Lops and Flops
By Margie Bailey Rose
I had a run-in with the Boy Scouts of America in the late 60s, prompting me to give up being a den mother and search for an organization for my kids that better fit my ideals. My sister was in 4-H when we were young, with little ill effect on the family– if you exclude the ten batches of blueberry muffins we ate to help her prepare for a county fair demonstration. Our family certainly had experience with animals, so I looked for a 4-H club near our home. There was a dog group, but our mutt, with her fondness for swimming in the swamp, was not show-dog material. A rabbit club was also close by, and my children were thrilled with anticipation of new pets, especially cute little bunnies. That began our many-year association with show rabbits– cute, little, and otherwise.
The three children interested in raising and showing rabbits set about choosing breeds and finding rabbits to suit them. Number 3 was eight years old and had some money saved so he decided to buy a French Lop rabbit. It was a new breed to the United States at that time and quite expensive as rabbits go. Pictures of the big floppy-eared bunnies in our rabbit magazine were ever so cute, and they were advertised as having good dispositions, but we had never seen one in the fur– so to speak.
After many phone calls, I found a breeder who said he would sell us a pedigreed female French Lop. The children and I jumped in the car and drove into the country taking one wrong turn after another, and asking directions of every store and gas station along the way. It was getting dark when we finally arrived at the farm. They had given up on us and gone on with their evening chores. We hallooed as we walked among the out-buildings. The farmer came running to keep us from scaring his animals and led the way to the rabbit barn. He only had a few large lop-eared rabbits, but said we could have a white female for $40. (My oldest daughter bought a pedigreed Netherlands Dwarf rabbit the week before as her project and only paid $10!) Whew! My youngest son, Mr. Money-Is-No-Object, beamed, handed over his pocketful of one-dollar bills, and the long, skinny rabbit went into a cardboard box for the ride home.
The rabbit seemed nervous, jumping around in the box as we discussed names for her. Soon she had chewed a hole through one corner. She nipped at my son's hand when he tried to block her escape through the hole. That should have been a clear sign for me to turn the car around and take the beast back where it came from, but I did not– a decision I soon regretted.
My son named the monster Felice after a sweet little deer in the Bambi story. She looked more like a goat than a deer and acted like a mad dog. She would not stay in a cage and preferred running around the house. When a car drove into our driveway she hopped up on the couch and looked out the window to see who it was, cocked her head to the side and decided whether she would attack them or not. (It cut down on our company.) She was pretty good about using her litter box unless she was excited, then– well, you know.
I finally got sick of Felice in the house and put her in a cage that Houdini couldn't have escaped. She chewed through the half-inch plywood divider and got in with a female rabbit next door. Thirty days later we had a surprise batch of twelve little white bunnies, and I finally knew the truth. Felice was a he, and a really ugly he at that. (Male French Lops usually have lovely large heads and massive bodies, while females sometimes have a more pointed face and slightly thinner body.)
Number 3 had a terrible time trying to show his dreadful rabbit. It quit biting the family, but often scratched and bit the show judges prompting immediate disqualification. Because Felice did not conform to the breed standards, the few awards he won were white "pity" ribbons. Even his owner got tired of him, so I asked my brother-in-law to make the beast into stew meat. He said the rabbit took the axe away from him and chased him around the yard. I don't know how Felice met his fate, but I know my sister had several geriatric rabbits in her back yard for many years and celebrated when the last one died.
Number 2 on the other hand, acquired a beautiful French Lop named Teddy. Teddy was the raffle prize at a rabbit show, and my second son fell in love at first sight. He spent all of his money on tickets, at 25 cents each, and kept coming to me to borrow more and more money for more and more tickets. When the time came for the drawing, #2 had so many strips of tickets draped around his neck he looked like a winner at Santa Anita. They called the number and no one yelled out, so my son said, "I know I won but it will take me a while to find the ticket." Indeed he had won. Number 2 carried the lovable teddy bear around in his arms for the rest of the show, snuggling his face in the warm brown fur and kissing its head. That rabbit won more prizes than any other rabbit we owned, and Teddy sired dozens of beautiful babies for many years. We took him to California when we moved from Washington, and he lived several more years in the back yard with the guard duck. Eventually, we gave Teddy and his mate to friends in the country where they lived happily ever after.