Rabbitts Split on Offing Thumper

They've been holed up among us from the beginning, these Rabbitts and Bunneys and Hares, but the relationship has always been delicate and tenuous.

“I'm used to it now, having been married for 36 years,” says the former Mary Moore of Newport Beach, who in 1964 exchanged “I do”s with Peter Rabbitt. “Most of our friends don't even think anything of it anymore. The only time you still have to be careful is around Easter, if you call somewhere to make dinner reservations, not to leave your real name.”

But Orange County's warren peace was shaken last week when Seal Beach officials proposed a massive rabbit shoot. Hundreds of wild rabbits around Leisure World may be gunned down because of their constant scavenging through the retirement village's golf course and flower beds.

“I think it's kind of sad that it may be coming down to that,” says Mrs. Rabbitt, ne Moore, about the call to armed exterminators. “People have taken away lots of land from animals, who have nowhere to go anymore. And in this case, we're not talking about vicious animals. I just think people should be able to work this out another way.”

Perhaps, but opinions on the impending kill-off don't split purely along an us-and-them line. The Rabbitt household, for example, is quite divided on the issue.

“My take is that if this has become a problem, there should be some elimination,” Peter Rabbitt says with a businesslike lack of sentimentality. And, in fact, Mr. Rabbitt was contacted at the Newport Beach office where he runs the Rabbitt Insurance Agency; he rather conveniently avoided mentioning whether the itchy trigger fingers in Seal Beach were whipping up a term-life policy windfall for him.

“In the natural scheme of things, various predators would pick off the weak,” Rabbitt rationalized coolly. “If those predators aren't around anymore, then something else probably has to be done to stop an overrun.”

Animal-rights groups have drawn widespread public attention to Seal Beach's final-solution approach by condemning it as a rabbit massacre. That these groups have been able to get a stay of execution may be testament to the positive PR that rabbits generate, especially with Easter-egg hunts still fresh on everybody's minds.

“Well, yes and no,” contends Joyce Merideth Bunney of Costa Mesa. “People aren't thinking of them as rabbits—they're thinking of them as sweet, soft little bunnies.”

Mrs. Bunney can definitely appreciate this cuddly viewpoint, having raised six now-grown Bunneys of her own, but she knows there's more to them than meets the eye.

“They look so cute, but they're really quite destructive,” she says. “And they're always hungry. That's their job, it seems—to eat and eat and eat.”

And Mrs. Bunney's position on the proposed extermination by shootin' iron?

“Let's just say I can see both sides of it,” she offers. “I should be sympathetic toward them, I guess, because of my last name. But we're not related. Really, I don't care one way or the other. Once you get past the cuteness factor, a little of them goes a long way.”

That's the way Tassie Hare feels about the issue, too. Of course, as a Hare, she has a bit more distance on the subject. “People don't always make the connection between us and rabbits or bunnies,” says Mrs. Hare. “When someone has a hard time with my name, if I say, 'You know, Hare—like a rabbit,' they'll usually look at me funny and go, 'Huh?'”

Mrs. Hare and her husband, Steve, have made a good life for themselves and their two children by pretty much blending in with the status quo in sedate Buena Park, and they tend to sympathize with the residents of Leisure World on the question of rabbits running rampant.

“Especially if they are wild rabbits, I'd be upset,” says Mrs. Hare. “If they were running all over my property, I'd do something to control them.”

Ultimately, then, the issue of the proposed rabbit kill may boil down more to a matter of class than species.

“Growing up around here, nobody ever really treated me any different than anybody else,” Peter Rabbitt reflects. “Sure, when I went away to college, I was somewhat of a novelty. Sometimes I'd hear people talking behind my back.”

The ears, of course. With rabbits, they're a blessing and a curse.

“I'd hear them say my name, make some jokes,” Mr. Rabbitt says. “But that's a little thing. I've been living with it for so long it doesn't affect me. I just go with the flow. That's how I feel about this thing in Leisure World. Heck, when I was a kid, I used to hunt rabbits myself.”

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