Meet Sir Chester McFlops-a-Lot III

On Thursday, April 16, someone came into my life who unexpectedly shifted the way I move through my daily life. I thought I was just adopting a rabbit, providing a home for an abandoned bun. (I’m refraining from using the term “rescue” here, as I think it can contribute to the development of a human savior complex toward non-human animals that paints them as victims rather than agents. More in a future blog post.) But after about two weeks of living with him, I’ve come to realize that I’ve gained a teacher, a playmate, a trickster, and a companion. Obviously, this bun’s existence is valuable in and of itself, regardless of what he contributes to my life, but I think it’s important to recognize the impact that non-human animals — whom we much more often than not regard as inferior beings — can have on human lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I call him Sir Chester McFlops-a-Lot III (Chester, for short), and I adopted him from a woman who had been fostering him for about a week after finding him cooped up in a small cage in a dark basement, with minimal food an water. Apparently, the owner of said basement (or, more accurately, the house attached to it…) had bought a newborn Chester from a breeder as an Easter gift for her daughter, who “got tired” of Chester after just over two years of living with him. Chester now lives in my very spacious room and loves hopping around, hiding under my bed, munching on hay and lettuce, and getting petted. He’s a super sociable bun with tons of energy, and I’m so happy that he doesn’t have to live in a basement anymore. Moral of the story: please don’t buy bunnies (or any non-human animals, for that matter) as holiday gifts. They are complex beings with their own unique life-worlds who must be regarded as infinitely more than inanimate objects on par with socks and candy, and treated as such.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From sharing my room with Chester, I’ve been able to get out of my own head, to interrupt the obsessive thoughts that can often spiral into destructive tendencies. In providing care for another, I’ve necessarily had to think beyond myself, to disrupt the individualistic habits I’ve long cultivated of work-work-working on an uninterrupted schedule, in the presence of only me, myself, and I. I pause. I pause to sit on the ground with Chester, to clean his cage, to fill his carrot-shaped food bowl with lettuce, to pet his smooth-soft fur from head to tail as he gently grinds his teeth in silent contentedness. After a whirlwind of a day, I’m calmed immediately as I enter my room, greeted by an excited bun, eagerly nudging my heels to request pets and snuggles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not only has Chester taught me how to more easily occupy a space outside of myself, he has also shown me how to communicate with him, serving as a language professor of sorts. Nipping at my heels means he wants attention; hopping in and out of his cage (which remains open all the time so that Chester can explore my room as he pleases) means he wants more food; sitting with his legs tucked underneath him means that he’s calm and content; flopping onto his back means he’s incredibly happy, and usually happens after I’ve given him pets or he’s had fun ripping up a piece of newspaper; running across my room and leaping into the air means it’s playtime; and so on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In a recent post, I reflected upon how animal justice activists might support the agency of the non-human beings with whom we seek to act in solidarity by truly listening to them, by learning their language. I think that living with Chester has given me good practice in this area — practice that is forever ongoing and will never be complete, simply by virtue of the fact that I’ve been socialized as a human since childhood — and trust that my internship at Madison’s own Heartland Farm Animal Sanctuary this summer will allow me to continue and expand upon this practice.

Have ya’ll developed a mode of human-animal communication between you and your companion animals? If so, how — if at all– do you think it has improved your ability to act in solidarity with non-human beings? I’d love to hear your stories, perhaps even in a future blog post here at C&C! You can submit your pieces to chickpeasandchange [at] gmail [dot] com, and check out this page for submission guidelines.

Looking for resources on how to be a great bunny companion? Visit the House Rabbit Society’s website.

In solidarity, Ali.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Meet Sir Chester McFlops-a-Lot III

  1. Amanda says:

    “running across my room and leaping into the air means it’s playtime”

    Some language is universal.

    I never really chose to live with animals, but my boyfriend had already adopted two cats when I met him. So they became my guys, too, when we moved in together. I wrote about this a little after we euthanized one of the cats, Bud, in January, but I went about connecting with them in a pretty backwards way. They were my boyfriend’s cats, I was never really around animals growing up, and I just didn’t think all that much about them. We obviously spent time together, but I never really thought they might be trying to communicate with me all that much outside of dinner time.

    That all changed shortly after I went vegan. Once I had had to honestly ponder the experience of a farmed animal, it naturally followed that—without really thinking about it—I started devoting a lot more attention to the frequently nonverbal expressions of the dudes I lived with. (Well, one was more nonverbal than the other—our remaining fella has a big voice and doesn’t care to leave much to the imagination.)

    And that’s where my story dovetails back into lots of other folks’ stories. I found out my dudes were very much individuals. Which fiercely reinforced my decision to attempt to opt out of breeding for slaughter. If I could go decades without thinking about the chickens I was eating daily, if I could *live* with two cats for several years without really trying to listen to them, if all that can happen, then I’m the product of a truly, profoundly speciesist society. Learning to communicate with one quiet, fuzzy, dude advanced my idea of our relationships with animals and how dramatically we fall down on those. My relationship with Bud, even now that it’s only my emotional relationship with my memories of him, keeps the urgency in my vegan practice and ensures that it doesn’t remain in the theoretical realm.

    And now I’m crying a little about my dead cat again. Oh, Monday.

    I’m not an activist, but I’m still a visible vegan in my community. And insofar as I’m called to speak about/defend my vegan practice, being able to internalize that my practice is about the animals and not about me is an important concept that shapes the very foundation of the way that I speak about it.

    That’s a handsome fella you got there, Ali.

  2. onesonicbite says:

    I always find my cat Toulouse a little weird (or rather cats in general) with their meows. My husband and I have joking conversations with our cat since she will meow if we speak sometimes. Example:
    Cat: Meeoooow
    Us: Toulouse, no you can’t eat!
    Cat: Meeeooow!
    Us: Jeez, it’s too early.
    Cat: Mow
    Us: That’s a mean thing to call me!

    But I do think there is some weird communication. She meow very differently from other cats, it’s very loud and very drawn out. It is clearly a way to get OUR attention, since cats don’t meow in the wild the way they do with humans. I think she meows the way she does because we would meow back at her, we stopped, but she hasn’t. It is cool since we now know all the cues about what she wants from us, usually food, playtime, or pets. There are other non-verbal cues, like if she naps on her back, it is kind-of an open invitation to come over and pet her, if we feel like it. And other things like various tail signs that are common with other cats.

    Your bunny is super cute, and makes me want to have a bunny friend in my life. But I know I don’t have space for another roommate, so I’ll just use your photos and my imagination.

  3. A.P. says:

    This piece is so beautiful! Thank you so much for posting it! I’ve had a similar experience recently with a cat who I’m fostering. He demands that I be present with him – at times, he demands it with headbutts and kneading, and at other times it’s just his cuteness that seems to demand attention. Thanks again!!

  4. Gerda says:

    A hamster I named Clafoutis has been living with me for ten weeks now and he amazes me every day! Never would I have had expected to meet such an interesting personality in such a tiny animal. How can such a small creature not be scared of a human, who is a giant to him and is 500 times his weigh? How can he be so curious and courageous? How can he trust me and learn within a couple of days to communicate, when he is ready for his little excursion (he sits at a certain spot in his big new home, ten times as big as the one he spent his former life in, and looks at me in a certain way, at a certain hour of the day). In the beginning, he only wanted to get out of his home every second day. Maybe his muscles where sore from running long distances for the first time in his life, or it was just too many new things to process.
    Then, when he has had enough of running around and exploring the room, he will hop into that salad bowl I carry him around in (he doesn’t like to be held). He will sit there, his adorable paws on the rim and look at me, telling me, he wants to go to sleep in his house now.
    When he came to live with me, he was so very nervous. He couldn’t keep himself busy with any activity for longer than just a few seconds. It was painful to see him so very restless.
    He changed completely in this few weeks. Now, that he has room to run and explore, he can sit for 15 minutes, to groom himself or nibble on a branch. It touches me deeply to see him blossom.
    I wouldn’t have thought that such a tiny animal can move me and fascinate me to such a point. He shows me that healing is possible. If there is somebody who loves you and really wants the best for you, that might help with it. He shows me that in every being there is a unique personality that even that being themselve may not have met yet. It is one thing to know such things in theory and another to witness them. Because of this hamster I want to be even more passionate and effective, when it comes to speaking on behalf of all those animals, who are not able to be themselves and express themselves, because humans are taking that right away from them.
    If you care to see Clafoutis, here is a little clip of him.

    Clafoutis

    Oh, and one thing he loves at least as much as a nice nip from a bell pepper, is to just sit and listen wide-eyed, while I am telling him over and over again, how smart, beautiful and strong he is.

  5. Lydia Claire says:

    Congrats on your new bunny! I had house rabbits (all adopted) for over 20 years until just 2 years ago. Due to health issues I had to stop adopting them after the last of my three passed away. Your bun will teach you so much! Like how to remain a pacifist when he’s gone to town on the quilt you just finished and it’s now full of holes (thank you Benjamin). He will help you improve your balance because he is bound to run right under your foot just as your about to put it on the floor and you try to keep yourself in an upright position. He’ll teach what love is when he’s sneaked into your closet and “made improvements” to many of your clothes and your favorite shoes, that you used to love. He will teach you to appreciate magic, like the way your money magically disappears after an unexpected vet visit. He’ll impress you with his skills as a thief, especially when food is involved. Food you’d never expect like chow mein, Dorritos and sushi (before I was vegan). He’ll let you know you are capable of unconditional love because most bunnies can be truly destructive by nature and when you become aware of their latest “upgrade” to one of your possessions you stand there and tell them it was your fault they were able to access it.
    I do miss all the buns I’ve shared my life with and I miss having one currently in my life. But I do have 2 guinea pigs, 2 cats and a dog that keep me on my toes. =)

  6. dianaveggienextdoor says:

    What a cutie!!!!

    Our cats communicate with us and I think they feel so appreciated when we understand them. Max often begs by the basement door to be let to explore downstairs, and Maple is always trying to get us to follow her upstairs to her favorite spot for brushing. We almost always oblige these simple requests 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s