PermaLink Creation and loss12/07/2008 10:38 PM
We gained lots of new little rabbits, and lost one.

I could not have been more proud of Suzette on Saturday night. After we returned from getting a wireless range extender so that we could put WabbitCam online, a trip that was an adventure all its own thanks to ice all over area roads, something seemed different about Suzette. i checked the nest box, and sure enough, there were little warm kits in the excellent nest Suzette had made for them. I initially counted at least six. Suzette was flapping her ears outside the nest box, very proud of herself and noticeably thinner.

I put the webcam outside the hutch, and this morning, sure enough, there was Suzette. She seemed more subdued, though. She was parked in the big pile of hay out in the main hutch, not moving around much. Nora thought she was moving a little slow, as well. Suzette wasn't much interested in eating carrots or lettuce.

Later this morning, I went out to say hi to Suzette and immediately realized something was very wrong. Suzette was struggling to move, making small alarm noises. I opened the hutch door to get her, and she suddenly arched her back and looked scared. I picked her up and she went limp. Within a minute, she was dead.

We don't know what happened.

I ran with her into the house and we called every available emergency vet, the nearest of whom was more than an hour away. I sat with her, put the stethoscope on her and could not find a heartbeat. She was gone. In less than 12 hours, she had orphaned eight Flemish Giant kits.

I can't describe what we both went through today, from trying to save Suzette and being unable to do anything, to trying to figure out how to feed the eight kits so they'd make it through their first day. We tried doing a little hand-feeding with milk replacer, but the kits had apparently had been fed this morning before Suzette died, and were mostly interested in sleep. We did get in touch with the breeder from whom we'd gotten Suzette, and he had a few does who could act as surrogates, so we made the arrangements and drove 200 miles to northern Pennsylvania to take them up to his rabbitry. With luck, and a good surrogate mother, they'll make it, and we'll see them in a few weeks, much larger.

Suzette was a good wabbit, very proud, very feisty, more than willing to woof at you or nibble you if you disturbed her hutch. She liked lettuce and carrots, didn't much care for sweet potato, had recently been introduced to Tostitos, which she liked a great deal, and was amused when Whale tried to play with her ears. She regarded the rug in the living room as "hers," and would herd cats or even me off it merely by hopping up to them and staring at them at close range, waving her large ears.

She had won two best-of-class awards at rabbit shows and would likely have been a champion in her senior years. Some of her kits have her elegant, distinctive head. Her sister, coincidentally, is about to have her own first litter.

Sometimes things happen with young does, they can die suddenly in connection with their first litter. No one really understands why, and not much research has been put into rabbit health until very recently. I guess rabbits aren't considered worth the effort. Suzette certainly was. She was a very good wabbit, and we'll miss her a great deal. Sam already misses her.

We gained eight little kits but lost a very special doe. Wherever you are, Suzette, enjoy it and be yourself.

December 8, 2008:

I chose to update this one, rather than write a new one.

When someone dies here, we do certain things. The lost one rests for a while, so that everyone else understands that they're gone. They can come over and look, whether up close or from a distance. They sniff, look around, move carefully and slowly as if there's something unknown in the room. Time passes, and then the lost one is carried to somewhere warm. We talk about how they were when they were alive. We remember all the good things about them. A tuft of their fur goes into a small envelope, their name is written on the envelope and a mark made of their days here and when they left.

Then, the lost one is wrapped up. The envelope goes into the old wall clock, and I wind the clock and close the door.

The clock knows about everyone who has ever lived here.

And then we bid them goodbye.

The clock will remember them all someday.

Tonight, we put Suzette's name in the clock. I went out in the field afterward and cried for a very long time. It was just me, and the moon, and the Blue Ridge and the cold wind. A little ways away from me, I am certain I heard a rabbit in a big pile of dry grass, clacking her teeth or maybe feeding her kits. I could hear a deer walking up the field toward me, though I couldn't see it. Another was down at the fenceline, moving slowly through the underbrush. The rabbit clacked her teeth some more, and I realized I was never going to mow that field again.

I have to tell you something. Years ago, when I first bought my second tractor, I was mowing with it. There was a patch of grass near the house that hadn't been mowed in a month or two, and I went through it with the yellow International. On my next pass, I saw something in the grass and stopped the tractor.

It was a nest of wild rabbits, none of them larger than the kits Suzette made for us. I had killed one. The other two were alive. I realized the best thing I could do was to take the lost one away, and cover the others. Sure enough, that night, their mother came back and moved them somewhere safer, and in my yard since, I've known wild rabbits. They eat the tomato plants, dig up the bulbs, gnaw on the trees I plant.

And I let them.

And I will always let them.

Making sure that Suzette's kits have a good, warm, safe life is my atonement for killing that rabbit so many years ago. I will never be able to do enough to make up for that one kit I killed years ago.

And I'll tell you something else I've only told one person in the entire world.

When I was eight, we had a litter of kittens around my parents' house in New York. They adored me and followed me around as if I was their leader. One warm afternoon in 1971, I lost my footing and stepped awkwardly backward. I stepped hard on a kitten, a little yellow fuzzball named Columbus.

I killed him. He died writhing, yowling, and seconds later was gone.

I never told anyone. Anyone. Ever.

Maybe my whole life, these last almost forty years, I've been trying to atone for killing that little kitten. And just like the rabbits in my yard, nothing a cat has ever done or will ever do will ever be enough to use up that need for atonement. They can do whatever they want, and I will keep them safe and warm and in care.

Someday I will feel like I have atoned for these things.

But I'm not there yet.

Every day, there's more to do.

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2. francie12/08/2008 10:52:43 PM

I know a thing of two about that feeling. We've adopted 5 animals since moving to Anguilla a little over 2.5 years ago. We have 2 left and our bird was lost 'cause I didn't finish making that damn cage fast enough.
One dog got poisoned, one got run over on the street in front of our house, one kitten we rescued was run over by a car.
No matter what the situation is, there is always something you could have done or should have done, at least that's what I keep telling myself. But the reality of it is that none of our animals would have survived at all if we hadn't found them, and I suspect your animals wouldn't have had much of one either.

That little rabbit and kitten have already forgiven you for you have paid their species back more than ten fold. They'd want you "free" and able to focus on the many more things "that have to be done" for sure.

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