THE PAINFUL REALITY

We had an abysmal year (December 2008 - December 2009) regarding our beloved rabbits. Throughout all of the literature on rabbits, you can repeatedly read the statement that a rabbit can live to be ten years old. But now, my husband, Chris, sarcastically adds, "Yeah, and a human can live to be a hundred." He's implying, obviously, that one event is just as likely as the other.

Between 2003 and 2007, we adopted a total of fourteen rabbits. By the time I introduced my Rabbits section of MultiFan, two-and-a-half-year-old GiggleFeather had already died of complications resulting from sludgy-bladder disease, in which calcium builds up in the bladder, ultimately filling it completely. She survived the flushing-out operation, but then, in her weakened state, she injured her right front paw somehow. It was soft-tissue damage, something that the vet was unable to fix. However, he reassured us that many rabbits learn to get around on three legs, and that she should be fine. Well, not our Giggle. Stubborn and proud as she was, she apparently just decided that, if she couldn't move on four good legs, she wasn't going to move at all. We force-fed her, but she kept losing weight. We gave her vet-prescribed drugs and saline-injections, but Giggle sat so immobile that she developed urine-scalding on her legs. We bathed her to soothe that, quickly blow-drying her with a warm hair-dryer, to prevent pneumonia. On the morning of May 1, 2006, Giggle clamored for attention. I picked her up and held her. She kissed me. I kissed her. And then she died. As Chris said, she waited for me. He told me that most animals die during the night.

We got through the rest of 2006, all of 2007, and most of 2008 without any further losses. I had already long since begun to regard Giggle's loss as a tragic fluke. I could not have been more wrong.

Thanksgiving Day of 2008 was my last day of blissful naivete. On all-too-aptly named "Black Friday," it was evident that something was seriously wrong with beautiful, nine-pound Jason. He sat immobile in the playpen, as the other English angoras played around him. We rushed him to the vet. It was severe wool-block. The vet kept him overnight, and was frankly surprised that Jason made it through the night. But then came our poor boy's next problem. He sat awkwardly collapsed, only occasionally trying, and failing, to get his legs under him. Against my better instincts, and to my eternal regret, I allowed Jason to be hospitalized for the entire week, clinging to desperate hope that the vet would somehow solve this baffling problem and save Jason. If I had only known that Jason had developed either spinal lymphoma or brain cancer (the blood-test results finally arrived, way too late), I would have insisted that Jason come home. He should have had the dignity of dying in his own home, where he was most comfortable, surrounded by the people and rabbits who loved him. We were just as capable of administering painkillers as the veterinary staff, via injection or syringe (we'd had plenty of practice with GiggleFeather). Instead, he endured the torment of barking dogs and screeching birds, he who was accustomed to a peaceful environment of only soft rabbit noises, and the quiet sounds of two not-so-young humans. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that we did right was to allow his bond-mate Jaime to stay there with him. Jason died during the wee hours of December 5, 2008, with Jaime the only loved-one beside him. He was only three-and-a-half.

In late April of 2009, dear little Wendy, our youngest, developed mild wool-block, and the vet assured us that she should come through it just fine. But by three days later, she lay morose and lethargic. Chris held her all afternoon, and I held her all evening: throughout which she stared directly into my eyes for hours. We placed her in a bassinet-style cage in our own bedroom for the night. In the morning, when we tried to give her prescription-medications to her, she went into convulsions, which the vet later informed me indicated a blood clot, probably in the brain, possibly in the heart. Our darling, adorable two-year-old had most likely died of a stroke. Like Giggle, she had waited for me all night: to die in my arms in the morning. And also like GiggleFeather, she had died on the morning of May 1, exactly three years later, to the day.

In mid-July, beautiful five-and-a-half-year-old Emily was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She had a large malignant mass in her chest that was pressing against her heart and lungs. We kept her comfortable with painkillers for two weeks, and held, comforted, and loved her. By the time that she was near the end, I had the flu. Chris brought Emily to me in bed, and she and I snuggled together. She kept trying to snuggle closer, as if, no matter how close we were, it still wasn't close enough. On the morning of July 23, only a short time after Chris brought her to me, Emily spasmed in a heart-attack and died. Now, another rabbit had waited for me, for morning, to die in my arms.

Late on October 30, Jeremy, Jason's twin-brother, became lethargic. His body temperature dropped alarmingly, indicating a possibly-cancerous brain-lesion, as our vet much later told us. He died during the wee hours of October 31. He was four-and-a-half years old. Like his brother, he had died without us, and with only his bond-mate, Amy, with him. But at least he had died in the comfort, quiet, and familiarity of his own home.

Late on November 17, Pipkin, our six-year-old, sagged in what appeared to be infinite weariness. She died during the wee hours of November 18, alone, apparently of "old age:" usually congestive heart failure, according to our vet.

On December 1, beloved, gorgeous, four-year-old Tiffany was stricken with severe wool-block. The vet declared that the huge mass was pushing against a major blood vessel that fed directly into the heart. Chris and I stayed with her around the clock, sleeping in shifts, medicating and syringe-feeding her. By the evening of December 2, she seemed better, and we thought that she would make it. But on the morning of December 3, when we attempted to give her prescription drugs to her, Tiffany spasmed in a heart-attack that mirrored that of Emily: once again a beloved rabbit had died in my arms.

Later the same month, Amy was stricken with pasteurella, more commonly known as "snuffles." She likely had carried the infection with her all of her life, had brought it with her, in fact, from the breeder. Her immune system had fought it off for years. But now, age had caught up with her, and perhaps also stress, since she had just recently lost her bond-mate, Jeremy. With antibiotics, we appeared to send the infection back into remission. But the strain of the long, nearly three-week fight had been too much for her. Amy died of apparent exhaustion from the battle at around 10PM on December 31.

I briefly considered updating the paragraph-descriptions of each of our rabbits in Bunny Beauties to reflect the losses, and especially to remove the no-longer-accurate labeling of Nickie and Wendy as being very young. But I decided to let it stand as it is, to allow this essay to tell the sad tale, and to permit my poem Tribute to express, as best I could, the resultant heartache.

We are now beginning new adoptions, and I will accordingly start a new section entitled Bunny Beauties: The Next Generation. But we are viewing these new bunnies with somber, more realistic eyes, alongside of our eyes of love.

For those readers who are fans of euthanasia, please do not bother to deluge me with tirades. These rabbits are and were our babies. I could no more kill them than I could have killed a human baby, if I had chosen to have one. Further, if I had put anybunny to sleep (please do not use the silly phrase "put down": a put-down is an insult; "put to sleep" is the gentle term for euthanasia), I would have made some tragic mistakes. Fifteen months before Tiffany died of wool-block, she had a previous, severe case of wool-block in which she barely survived. We pulled her through that time. If we had put her to sleep, we would have deprived her of over a year of life and joy. Ditto for Nickie, who was simultaneously suffering a bad case of sludgy-bladder disease: had we put her to sleep, she, too, would have been dreadfully cheated. Everyone suffers from time to time: humans, animals, all of us. But they have just as much right to fight for their lives as we do. We keep them pain-free and as comfortable as possible. But I would not murder my own babies.

Until September 2010. Then the unthinkable happened. Then came the rabbit that could neither live nor die, on his own. Six-and-a-half-year-old Brinsley was stricken with a severe ear infection, resulting in what is known as tilt-head or wry neck. His right eye looked to the ceiling, while his left eye regarded only the floor. We began the usual regimen of vet-prescribed drugs, but he grew steadily worse, eventually sliding into a coma. The vet changed him to a different antibiotic, and Brinsley began to come out of it, suddenly ravenously hungry and thirsty. He had to be handfed, and given water through a syringe, but he seemed to be growing stronger. Most unfortunately, his ambition outran his progress. He became too desperate too soon to rise, was still too weak to do so, kicked furiously in the attempts, and broke his own back. In addition, his weeks-long dizziness from the ear infection had caused him to constantly choose to lie on his left side; no matter how many times we turned him onto his right, he always instantly panicked and flipped back over onto his left again. Because of that, and due to the frequent frustrated squirming, he had utterly destroyed his left eye, despite our frequent application of soothing rabbit-appropriate eyedrops. So now we had a rabbit who could never rise again, who could never again see anything other than the ceiling, but with a voracious appetite. Bewildered and stymied, feeling completely fenced in by cruel circumstances, I finally consented to have dear little Brinsley put to sleep. It went against everything that I had ever believed in and stood for, and I had had absolutely no choice.

And then his figurative brother dealt us the same cruel trap. In June of 2013, nine-year-old TickleFlower’s legs deteriorated bit by bit. First the fur went away. Then the skin. Then the flesh. We were seeing tendons in his feet. We kept him on painkillers, but he floundered and kept falling over, and needing to be propped up by Pixie, or by a wall. But he had a hearty appetite; he enjoyed his food and water and snuggling with Pixie. But he was suffering the bewilderment of why he couldn’t get around, why his legs didn’t work. We were stuck in the same vile quandary that we had been with Brinsley: here was a rabbit who could neither live nor die without help. We had him put to sleep.

Simultaneously, eight-year-old Jaime was dying of leukemia. But at least nature granted her the dignity of choosing her own time. On her last day, she ate heartily, played with her toys, and then went quietly to sleep. She and Tickle had died three days apart.

Once Brinsley and Tickle were both gone, Pixie, alone for the first time in his life, fell into a severe depression. He spent much of his time searching the cage, the playpen, the sofa, and the various rooms for his lifelong companions. This went on for the better part of a year. Then in March 2014, Pixie's legs went through the same awful deterioration as his figurative "brother" Tickle's had. He was now ten years old. A rabbit of ours had actually reached that elusive goal. But he became clumsy and began falling over periodically. Then one morning, we found that he had fallen during the night and landed with his face in his food bowl, and remained stuck there until we found him and picked him up out of it. I instantly realized that, if he had fallen just a few inches farther to the right, his face would have ended up in his water bowl instead. That made my decision for me. Chris and I had been debating whether Pixie should be put to sleep like his two "brothers." Now I said, "We are NOT going to have a rabbit drown here! That is just not happening." Chris called the vet. I picked Pixie up for the last time and felt his soft warm body clinging to mine, and we looked into each other's eyes. I put him in the carrier. A half-hour later, Chris came home with a box. I petted Pixie's fur, still soft, but now cold, and saw his unseeing eyes. The horrible transition, in such a short time, tore out my heart. I had caused this. This was my fault. Oh if only those three boys could have just chosen their own time, as all of our other rabbits had!

On June 21 of 2014, five-year-old Abbie and I were playing together on the sofa. I was petting her, and she was clearly enjoying it. Without warning, she opened her mouth widely and screamed. And then she went on screaming, and began writhing in pain. I had to wrestle with her to keep her from rolling right off the sofa. Chris came running. He gathered her close in his arms and talked to her gently, with her still screaming and thrashing all the while. Minutes later, her screaming trailed off into a moan, and she went limp. She had obviously had an abrupt, violent heart attack. This was the most sudden loss that we had ever had, and we were in shock and near-denial for quite a while afterward.

During most of these years, Taffy had become the most special pet that either of us had ever known. Gradually, she had evolved from beloved pet to seeming like our own child. Most bunnies are lap-rabbits. But Taffy would always scamper up our chests to nestle close to the left side of our necks. No matter how close she would get, it was never close enough; she would always snuggle to get even closer. We would each chuckle and say, "Taffy, you just can't get any closer!" But we always loved that she just kept trying. Throughout the years, she was a sickly child. She would often stop eating, and we would syringe-feed her and put her on antibiotics again until she rallied. We suffered through fearing her imminent death countless times. In March of 2014, her legs became afflicted with arthritis. But in a bit of superb timing, the vet revealed a new wonder drug, Adequan, for arthritis in rabbits, cats, horses, and dogs. We immediately put her on it. She required an injection every three days. Sometimes, at the beginning, she also needed a painkiller injection. We provided it as needed. The result was extraordinary! Within a few weeks, she was again running and even jumping! We moved her up to the bassinet-style cage in our bedroom, as we had done with numerous rabbits before her. We were with her nearly constantly, talking to her, holding her and petting her, syringe-feeding her baby food and Critical Care for rabbits. When we were outside reading on warm days, she was outside with us, in a playpen that we set up outside, running loose under careful supervision, or in our arms being petted. She had the most wonderful, meaningful spring, summer, and early fall that a rabbit could have. But then, when the warm weather went away, it was almost as if she knew it. Five days after our last read-outside day, on October 3, she lay on her side in her bassinet. We picked her up and held her close in our arms as she died. Her life was one of the most special experiences of our lives. And her death was one of the most tragic moments of our lives. Taffy was nine years old.

Bethany had not only been a both loving and lovely pet, but she had graced us with two beautiful daughters: Stephanie and Selene. In 2015, on May 15, seven-year-old Bethany began the day like any other: active, enthusiastic for her food, and loving toward her daughters and toward us. But by evening, she was withdrawn and lethargic. I held her in my arms and spoke soothingly to her, but she became increasingly limp. When Chris put her back into her cage, she collapsed, unable to stand. He hastily picked her back out, and we held her together as her head fell backward against her own back. I looked and saw that her pupils were blown. Chris murmured, "Ohhh, you've had a stroke, haven't you, little girl?" And just like that, she was gone.

In 2016, we knew that nine-year-old Nickie was in her last year. We had had her on Adequan for some time, and she had regained the ability to run around the house. Unique among our rabbits, Nickie thoroughly enjoyed being chased around by Chris, calling, "I'm gonna get Nickie!" But when she began to refuse to eat, she wasn't the eager, cooperative syringe-eater that Taffy had been. Instead, Nickie fought against the syringe, and let whatever little had gotten in to run back out again. Declining gradually, she became gaunt and unsteady, until Chris found her stretched out in her hidey-box the morning of March 16.

On January 27, 2017, when Chris gave the bunnies their breakfast at 7AM, seven-and-a-half-year-old Persephone was as eager to eat as ever, pushing her sister Daphne aside to get to the food. But three hours later, when I awoke and went downstairs, she sat limp and lethargic. I offered her her favorite treat, and she didn't even sniff at it, let alone nibble. I pulled her into my arms and held her, petted her, and talked to her. She emitted no pain crunches, so we decided not to dose her with a pain killer. She had no interest in moving or exploring the sofa. When I put her back into Daphne's loving care, Persephone lay collapsed with her chin on the floor. Chris guessed that Persephone had had a heart attack between seven and ten in the morning, one that was not instantly fatal. She rolled over onto her right side, and her breathing became shallower. When we thought that she was gone, we lay her on the sofa, but I saw her breathe briefly, and twitch her paws and her head. Those were her last goodbyes.




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