A tale nearly identical in structure to the legend about the dead animal shipped by air freight (which handlers mistakenly thought had died in transit) is the following:
A man moves to town and hunts around for an apartment to rent, but he's turned down by most landlords because of his large dog (mastiff, doberman, etc.). He finally secures a carriage house that's in the backyard of a house owned by two old women by assuring the ladies that the dog is perfectly friendly, which, of course, it is. The landladies have a rabbit hutch in the backyard which contains two white rabbits. Months pass, and everyone gets along just fine. The man had trained the dog not to pester the rabbits while he's away at work, and the dog is quite obedient.
One night, though, the man returns from a long weekend away on business. His dog is beside itself with joy to see the master return, but it's late, the man is tired, so he plops right down in bed and falls asleep, leaving the dog outside. In the middle of the night the man is woken up by the strange sounds that his dog is making outside the bedroom window, a kind of muffled whimpering. When he opens the front door he sees the dog standing there with one of the rabbits in its mouth! After a quick smack or two on the head the dog drops the rabbit on the ground, and the man immediately picks the bunny up and brings it inside where it's light. The rabbit is brown with dirt but apparently undamaged, so the man rushes to wash it off and dry it. He slips out the door into the dark night, returns the rabbit to the hutch, and brings the dog inside. Thinking the women won't notice, he falls asleep.
In the morning, as he's leaving the carriage house for work, he sees the two old ladies standing around the rabbit hutch, which he must pass by on his way out of the backyard. He figures everything's alright and the rabbit is unhurt, but when he walks up and says good morning he notices that the women are completely distraught and crying. In fact, one of the women is making the sign of the cross over and over again. The man knows that he's probably been caught, but he decides to be cagey and asks, "What happened? Did the rabbits die?"
"Well, one of them did," replies one of the women, "but we buried him three days ago and now he's back in the hutch!"
Both legends feature persons who, mistakenly believing themselves to be responsible for the death of someone else's pet, try to cover up their culpability by replacing the dead animals — only to find that they have exacerbated an unfortunate situation by substituting a live (or seemingly live) pet in place of one that was already dead.
A reader tried to slip one past "Dear Abby" advice columnist Jeanne Phillips by submitting an even more twisted version of this tale to her as a first-person experience in September 2004. To her credit, Ms. Phillips spotted it as an urban legend:
DEAR ABBY: Last year, my husband's pet rabbit, "Blossom," died. My husband, "Edwin," went into the back yard one morning and found her dead in her cage. He buried her in our yard.
Later that day, our neighbor's dog dug up the rabbit. When the neighbor came home, he found the little body on his doorstep. Thinking his dog had killed Blossom, he panicked. He ran out, bought another rabbit that looked just like Blossom, and placed her in our cage.
When Edwin returned from work that night, he was stunned to find the rabbit sitting in its cage and immediately concluded that Blossom had returned from the dead.
Ever since, my husband has treated the rabbit like a little deity. He built an altar for her and sits in front of her cage in the lotus position and talks to her.
The neighbors have since moved, but last week I ran into the wife and she told me the story. Thinking it might help Edwin, I repeated the story to him. He became irate and accused me of trying to ruin the only miraculous thing that had ever happened to him.
Should I insist that Edwin seek counseling, or should I continue to live with this? I really don't know where it will end. - At My Wit's End
DEAR WIT'S END: You may not, but I do. It's going to end here and now. According to snopes.com, your rabbit tale is an urban legend, and so old it has whiskers. Thank you for sharing it with me. It's still a thigh-slapper.
- In some versions the dead pet or the "killer" pet is a cat.
- The rabbit's owners generally believe some demented person exhumed their pet and replaced it in its pen. In a few versions, however, they think they mistakenly buried the animal alive, and it clawed its way back to the surface, only to die of exhaustion after reaching its cage.
- The dog's owners learn that the rabbit was already dead from the police, or by talking to the rabbit's owners across the backyard fence.
Sightings: Celebrities' telling the "hare dryer" story on The Tonight Show as a personal anecdote has become almost a tradition. In January 1989, Johnny Carson related the story as a true event that had befallen his neighbor. April of that same year found Michael Landon regaling Johnny with the same tale, this time starring Landon himself as the owner of the dog. In June 2000, singer Marc Anthony told Jay Leno the story, swearing the rabbit had been dug up by his father-in-law's dog. In July 2000, William Shatner managed to move the legend to a new late-night talk show by telling host Conan O'Brien the incident had happened to his co-author.
We're told a non-talk show sighting of this legend appears in Jeff Foxworthy's 1989 recording, Sold Out, and this tale also formed the plot of an episode of The Chris Isaak Show ("Crimes and Punishment," original air date 26 March 2001). The same story plays out in the 2003 film, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.