Revered as a symbol of fertility, sexuality, purity and childhood, beloved as a children’s pet and widely represented in the myths, art and collectibles of almost every culture, the rabbit is one of the most popular animals known to humans. Ironically, it has also been one of the most misunderstood and abused. Indeed, the rabbit is the only animal that our culture adores as a pet, idolizes as a storybook hero and slaughters for commercial purposes.
Stories Rabbits Tell takes a comprehensive look at the rabbit as a wild animal, ancient symbol, pop culture icon, commercial “product” and domesticated pet. In so doing, the book explores how one species can be simultaneously adored as a symbol of childhood (think Peter Rabbit), revered as a symbol of female sexuality (e.g., Playboy Bunnies), dismissed as a “dumb bunny” in domesticity and loathed as a pest in the wild. The authors counter these stereotypes with engaging analyses of real rabbit behavior, drawn both from the authors’ own experience and from academic studies, and place those behaviors in the context of current debates about animal consciousness. In a detailed investigative section, the authors also describe conditions in the rabbit meat, fur, pet and vivisection industries, and raise important questions about the ethics of treating rabbits as we do.
The first book of its kind, Stories Rabbits Tell provides invaluable information and insight into the life and history of an animal whom many love, but whom most of us barely know. As such, it is a key addition to the current thinking on animal emotions, intelligences and welfare, and the way that human perceptions influence the treatment of individual species.
“‘Most people approach rabbits as if they were stuffed animals: cute, but not capable of much except, maybe, eating carrots and twitching their noses,’ note Davis (writer and rabbit owner) and DeMello (president of the House Rabbit Society), who present quite a different picture: rabbits (and hares) are complex, social creatures intertwined with human culture. To date, no book has so closely examined the behavior and place of the rabbit-as pet, prey, pest and mythic figure-in history. As the only animal Westerners use as both pet and meat, the rabbit reflects some of our most unsettling cultural contradictions. Part literary companion, with analyses of rabbits in art and literature from poet William Cowper to Beatrix Potter, and part clear-eyed review of facts on rabbit ‘industry’ and rabbit biology, this volume imparts insight into the genesis of pet keeping, the fur industry and the permutations of rabbits in folklore. With colorful anecdotes (including one about introducing Jack, a rabbit grieving for his mate, to new friends), this absorbing book opens the door on the realm of all things lagomorph. The prevalence of rabbits in folklore (as fools, mischief makers and sexualized witches) reveals just how much baggage this small creature has carried, up through the age of the Playboy Bunny.”—Publishers Weekly
“The rabbit has been domesticated for roughly 1,500 years, but until fairly recently they were not kept as house pets; the traditional pet rabbit was caged in a hutch outdoors. The rise of ‘house rabbits’ that live uncaged indoors and the dearth of books written about rabbit behavior led Davis and DeMello to create a book that explores the roots and nuances of rabbit behavior to increase our understanding and appreciation of the species. Whether exploring our schizophrenic approach to rabbits (Are they pets, pests, or a profitable farm animal?), portraying the complex lives of wild rabbits and the corresponding behaviors of their tame brethren, discussing the roles rabbits have played in folklore and religion, or describing the commercial uses for rabbits, the authors reveal a fascinating depth of information. Enlivened by a broad range of quotations from such sources as poets, scientists, and animal-rights activists; illustrated with period and modern photographs; and heavily footnoted, this is currently the best book to offer readers who want to know more about their pet rabbits.”—Booklist