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Home, sweet hutch

Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they are active morning and evening, but like to sleep throughout the midday. They like to rest in quiet, private places reminiscent of burrows. To this end, for his long snoozes, Bunster Rab took over my coat closet. This was very impractical: If I had to get anything from the closet, Bunsty would immediately wake up. (Rabbits are very light sleepers.) Clearly, for his comfort and mine, we needed a proper rabbit habitat.

I researched rabbit Web sites on the Internet and ordered a booklet, "House Rabbit Habitats," from the House Rabbit Society in California. When the booklet arrived, I pored over it, amazed at the variety of designs: a house in a kitchen cupboard, an abode in a living-room end table, a spacious painted and decorated mansion built by a cabinetmaker, and many more.

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No outdoor hutches these, banishing rabbits to the backyard, but open-door habitats designed to include gentle, interesting, playful, affectionate rabbits as part of the family, and to give them a degree of freedom. As stated in the booklet's introduction, "Because so many rabbits have been consigned to life in a hutch or cage, it is natural for house-rabbit people to want to liberate their pets from this depressing tradition."

Wanting to give my two dwarf bunnies a spacious and comfortable home, I was faced with the challenge of how to fit such an abode into my very small apartment. My studio apartment has many pluses - a magnificent view of a church next-door, a convenient location, a low monthly rent, great neighbors, and a wonderful superintendent - but it stints on square footage. Indeed, for many years, my minuscule living space has been my primary reason for not having pets.

Then one day I was forced to choose between consigning a small, velvet-eared bunny, found munching pink petunias in the front of the apartment building, to a forever cage at the Humane Society - or giving said bunny a home. Notwithstanding my apartment's acute shortage of space, I found room for the tiny bunny. He was no bigger than a cabbage, after all.

From finding room for gray-and-white bunny No. 1, Bunster Rab, it was a mere hop and a step to finding room for jet-black bunny No. 2, Miss Pretty. Rabbits are sociable creatures. They need and enjoy the companionship of their own kind, and two bunnies don't take up much more space than one.

The booklet from California was helpful and inspiring. Unfortunately, it did not feature any designs appropriate to the limitations of a Lilliputian studio apartment. But after giving the bunny-house problem a great deal of thought, I hit on the idea of a tower, which would conserve floor space. I designed a structure 36 inches square and 60 inches high, divided into three stories: first floor for food, water, and litter box; second floor enclosed for sleep; third floor for lounge and observation deck. As soon as I finished the plan, I contacted a builder and commissioned the work.

When the completed plywood-and-hardware-cloth bunny house arrived three weeks later, I was horrified. It was a veritable monster. The carpentry was far more rustic than I'd hoped - more appropriate to a hutch for a backyard than to a piece of furniture for an urban living room. But even worse, my design, which had appeared so marvelous on paper and even better in my imagination, was absolutely gargantuan in scale compared with the rest of my apartment. Where was I going to put it?

Many weeks followed of rearranging my furniture every which-way, to try to fit the monster-size rabbit house into my apartment. But no matter where I put it, the bunny house stuck out as obtrusively as a barn. I do like country-style decor, but this was ridiculous.

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Throughout the athletic furniture-rearranging exercises, which the cavorting, curious bunnies thoroughly enjoyed, an intuition nagged and nagged me: "Put it next to your computer desk" - the one spot that seemed totally inappropriate. But finally, in desperation, I pushed the rabbit house next to my computer desk. And, of course, it is perfect there.

Next to my computer desk, the rabbit house is unobtrusive. Bunster and Pretty have quietude and privacy, yet from the third-floor observation deck - their favorite place to hang out - they can see virtually everything that goes on in the apartment, which is important to curious bunnies. They can watch me in the kitchen chopping their banana and sweet-potato treats and tossing their mixed-green salads. They can watch me coming in the door, working at my writing table, sitting on my sofa, or tapping away at my computer.

Likewise, I can always see the bunnies as they rest, cavort, or affectionately groom each other. Even at bedtime - when we're all tucked in, the bunny-house door is closed for the night, and the apartment is washed with the soft glow of a seashell night light - the bunnies can see me and I them. It's a very cozy, companionable, and comfortable arrangement.

For the most part, Bunster and Pretty are given free hop of my apartment, but the coat closet is now off limits. At daily sleep time, the bunnies retire to the privacy of their well-located, spacious home. After what has seemed like a very long winter of rearranging my apartment to accommodate the monster-size rabbit house, the perfect place for it appeared with the coming of spring - warm sunshine, budding trees, and fresh dandelion greens. Just as the bunnies unobtrusively found a home in my heart, their house found an unobtrusive home in my apartment.

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