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Rabbits and dogs have a special thing going. Some call it mortal combat. I prefer the term sibling rivalry. Ever since we got our dog Toby two years ago, he and the rabbits living under the shed have lived in a constant state of tension, although I wouldn’t go so far as to label it enmity. Toby just wants to have a bunch of fluffy little squeaky-toys to play with at his beck and call. The rabbits, on the other hand, would much rather avoid becoming the living playthings of a large, drooling Labrador with regrettably pointy chompers.
It became the perpetual hobby of our family to egg Toby on in his mission of global subjugation of the bunny invaders. At least twice a day we’d spot a rabbit twitching his lanky ears as he delicately nibbled on the grass, and it only took one magic word (rabbit!) to get Toby prancing in circles at the door and crying like a newborn baby to be let out. We’d throw open the sliding glass door and watch him take off into the backyard like a fuzzy, yellow speeding bullet to vanquish the trespassers on his sacred domain.
One night last spring was no exception.
I leaned back against the back step and watched in amusement as Toby chased the rabbit in wide figure-eights around the yard. The rabbit ran for its life, stretching its tiny body like a rubber band with every stride. Toby, on the other hand, bounded up and down as if he had springs taped to his feet. You could practically hear him saying in that dumb, Doug-the-dog voice, “Rabbit? Rabbit? Play? Play?” I wasn’t worried about the rabbit. Rather, I mulled over the possibility of Toby sinking into doggy-depression after chasing and losing his rabbit buddy for the umpteenth time this year. Finally, the pair dove behind the shed and out of my line of sight. I silently waited for the tell-tale rattle as the rabbit escaped through the chain-link fence.
It never came.
Instead, I heard a wild, yelping growl of sheer ecstasy and a staccato of terrified squeaks, swiftly followed by chilly silence. I held my breath until my lungs shriveled in my chest. I never knew rabbits could make sounds, either from lack of vocal chords or sheer unintelligence (you never hear rabbits described as particularly bright animals), and I was really hoping that this wasn’t a dying rabbit I just heard. Either that or Toby had suddenly developed the ability to simultaneously growl and squeak.
After several seconds of protracted silence, I cautiously crept around the corner of the shed, leaving the sphere of patio light behind and descending into the dark night beyond. I could sense Toby somewhere nearby but I couldn’t see anything. My eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness.
Just then, a rabbit head flew less an inch in front of my face. It’s huge, glassy black eyes stared into mine like some demon-possessed monster from the depths of hell. I admit it: I squealed like a guinea pig. Toby had the rabbit’s hind legs clamped firmly in his mouth as he joyously whirled in circles, feeling the delightful weight of the rabbit’s dead body tugging against his teeth and tongue.
I staggered back a few steps lest he should draw too near and smack me in the head with his frenzied whirling. Then I simply stood and watched him, unsure of whether I was more amused or disgusted.
Toby had accomplished his dream. He had killed a rabbit, attaining a link with his bloodthirsty ancestors from thousands of years ago. But I couldn’t understand it. How had Toby, the dog who dragged me halfway down the street after a Chihuahua bit him on the nose, the dog who ran yelping when a plastic Wal-Mart bag floated into the backyard, the dog who got beat up by a cat, how had this dog actually killed a rabbit? If Toby couldn’t take on a plastic Wal-Mart bag, how on earth had he gotten past the vicious incisors and crushing hind kick of a cottontail rabbit?
After killing its prey, a true murderous beast would have ravenously stripped fur from flesh and flesh from bone, gorging its stomach with fresh, bloody meat and entrails. But apparently Toby’s euphoria didn’t extend past madly spinning in circles.
He has not caught another rabbit since that fateful March night, although it is not for lack of trying.