I’ve always had pets. My upbringing would not have been complete without the four cats and one dog that graced my younger days. Their kindness, love, and quiet reserve taught me stillness and respect for all creatures. My husband also spent much of his childhood with a menagerie of animals: cats, rabbits, mice, rats, fish, and dogs. So, it’s no surprise that our home together also includes furry family members. Michael and I have cared for a total of 15 creatures in our 12 years together. We currently cohabitate with six cats and one rabbit. Among these wild things, we have added two wild children. Yes, you read that right, there are 11 beings in our household and only two of them can take care of themselves.
Okay, one of them. I seem to take care of everyone.
The newest member of our brood is Winter the black and white Dutch rabbit. She was a well-meant Christmas gift from my husband. I say well-meant because, she, of all critters, makes me want to cry. Why? Well, it’s because Winter is not our first bunny.
For nine blissful years my companion and confidant was a Norwegian dwarf rabbit named Chi. Her fur was spotted black on white and she was as tiny as a kitten. I loved the heck out of that rabbit and spoiled her rotten. She was supposed to be a hamster though. The Christmas before we adopted Chi, Michael had let me pick out a kitten from the Humane Society. Tasha, as she was soon called, decided that her love was reserved mainly for Michael. My Christmas gift ditched me. Not that I don’t love her and that she doesn’t show some semblance of love to me, but Tasha just wasn’t meeting my need for fuzzy warmth. Mike decided I should get a small animal since we lived in an apartment (I also think he wanted it to be cheap). Every weekend we would go to the pet store in the mall (now, thankfully, closed) and I would look at mice and hamsters and sigh. None of them really seemed interested in me and I wasn’t interested in them.
One week we noticed a litter of bunnies. One of the kits was sitting calmly in the corner, occasionally grooming herself or casting a sidelong glance at her siblings. She was refined and good-natured. I instantly knew she was my fur mate. Michael needed some convincing. After a few more weeks of bunny–Melissa interaction, he finally conceded that both of us had bonded beyond repair. I’ve never regretted taking her home with us. She instantly became a major part of our lives as well as an inspiration for me. I would make up songs to sing to her. She would give me kisses when I fed her in the mornings. Our friendship seemed everlasting.
As small as she was, Chi still ruled the house. Our steadily-growing collection of rescued cats respected her, but more importantly, they befriended her. There wasn’t a creature on this earth that Chi hated. If you walked up to her cage, she would welcome you. You were interesting and a potential bringer of treats. She wasn’t a snuggler though, which always confounded me. Chi would sometimes allow me to hold her close to my chest and pet her gently, but I was the only one she trusted and even so, she only wanted the brief petting sessions to be on her terms. She was a spunky rabbit and very agile. If she didn’t want to go back in her cage, the effort to corner her and coax her back in was like running a marathon. I think she secretly enjoyed this game of chase-the-rabbit (or confuse-the-humans). Usually though, a good helping of carrots, celery, strawberries, or plums was incentive enough to get her back in her home.
Rabbits are not easy creatures to take care of. They are not cheap either. So many things can go wrong when you weigh 2 to 3 pounds and your organs are smaller than some Hot Wheels car parts. I did my research and made sure Chi had everything she could ever need to keep her safe, clean, and disease free. I knew what foods were poison or not sound for her diet. I gave her plenty of outside-cage romp time, and stimulated her with toys. No rabbit was better taken care of than Chi. She even had the best rabbit vet in the valley, Dr. Holmes. He was always happy to see our little bun and even when he didn’t know what was wrong, he would find a way to help her.
And help her he did! She had several near-misses in her brief life. One time she came in bleeding. We thought it was cancer, but nothing ever came up positive. My sweet bun had surgery to solve the issue before the poor girl bleed to death. Another time, we had to go to a funeral, so I left Chi in the care of a family friend. We returned to find that Chi had somehow been scratched in the eye. She underwent months of treatments to heal that eye up and fight off an infection. She never did fully regain sight in that eye and we never did find out what or who might have been the culprit. Yet, despite her mishaps and being half blind, Chi never lost her happy spirit. She hopped with the best of them… that is until something unexpected happened. Chi got a cold. Colds kill rabbits.
Because rabbits aren’t able to sneeze and cough out germs and such like humans, and because their nasal passages are so small, they are very prone to infections. Most rabbits go quickly; the infections come on so strong. But my Chi was a fighter. She lasted for months, undergoing several rounds of medication and vet visits. Dr. Holmes was constantly calling me to check on her progress. I never had good news for him.
On December 9th of last year, I laid my weak and helpless little friend in her favorite spot, right under the Christmas tree. Christmas had always been her favorite time of year because she could hide under the noble fir with her kitty friends and nibble away at the branches. I had been desperate to get that tree for her that year. It was an absolute necessity that she saw it. I know she had been waiting for it. As soon as I set her down on the tree skirt, she lifted up her weary head and sniffed the lowest branch. Her eye met mine before she lay down again. I watched her nose stop twitching and her body breathe one last time. A little piece of me went with her.
Flash forward one more Christmas and there is a bunny under the tree again. She’s shaking and confused in a cardboard box from the Humane Society, a gift for me. As an animal lover and a friend of rabbits, I instantly love the little Dutch bunny that has become a part of our home. As Chi’s bunny mom, I can’t help but cry whenever I think that she’s not here to share this. People say you can’t replace a loved one. I think this is true for animals too.
Winter is like Chi in some ways. She is spunky, beautiful, and smart. But, as a Dutch rabbit, she is bigger than Chi used to be. Winter is more active and an eating machine! I’ve never gone through so many vegetables in my life! I’ve also never been so nervous of an animal before. Winter jumps up on high spaces that Chi would have never dared to go. I actually watched her jump onto her cage and then on to my china hutch like she was participating in some crazy Olympic sport! I’m so glad she didn’t hurt herself. Yet, this little bun still pulls at my heart every time I pass by her cage. She’s excited to see me, or at least the food I have, and for now, that is enough.
After a year of mourning Chi, it does look like I still have a ways to go. I know that the longer Winter is here with us, the easier this will get for me and for her. I do intend, however, for her to be our bunny for a very, very long time. My children will know the joys and sorrows of caring for all God’s creatures.