When I am out with Ollie, he likes to chase things. Other dogs of course, as well as cats, deer, pigeons, pheasants, and even ducks in the river. Squirrels are a difficult option, as they rush up trees, leaving him frustrated, looking skywards into the branches. On the beach, large seagulls seem to be fair game; but they always fly off as he arrives, only to land tantalisingly, a few feet further on. It always seems to delight him, even though he never catches anything. Watching him do this for almost two years, it always seemed to me, and to other onlookers, that his sole intention was to play with whatever he was chasing. His demeanour was happy, and his body language playful, never threatening.
Over on Beetley Meadows, there are lots of rabbits. On quiet days, or late in the afternoon, they summon up the courage to leave their burrows, and can be seen on the grass, enjoying a feed, or running around in the sunshine. Locals tell me that these rabbits are infected with myxomatosis, and it remains in the rabbit community here, due to inbreeding. I have seen the occasional dead rabbit, but have no idea if this disease was the cause of its demise. For Ollie, the sight of their fluffy white feet, or their ears protruding above the long grass, is a signal to chase. He will tear after them at breakneck speed, paws pounding on the turf. He is never quick enough though, and they always escape into their warren, or seek shelter inside some unusually thick brambles, or inaccessible undergrowth. Ollie is left to run around crying, as if lamenting the loss some good playtime.
If he has no other dogs to romp around with, I will take him into the area where they live, and suggest that he search for ‘Bunnies’. He doesn’t seem to understand ‘Rabbits’, though he certainly recognises the word ‘Squirrels’. His preferred command is ‘Bun-Bun’, something that pricks up his ears when heard, and sets him off investigating the normal rabbit haunts. This affords a diversion on his walk, and kills some time when he is bored, in the absence of other dog playmates. Occasionally, he will flush one from the long grass, but the turn of speed that it musters, and the possibility of a considerable hop, guarantees that the bunny will find sanctuary before Ollie gets to it.
Yesterday afternoon, he had been walking around with two of his friends, Toby the Jack Russell and Bruno the Pug. They left, and towards the end of our time out, we were at the far end of the Meadows, near the junction with River View. In the middle of the cut grass, is a large area of grass and weeds left in a natural state, forming a substantial square. Ollie suddenly took off in this direction, breaking into a determined gallop. At first, I suspected he had detected the presence of another dog nearby, then I spotted what had caught his attention. A full-size rabbit was sitting at the edge of the longer grass, apparently just relaxing. As Ollie drew nearer, it suddenly realised the folly of being in such an open area, and it obviously panicked. Instead of seeking shelter in the thick grass nearby, it ran the ‘wrong’ way, straight onto the open parkland, easily visible on the short grass. It was heading straight at Ollie.
At the last minute, the animal realised its mistake, and swerved violently. Ollie had to make an extreme twisting turn, skidding on the wet grass as he did so. The rabbit thought that a zig-zag manoeuvre would confuse the dog, but this only succeeded in slowing it down. I was running towards the pair, shouting for Ollie to leave him, but as the bunny got back into the long grass, Ollie caught his back leg. The piercing scream surprised both myself, and my dog. It seemed far too extreme for what was little more than a nip, so I must assume it was more from fear, than from pain. Ollie looked at me, confused. I suspect he thought that the rabbit would enjoy the game, and turn and run again. When he let go, on my command, it hopped into the grass, attracting Ollie once again. This time, he pounced onto it, and I saw his mouth begin to close around its abdomen. I shouted ‘no’, and he let go, looking at me with obvious frustration.
I went deeper into the undergrowth, looking to see if it was injured. I could see it creeping slowly away, some distance from me, so I didn’t get the chance to see if it was hurt. Reluctant to distress it further, I took Ollie home. He strutted with a proud gait on the trip back. He had finally caught his first rabbit.