NEWS- Bunny tale: Easter visitor startles family

The sun had just come up on Easter morning when Afton resident John Payne spotted movement in the corner of his first-floor bedroom.

An owner of six cats, Payne didn't think much of an animal in the bedroom, but he soon noticed it was smaller than any of his felines much smaller.

"I thought, 'If that's a rat, I'm going to line those cats up and shoot them,'" Payne jokes. But it was no rat. Instead, the little teacup-sized furball put up two long ears and hopped.

Payne and his wife, Susan, were captivated by the sight of a wild baby rabbit in their bedroom, but someone else was even more thrilled: the couple's 9-year-old daughter, Lexy.

"She came in, and it was like her Easter dream had come true," says Payne, who operates the local graphic design firm Gotham Graphix.

Sergeant Kenneth Dove of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says rabbits are in full reproductive mode beginning in spring. "They're mythical for their reproductive abilities," he says. But they're also very delicate. In fact, it's illegal to capture a wild animal without a special license.

"Wild rabbits can go into shock and die just from the shock of being in captivity," says Dove. "I've dealt with orphan rabbits before; they're hard to rehabilitate if you don't know what you're doing."

Fortunately for the Paynes, their visitor did just fine.

After feeding it several carrots and an alfalfa sprout, they released the bunny, which promptly hopped away.

The Paynes have no doubt that Easter magic was underway.

But does Sergeant Dove agree the Paynes' Easter bunny might be the Easter bunny? After all, it did manage to survive the night in a house with six hungry cats.

"That," says Dove, "sounds like proof to me."

Lexy Payne and the Easter bunny