Why Did This Rabbit Drive a Car?

Pictured above is a car, kind of, with a vanity license plate reading “Alex.” It’s a very tiny car and it looks like it’s being driven around a shopping mall, but that’s not the strangest thing that’s going on here. The driver, at least insofar as we can tell, isn’t human — it looks like a rabbit. And that’s because it is a rabbit.

And he’s there to help you get to your destination. No, he’s not going to drive you there. He’s going to calm you down.

That’s Alex the Great, a 28-pound Flemish rabbit (the largest of the domesticated rabbit species) hanging out at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). He doesn’t live there but you’ll often find him there — it’s one of the many places around San Francisco he works and, as seen in this video, “drives.”

Alex, in the words of Travel+Leisure, is “already a bit of a San Francisco legend.” He appears on occasion at San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors teams, usually wearing a rabbit-sized jersey and attracting a crowd. He’s very popular on Instagram, with well over 20,000 followers (he’s only following about half a percent of that). And for good reason, too — he’s furry, docile, and seems to enjoy being petted by random passersby.

That’s a rare combination for any animal, let alone a rabbit. And it makes him very valued when it comes to air travel.

Many people are anxious fliers — and that’s not a great problem if you run an airport. In 2013, SFO, in partnership with the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), created something called the “Wag Patrol,” a team of animals that come to the airport to help calm the flyers’ nerves before they board the planes. Per the airport’s website, the animals are “carefully selected for their temperament and airport suitability,” and “the animals wear vests that read ‘Pet Me!’ which identify them” and make it clear that, unlike service animals, these furry friends are available for a cuddle.

Most of the Wag Brigade are dogs, as the tail-centric name of the crew would suggest. But Alex is an exception. He joined the Brigade in early 2022 and quickly found himself a lot of fans at the airport because he’s very good at his job. Rae Alexandra, a reporter for KQED (San Francisco’s NPR and PBS affiliate), had a chance to hang out with Alex in March of that year, and they had a great time together: “Alex the Great’s most endearing quality is that, if he takes a shine to you, he will happily hop into your lap for some quality snuggles. He did this to me last week during his most recent visit to the airport and, let me tell you, it felt better than any compliment I have ever received from a human adult.”

Not a bad feeling to have before you get on a plane.

 

Bonus fact: Alex probably isn’t the world’s most famous rabbit — that honor goes to Bugs Bunny, by any meaningful measure. Bugs is property of Warner Bros., but in 1988, he appeared in a movie made by another studio and starring another hare: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Credit to that cameo — and to many others — goes to Steven Speilberg, who, per the Hollywood Reporter “was able to convince Warner Bros. [and a bunch of other studios] to lend their characters for the unbelievable flat rate of $5,000 per character, with minor stipulations.” The “minor stipulation” for the use of Bugs? That he was only on screen if a more famous mouse was also there. The Hollywood Reporter continues: “Warner Bros. demand[ed that] Bugs Bunny [. . . ] appear only in scenes opposite Mickey Mouse and with the same amount of screen time.”

From the Archives: The Therapeutic Value of a Not-Quite-Flying Pig: Meet another member of the Wag Patrol.