Marlon Bundo, one of the most popular members of the Trump administration, is flipping through the pages of a new book.
There’s Marlon in the Oval Office. Marlon on Capitol Hill. Marlon in the Naval Observatory.
Marlon is a rabbit.
This is not Fake News. The real-life pet of Vice President Pence and his wife, Karen, is actually turning the pages with his teeth. “Reading” in the sunroom of the vice presidential residence, Marlon is ridiculously cute and appears to be fully aware of that fact.
And why not? After all, this is a rabbit with his own title: BOTUS, a.k.a. Bunny of the United States. He has an Instagram account with almost 17,000 followers. And now he has a new children’s book, “Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President,” a hop through official Washington through the eyes of a fluffy black-and-white leporid.
“He is a star,” says Karen Pence, who illustrated the book, which was written by her daughter Charlotte. “He really is adorable.”
He is also one lucky bunny. Marlon would have lived a quiet life of grass-nibbling and whisker-twitching but for a twist of fate. Five years ago, Charlotte was a freshman at DePaul University and needed a rabbit for a student film project. She found a cute one on Craigslist, then cast him in a starring role as a symbol of rebellion in a world of conformity. (The bunny was always escaping from his cage.)
Turns out he was a natural actor. “He really does pose,” Charlotte says. “It’s really funny.” Her roommate thought they should name him after Marlon Brando. Charlotte tweaked it to “Bundo” because that was a pun she couldn’t refuse.
Fast forward to 2016, when her father was elected vice president and the Pences moved to Washington. Charlotte and Marlon came along for the ride, and soon BOTUS had an Instagram account and a following of political fans and pet rabbit owners, who noted that Marlon needed his nails clipped after his first photo appeared online. (He promptly got a pedicure.) BOTUS made his first public appearance at an event honoring military families last May, where he upstaged the vice president, Ivanka Trump and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. A star was born.
The Pence family, unlike the Trumps, are pet people: Their home has always been filled with dogs, cats, hamsters and other assorted creatures, including bunnies. (Presidential pet trivia: Abraham Lincoln, Chester Arthur, Teddy Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy also owned rabbits, none of which had their own social media account.)
The Pences’s beloved 16-year-old rescue beagle died right before the 2016 election; elderly cats Oreo and Pickle made the move from Indiana to Washington but passed away last year. Last summer, the Pences adopted Harley, an Australian shepherd. (The Veep asked for a motorcycle for Father’s Day; he got a puppy and naming rights.) They also got Hazel, a gray shorthair kitten who photo-bombs Marlon’s pictures at every opportunity.
The book’s dedication includes “furry family members across the world who bring so much joy to our lives.”
“I taught second grade for years before I became an art teacher, and I would always encourage the parents to get some kind of pet that their children had to take care of, because I think it teaches responsibility,” says the second lady. “And caring for an animal is just a good experience for kids. For us now, with the kids gone, we like the unconditional love you get from a pet.”
It is Marlon, now the longest-serving Pence pet, who narrates the book. Charlotte wanted to write an educational story explaining what exactly the vice president does all day, because most children don’t really understand what the job entails. She wrote the story in verse and persuaded her mother, an award-winning watercolor artist, to do the illustrations.
For years, Karen Pence created paintings of people’s homes – and her watercolor of the Naval Observatory now hangs in the sunroom. For this book, she began painting the White House and the Capitol, then figured out how to put Marlon in each scene.
Other than one member of their Secret Service detail, there are no faces except for the rabbit’s. “I can’t do faces,” she admits. “I don’t do faces because people are so particular about their home — understandably so — that I thought I never want to try to paint their children or a family member. I’ll never get it right. So I’ve never even tried.”
Another reason for doing the book? It allows her to talk about one of her pet causes: art therapy. Despite her years as an art teacher, she didn’t learn about it until she was introduced to Tracy’s Kids, a program for children with cancer, as a congressional spouse.
“It’s not arts and crafts,” she explains. And art therapy is different from “therapeutic art,” where someone finds painting or playing music relaxing or comforting.
Real art therapists, she says, are trained mental health professional who — working one-on-one with a patient’s drawings or paintings — uses that art to discuss trauma and loss. Art therapy programs now treat everyone from sick children to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When they sit down with an art therapist, they don’t have to say a single word,” she says. “Things just start coming out in the art. It’s pretty miraculous how it works.”
Proceeds from the book, to be released Monday by conservative publisher Regnery, will be donated to Tracy’s Kids, an art-therapy program at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis (the second lady is a board member for both) and A21, a nonprofit aimed at ending sex trafficking. The book tour starts Sunday and includes the Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon presidential libraries, military bases and television interviews.
Marlon, who sticks close to Washington these days, will make a few public appearances to promote the book but has not announced where or when. Depends on whether he’s having a bad hare day.