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There's more to a rabbit than cuddles

Aug 15, 2014 - By Chris Peck

I found that out -- and more -- at the Fremont County Fair

Laramy Connelly's rabbit is what I remember about this year's Fremont County Fair.

A rex rabbit, as I recall, a black-and-white beauty with dense, velvety fur.

I saw no sign of Laramy at the fair, which was too bad. I wanted to talk about what it takes to raise a good-looking rabbit these days -- and a why a kid does it.

These days, kids are tempted by plenty of technological, screen-in-your-hand alternatives to raising an animal for the fair.

Most kids, even in Fremont County, have never milked a cow, brushed a horse, or cleaned a chicken coop.

Not to sound like some ancient dinosaur from a different time, but there is value in those endeavors that involves more than pushing the on/off button of your iPhone.

Just ask Alex Malcolm, the University of Wyoming County Extension agent and a guy who watches more than 500 4-H kids in and around Riverton.

"You definitely learn responsibility when you are raising an animal,'' Alex said as he reflected on the value of putting down the electronics and picking up a shovel to clean out the chicken coop.

"If you are sitting at home playing a video game, there is not a lot of responsibility there.

"It's not like having something depend on you for survival.''

That gets to the heart of it.

When you raise a creature for the fair, it's not all about you -- the human being.

The value comes, frankly, from learning how to look at the world from the rabbit's point of view.

Sounds silly, I know.

What's a rabbit, anyway, but something fun to cuddle?

That's a question asked by someone who doesn't know about rabbits.

Rabbits aren't low maintenance. They need to be fed. They bite. Their backs are easily sprained or broken when picked up the wrong way.

But there is a much larger reason to "think like a rabbit," and that involves realizing that in this world it's not all about little old us.

We're outnumbered by beetles, worms, and microbes.

We can't fly. We can't swim underwater for more than a few minutes.

Our eyes really aren't very good. And we would never be able to outrun a hungry lion.

In other words, the world we inhabit includes many more fantastic realities than our gadgets and fossil-fuel-powered cars.

In very real ways, caring for an animal -- be it a dog, cat, rabbit or calf -- offers kids an excellent way to observe the ways of the world.

A rabbit needs to eat. Needs to poop. Needs to breed.

Somebody has to pay for the food, clean up the poop, and decide what to do with the kits.

When a kid is the one asked to take on all of that, well, a county fair rabbit becomes something much more substantial than cuddles and the Bugs Bunny show.

There are life lessons there -- taught by little Thumper.

And it doesn't stop when the county fair ends.

"A lot of businesses these days are going after kids who have been in 4-H, or been in FFA," Alex Malcolm notes, "because of the decision-making, the responsibility, and all of those projects that kids who raise animals must complete.''

That's the value of thinking like a rabbit.

It's good training for helping kids think about their futures, too.

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Editor's note: Former Riverton resident Chris Peck retired recently as the editor of the Memphis (Tenn.) Commercial Appeal. He lives in Memphis.

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Fremont County Fair