Death is a part of life. It’s a sucky part, but it’s an inevitable phenomenon that we all will have to face at some point, whether it’s a loved one, a colleague, or in the end, our own. Even knowing this, it doesn’t make it any easier when it effects you. Grief, sorrow, pain, anger; it’s all unavoidable. Questions fill you head; of which, there will never be sufficient answers for. Death is infinite, and that scares a lot of people…. including me.
A few days ago, I had to lay to rest my companion of many years; my bunny rabbit, Pumpernickel. He was my first ever adult pet. You know, the first animal you take full responsibility for. The one that if it gets sick, you have to take it to the vet. And not just that; you have to foot the bill. The one that you can’t plead with your parent or sibling to care for because you’re too lazy to do it yourself. Most young adults get a dog or cat; the more typical house pet, but I’m allergic to cats and I knew a dog was a bit more responsibility than I wanted during college.
Growing up, I always wanted a bunny, but after the time my brother and I got mice that reproduced and ate their young, Dad said no more rodents. I moved out of my parents’ house, and settled into my routine: school, work, sleep, repeat; giving no thought to a potential companion. I went to the State Fair one year where they had an entire tent stocked with bunnies for sale. Big ones. Small ones. Fluffy ones. Lops. Dwarfs. They had them all. This was the first time the thought occurred to me; I can actually get a bunny.
I’m not one to make rash decisions, so I didn’t get one at the fair. Instead, I rushed home and looked up bunny rescues in my area. That’s when I first saw him:
My heart melted. ‘He’s going to be my bestest friend,’ was my first thought. I contacted the rescue organization and they told me that he was still living with his owner- 85 miles away. I emailed the owner, asked a couple of questions, and after a few back and forth emails, I was skipping my night class to drive to the next state over to get him.
His previous owner told me that he was originally a gift for her daughter with severe anxiety. They picked him specifically for his breed: Jersey Wooly. His hair would grow really long, then they would shave him, spin his hair into yarn, and knit things with it like hats, scarves, whatever. But her daughter had since moved out and Pumpernickel was confined to a corner in the basement. The lady knew it wasn’t any kind of life for a bunny, so she put him up for adoption. Along with Pump, she gave me his food, hay, bedding, water bottle, brushes, nail clippers; everything the little guy needed. I grabbed my wallet to give her the adoption fee and she refused, saying I only needed to give him a good, loving home. Not a problem!
I got him home that night with the help of my best friend, who like me, loved all animals. She worked at a pet store, so she knew stuff. Stuff like how to hold a rabbit, how to tell if a bunny is scared, things I didn’t know. I introduced him to his new home; a large dog crate lined with a blanket, a litter box, a food bowl with bunny kibble on one side and fresh berries on the other, a basket of hay, a salt lick, and a large water bottle. He hopped around the living room, in and out from behind the couch, under the coffee table. Just watching him made my heart flutter.
Pump was litter box trained just like a cat, so even though he had a cage, the door was always open for him to come and go as he pleased. He had free reign, but only went as far as the carpet as the hard-surface floor was too cold and he had less traction.
After a few weeks, we became accustomed to each other. I knew the fruits and vegetables he liked and didn’t like (liked raspberries and carrots, didn’t like blueberries or celery); he knew that I would share raisins when I ate out of the trail mix bag (and even let him stick his head in the bag if he jumped up on the couch himself). I knew where he liked to be petted (not the rump); he knew I didn’t like him biting me when I went to refill his food bowl.
I got used to hearing him snore while I did my homework and darting out in front of me any time I walked into the living room. I liked to think he was playing a game, and not just trying to be a little shit. He tolerated it when I brushed him, but couldn’t stand to have his haircut or his nails trimmed. It got better though…
Every morning, I would pour myself a bowl of Cheerios and turn to find Bun Man waiting at the edge of the kitchen floor for his. I would take a handful out to share with him and he was always so excited. I enjoyed eating my breakfast, listening to him munch along with me.
He turned into the cutest being on the planet when he cleaned his face with his front paws, and the spawn of Satan when he yawned.
As Elmer Fudd would put it, Pumpernickel was a wascally wabbit. He would chew on things he knew he shouldn’t, like the legs of the dinning table and chairs, the ottoman frame, and assorted cables that would wind up on the floor. He even pulled a piece of my homework off the couch one time and nibbled the corner of it! I swear, my bunny tried to eat my homework, professor!
He was an attention whore. Early on, when he was a spry little bunny, he would tear across the room as fast as his little legs could get him. Part way through, he would kick his back legs as high as he could get them, causing his body to contort, almost to the point of somersaulting. He would land on all four and pause. Maybe he was dizzy. Maybe he was making sure I was watching. Maybe he just needed a breather. Whatever the reason, I always gave a chuckle.
Bun Man liked hiding. The smaller the space, the better. First, it was under a corner table with a cloth hanging over the edges. Then, it was in the corner of the walk-in closet. Under the bed, under the ottoman, under the dinning table… He would find the darkest, hardest-to-get-to space, plop down, kick his feet out behind him and chill. He was a professional hiddy-hole seeker.
For the first two years of our life together, it was just him and me. Then I met Fella and moved in with him. After a few weeks of it just being the three of us, Fella got his dog back from his ex; a 50lb hound mix. I had previously introduced Pumpernickel to my parent’s dog, but their dog was more scared of the rabbit than the rabbit was of him. But Angus… he was curious about the bunny. He would go up to Pump, and push his nose into him; probably checking to see if he squeaked like one of his toys. Instead, Pump would bunny-growl and swat his paw at Angus’ nose. Every once in a while, Angus would get down in the puppy play stance; you know, where his front paws are extended outward and his heiny sticking straight up in the air…? Pump would never react; just sit and stare, probably judging Angus on how stupid he looked.
Then, a year later, our family of four became a family of five when Fella and I adopted a rescue puppy. Sadie was a 5 month old cattle dog mix with all kinds of energy. She definitely had the herding trait as she would chase both of her brothers around the house, much to their chagrin. Sadie very early on, took on the role of annoying younger sibling, especially when it came to Bun Man. She was taken with him as soon as they met. She would
steal share his food, nip at play tag, and chase race him around the living room. Don’t worry, she never hurt him, only annoyed him. She’s a very loving sister.
A couple years back, I noticed a bump on Pumpernickel’s mouth. I took him to the vet and they said it was an abscess; a very common occurrence in rabbits as their teeth never stop growing. The abscess needed to be drained and then carefully cleaned weeks after surgery. He became a high maintenance bunny with daily flushings and shots of penicillin every few days to prevent infection. He recovered perfectly.
A little over a year later, I noticed his eye watering nonstop. Just to be safe, I took him in to get looked at. The vet took some x-rays and found an infection in his jaw caused by another abscess; one that had formed under his chin, out of sight. They performed another surgery, this time more invasive and with greater risk. He came out of surgery like a champ with half his head shaved and staples holding his face together. He looked like Two Face from Batman; not very pretty but totally bad-ass. His high maintenance status returned, this time for 2 months; flushing out his wound every day, penicillin shots every three days, as well as an oral medicine that would control his pain, administered via a syringe into his mouth. He looked like a pathetic little bunny for some time, but he recovered yet again and returned to his normal self.
From these experiences, I knew the signs to look for when something wasn’t right. They didn’t just happen overnight, which is why his passing was somewhat of a shock.
The day before he passed, he was his normal self. He came running when he heard me open his treat bag. He circled my feet while I was fixing his food bowl. He was hopping around just fine, but then on Monday morning, I woke up and found him on the kitchen floor; he never goes in the kitchen. I picked him up and it was as if I was picking up a puddle of fluff; his head and feet just hung off of his body which was barely showing signs of breathing. I took him upstairs to Fella to let him know; something’s not right with Bun Man. I laid him down in the bed and let Fella snuggle with him while I took the dogs out.
I took Pump back downstairs and placed him in his cage as a way to protect him from unwanted attention of the dogs. I got ready for work and went back downstairs to find him on the other side of the room behind the sofa; in one of his hiddy-holes. Fella said that he hopped over there all by himself. What a good bun.
I finished getting ready, and took care of the dogs and made my way back to Pump. I found him laying beside the couch, barely able to hold his head up. Just before I left for work, I snuggled with him and ran my hands down his back and around his face looking for signs of discomfort. He didn’t show any. At least he wasn’t in pain.
I came back home during my lunch break, tied the dogs up outside, and went back in to look for my little man. I found him unresponsive underneath of the ottoman, laying on his side.
That was it. He was gone.
Since I rescued him, I only had a short 3.5 years with my little Fuzzy Butt, which was not nearly enough time, but also, the perfect amount of time. I hate that he’s gone. I hate that I can’t just look over to the corner of the dinning room and see him sprawled out under his favorite chair. I hate that when I reach for the treat bag, he’ll never come hopping up, begging for a treat with the dogs. I hate that I will never be able to take him outside and let him hop around in the grass while the rest of the family watches his every move. I hate that every time I bring the dogs in from outside, they start looking for him in his usual spots.
I will come to terms that he’s gone in my own time, but until then, I will still wish him a good night every evening, tell the pups that he’s in charge when Fella and I are out, and look at his hiddy-holes with a smile on my face. He may be gone, but not forgotten.