next to me even though I made him multiple little nests around my room.

It took a lot of effort to gain his trust since my mom is a bit rough and would pick him up and he would scream and I felt he was screaming for me and it would break my heart so I banned my mom from touching him because she doesn't understand. So because of that it took longer for me to gain his trust, but now he is a very lovely bunny.

He always runs around and binkies around the place, he's a very happy bunny. When ever I call his name he binkies; it's really cute.

Having a cotton tail as a pet is illegal but I will never put his life in danger especially after reading these stories. He's an adult now and he always follows me around and we eat salad together and other treats like bananas, he loves bananas and I let him have a 5th of mine. He's a perfect bunny because he's potty trained unlike my sibling's domestic bunny.

I'm happy I have him, if he were in the wild he wouldn't be alive.

***** Karen Sez *****
A lovely story! Thank you Momiji for sharing.

Aug 22, 2016
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Baby bunny help
by: Angela

Hi, myself and my 4 yr old daughter have recently taken in a cottontail, whose mother was killed. He is at least about 2 weeks old. I have been following all of the advice to care for it in order to release back into wild when ready....but this bunny is now wanting to be held and petted and will do so after feeding then fall asleep on my chest. After reading your story, do you think its possible to keep this bunny as a pet?

***** Karen Sez *****

Aww, that probably gives you and your daughter a lot of pleasure.

As to keeping the cottontail bunny, a lot depends on the bunny itself. It does seem to be giving clues that it might work to keep it. We've heard from a number of folks who befriended cottontails through various circumstances. Their stories however were all individual.

I see options, depending on how you wish to do it:

You could try making it a pet in a hutch or home or yard, and see how it goes. Will it remain gentle and not nip or bite? Will it go into a panic whenever the dog comes around? Will it freak out when the old Chevy truck rumbles into the yard? A common thread in most if not all stories we've heard is that the cottontails were frequently just a hare (sorry, couldn't help it!) shy of wild in temperament. It'd be smart to keep that in mind, and not trust it right away or too much, especially with your 4-year-old.

Or:

You could proceed with plans to release it, but close by, and see if it returns and decides to befriend you. Some of them do!

Good going.

Jun 23, 2016
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Cottontail
by: Sheldon

Omgosh truly sorry to hear that. Damn this was a sad story! Then everyone's on top of yours made this the saddest page on the net. Sorry to hear everyone's story :(

May 14, 2016
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Wild rabbit friend "Amy"
by: Vanessa

When I was about 6 years old I befriended a "wild" rabbit.

I believe she was a domesticated rabbit that had been released but she looked like them and would run from others but would run to me when my parents were at a distance.

She was my true friend and I pet her and gave her carrots. She was very fond of me and I of her. Eventually she would even come right up to my very harmless Labrador "Bessie" if she was with me. After a few months I could hold Amy.

After weeks of holding I could carry her around. I took Amy to the hutch where my family domestic rabbits "Blossom" and "Floppy" lived. I introduced them through the wire doors.

One day I had Blossom out in a play yard and picked up Amy and Blossom together. I was seven or so and by myself. They fought in my arms and I was deeply scratched. My mom took me for medical care and was told to isolate both rabbits.

The day animal control showed up and convinced me to catch Amy and out her in their box was one of the worst days of my life. I did as they said. They said they would just need to make sure she was not sick and then let her go. But when I left the yard they took Amy in the box and I never saw her again.

I am 40 now and it still breaks my heart. Wherever my Amy is "I love you Amy. Thank you for being my coolest friend ever."


Sep 22, 2015
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Little Cottontail Bunny
by: Anonymous

This past spring I befriended a baby cottontail that was hiding in my backyard. I know they aren't supposed to have iceberg lettuce, but she loved it as I fed her a scrap every day, she eventually ended up hiding from the Arizona heat on my patio,and would come out to see me every morning.

I really liked all the time she would sit and eat rabbit mix from Petsmart, I never tried to touch or scare her and she trusted me still more than any wild animal I had seen. I have a dog that kept cats away from her, and when my dog would come out the dog door she would look at me to keep her safe.

Eventually feral cats killed all the cottontails in the area, including my bunny. I still cry as I think of her excited to see me when I would come out to feed her. I am thankful to have bonded with any wildlife.

Sep 06, 2014
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Friendly Cottontails
by: Goz

I have 4 in the yard who are very friendly,one of which has ran to greet me.

What would be interesting to see would be for someone to do the Russian silver fox project on them.

Already hunters are taking cottontails and raising them. These are called Tennessee Redbacks. Approaching breeders of these and buying the friendliest ones from said breeders could be a good start. I think they could be domesticated and you could eventually get breeds like dwarfs, lops, etc.

Jul 18, 2014
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A kind Story
by: Melissa

Owning a cottontail now for four months I empathize with your story. Your bunny I know saw you as a companion. When it left to die alone it was just doing what those independent cottontails do. Although it has been three years, I am sure you think of your bunny every time you see his wild cousins.

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