Hey bunny! Furry pick-me-ups

Calgary Herald, Sept 5, 2016: “It’s like we live in a zoo,” my son said one day as we stood watching a hare and a couple of squirrels frolicking on the front lawn. I wish I could tell you it was a one off — but I spend a lot of time looking out the front window watching the wild kingdom in the yard.

While I admire the dexterity of the squirrels, swinging off branches and annoying the magpies, I long for the cute little Red Squirrels that are native to Alberta. The ones you see around town, the Eastern Grey Squirrel (they also come in black or brown), are from Toronto. The Toronto Zoo gifted a few to the Calgary Zoo but they escaped and soon became the gift that keeps on giving. And giving. I haven’t forgiven the big bullies for running all the Red Squirrels out of town.

But you don’t have to look too far to find native hares and rabbits. The hare on our lawn, we call him Bunny, has made three shallow divots—a couple in front of a tall chunk of prairie grass and one in front of the birch tree. You can’t see him from the street (location, location, location!) but you can watch him (or her) from the front window.

And I do. I check every morning and several times throughout the day and I am always pleased when I see Bunny sitting there. I am thrilled when I see him eating the dandelions and fret a little when the divots sit empty for a day or two.

But then boom, Bunny is back. Or at least a bunny is back.

We’ve all seen the roadkill. And coyotes in the park. “In the city, rabbit and hare populations are kept in check by vehicles, weather, predators and other mortality factors,” the Fish and Wildlife website says. Perhaps the divots in my lawn are bequeathed or maybe it’s more like an AirBnB situation.

Many of you no doubt shake your fists at the live lawn ornaments. Rabbits and hares can eat up to a kilogram of green vegetation in a day — that’s a summer’s worth of lettuce plus a few geraniums. My neighbour puts wire mesh up around her garden bed every spring to keep hares out and her strawberries in.

You can go ahead and fence them off, but the bunnies aren’t going anywhere. “Removing individual hares and rabbits will only leave a vacancy for others to fill,” Fish and Wildlife says. “To prevent wildlife from visiting your property, you must remove the food or shelter the animals are seeking.”

So maybe don’t stand on the porch and toss carrot nubs on the lawn and do a live commentary as Bunny eats them. You may object, but I figure it’s OK. After all, they aren’t a menace unless you’re a lettuce. And you may discover that watching them out the window can go a long way to lift your spirits.

We all need a little furry voyeurism — just ask the millions of people who like to watch cat or dog videos on the internet. I for one have watched my share (and probably yours) of dog videos. A retriever enthusiastically digging a hole on the beach, a mutt chasing its tail in the hall and that German Shepard having a conversation with its owner about bacon.  Gold. Almost half the people who upload an original video put up a clip of their cat, dog or other type of pet. I know a hermit crab with its own Instagram account — surprisingly charming.

Despite being a dog person — she has a pug called Biscuit — Jessica Gall Myrick wanted to know why people watch cat videos. The assistant professor at the Indiana University Media School surveyed nearly 7,000 cat video fans to see how they affected their moods. Rather well, it turns out.

Most of us get a little psychological ‘pick-me-up’ when we watch Lil Bub climb the stairs or view a hilarious Grumpy Cat meme,” Myrick explains. Her results suggest that watching “cat-related online media” made people feel more energetic and positive and have fewer negative emotions, things like anxiety, annoyance and sadness.

“Even a short-lived boost in one’s mood may help someone make it through a day or charge through an unpleasant task,” she writes. Myrick also found the pleasure people had watching the cat videos outweighed any guilt they had over wasting time watching cat videos. More gold.

We all need little mental health breaks over the day. If you add the bunny on the grass or those big squirrels swinging in the trees to your repertoire, you get the added bonus of getting away from a screen and stretching your legs for a few minutes. And if you shake your fist, you could maybe even call it exercise.


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