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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Jul 26, 2017
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Love your story
by: Banana

I am very grateful to find this website. I met a cottontail wild bunny, I named it Ruscoe. I really want to adopt him after I saw two hawks trying to get him as a burger meal. He loves to visit me and when I call his name from the hills, he would run fast to me. He often come to see me and very playful in front of me. He is my therapy bunny.

I caught it today but let it out. But, I saw the two hawks again. I started researching if anybody adopted a cottontail.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with a cottontail. I don't want him to get killed or eaten. I love Ruscoe the silly bun.

I also named another cottontail, Brownie. He disappeared for two weeks now.

I am going adopt Ruscoe when I get a chance.

:)

Jul 13, 2017
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This story is so lovely. I'm so sorry for your loss.
by: Lori & Raymond

I currently have an Eastern Cottontail that we saved after my dog ran up on his nest on our property.

My dog chased his sibling then him. Eventually, the bunny stopped and my dog kind of cowered over him for a second. The rabbit jumped, my dog panicked, and the rabbit flipped in the air landing hard on the ground.

My husband and I checked on the bunny to make sure he was ok...he landed so hard that he broke an ear and was clearly in a state of shock. We couldn't leave him behind, took him home, and eventually named him Bunny Humphreys.

After a few days, we realized that the whole right side of his face is paralyzed and his vision is little to none on the same side.

We've had him for over 2 months now and he's been trying to trust us from the beginning but he's suddenly become really irate, snatching, even attacking, his food when we hand it to him slowly. He'd normally take it gently or wait away from the door until we left but now he's right by the door.

I'm worried if we release him, due to his impairment, he will not survive very long. He's not even fully grown but I know being here isn't best for him at this point. I'm so torn on what to do for him. Especially since he's survived this far...

***** Karen Sez *****
Yes, you'd think Humphreys would be at a disadvantage if he were to be released. Then again, he's pretty feisty! You could put his cage and all outside in or under a bush with the door open, which would give the cottontail a chance, at least. Plus, if you initially left food and water there for him, that might also help. In the end, nature will be nature. You've been a bit of a hero to the bunny, giving it a chance at life.

Lastly, have you tried to figure out WHY the change in feeding behavior? Is the poor critter starved, for example, that it would attack its food so fervently? You haven't mentioned what you feed, and it doesn't really matter - the question was mentioned as a starting point for your search for answers.



Jun 03, 2017
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Cool
by: Anonymous

I have a juvenile cottontail, found him laying in the grass 2 weeks ago. He is named Brownie as well. I laughed when I saw that yours was.

May 30, 2017
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Cotton Tail Blessing
by: Anonymous

My wife was having some very real postpartum depression and came to see me at the office. On her way out to the parking lot this little desert cottontail hopped out of the bushes and stayed there staring at her. Afraid of frightening away the only thing to bring her joy that day, she stood there smiling back. Then our 2 year daughter walked and began to pet it! So my wife stooped down and also began to pet it. Then our 5 year old daughter joined in. My wife picked up the little cottontail and held it close loving every minute. I went inside and grabbed a box and my wife took him home.

He absolutely LOVES being held! I frequently see my 8 year old daughter laying on the floor with him/her? and the little rabbit is just sprawled out on her chest. He perks up when he hears my wife's voice looks for her.

We named him Tender, because he was a tender mercy from the Lord on that special day my wife needed his help. Tender is so playful with all of us, we have 6 kids and he absolutely loves being with everyone of us. we thump on the floor and Tender starts hopping around in his zigzag pattern and ends up right next to one of in between bounces. I didn't know it was illegal to own a cottontail, but at this point he can't be released and expect to live...Tender really appreciates our company anyhow.

Thanks for your story. Although it doesn't seem to resemble ours with exception to loyalty, it does help us recognize all the more what a special and tender mercy this little rabbit is.

***** Karen Sez *****
Thanks for sharing. Wow, I can't help but wonder if Tender is actually a domestic rabbit, since s/he is so incredibly tame. No matter, I'm very happy for your wife and family. :-)

May 06, 2017
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I have a cottontail
by: Anonymous

We have some cats and one evening my mom saw a cat with something in its mouth. A baby cottontail rabbit was what she found. We cleaned him up got a cage out for him, and started feeding him. (Lettuce, carrots, and rabbit chow.) It has been about 6 weeks now and he is getting big. I think we should turn him loose but a lot of animals around here would kill him.

May 01, 2017
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Missing my baby cottontail bunnies
by: Anonymous

I raised 2 cottontail bunnies for 20 days.
My dog found their nest in the backyard when they were like a week old. Their eyes were still closed and with kitten milk and rabbit vitamin drops, I raised them. My husband built a house around their nest. For the last week I released them in the backyard at put them back to their house at night for their safety.

One night, when I checked the bunnies, I saw an adult rabbit jump off the house and run away and I said, "wait." In my mind I knew it was the mother doe. During the nights that I raised them at young age, the doe still would come to nurse them. Until I noticed the doe didn't move the nest anymore. I put strings to mark the nest if doe came but not anymore.

So, I assumed that the doe visited her bunnies so I released them at nearly 26 days old. I haven't seen them since then. I hurt to think of them. I miss them so bad .. I wish I just raised them in the backyard. What if it's not the doe who visited them? Please anybody tell me.. What is the nature of the doe, are they kind of animals that would visit their grown bunny babies? I'm scared its another animal and they have been eaten. I feel guilt.

It wasn't a plan to release them but that night I thought its the the best chance to reunite the bunnies with the doe. I feel this guilt! I miss my baby bunnies.

***** Karen Sez *****
You did very well, Anon. You gave the kits a good chance to live. By putting the kits back in the evenings, the doe could come and feed them.

Young cottontails are usually weaned by day 21, so when you released them, they were very ready to be on their own. So, no need for guilt. At this point, they are back in their element in Nature. It's all good.

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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