Thursday, April 19, 2012

Saying Goodbye

Today is my bunny's last day.

Seven years ago, I didn't want to get a pet. Not at all. In large part, it was because I knew the day would come when we'd have to say goodbye forever, as I had with every other pet, and the last thing I wanted was to go through it again. Since 2000, I had lost my grandmother, an uncle, three aunts, and I was about to lose my sister, who was still going through chemotherapy at the time... I felt like letting something else into my heart and losing it later would be too much.

Becca was adamant. She actually wanted a guinea pig. But when we went to the pet store and saw Thumper waiting for someone to adopt him, we both knew we had to give him a good home. He was so sad and scared, and his previous owners had kept him locked in a cage all day on newspapers--he was stained on his feet and his underside from urine and newsprint. When we saw his name was Thumper, Becca felt that was a sign we should take him in--Bambi is one of my two favorite movies.

Thumper was called that because he thumped his foot. A lot. If he was unhappy about anything, he'd let you know. Repeatedly. Sometimes he'd wake us up in the middle of the night with it because something displeased him. He was always afraid of the dark, especially when thunderstorms got bad, and he'd have to wake everyone up until he felt reasonably reassured.

He was always aloof with us. He didn't like to be held, ever. I don't know what his previous family was like, but he could be aggressive and stubborn and for seven years he shied away from a lot of contact. If he really wanted to be petted, he'd come over and sit down next to you and put his head down so you could. But if he didn't want to be, he had no problem walking away and sitting somewhere else.

Not that he didn't love contact and being around us, because he did. If you stood up at all, it was time to play. He'd pick up one of his soft toys and gallop around with it, circling you over and over, running around the living room. He loved to explore and get places he shouldn't, like behind the bed. When the heat was too high for him, he'd go sleep in the bathroom all day, stretching out on the tile alongside the cool bathtub or toilet--he liked the toilet better because he could hide behind it. No one picking him up then.

It's remarkable how quickly you can see when a rabbit passes certain age levels. When we adopted him he was just a year and a half old. He was a playful, immature bunny. When he reached maturity and became an adult, it seemed to happen just overnight. Suddenly he was a new bunny, more aggressive, but still very loving. And when he became elderly, that happened suddenly, too. Even a year ago when he had the surgery to fix his overgrown teeth he was old. Older than I guess I realized.

Now, Thumper's very ill. It started as an irritation in his foot. He was starting to pick up his left forepaw more often, then babying it, then finally carrying it under him and not putting any weight on it. I was fooled into thinking that, because he was still running around and playing with his toys and his stuffed panda bear and eating normally, that he was just in a little discomfort. I started to look up advice online. Rabbit surgeries can be deadly, and if it was a dislocated shoulder or a broken toe, I didn't know what was better: trying to make him comfortable (because he was still running, playing, and eating normally) or trying to get him in for surgery.

When we took him to the vet two weeks (and two days) ago, he was still putting a little weight on his paw sometimes. Everything but that was normal. But you could see the way he carried his limb around under him was taking its toll on his hind legs, and he was starting to walk less steadily. The vet was actually surprised to see a rabbit as old as Thumper--she said she could count on one hand the amount of rabbits she'd seen that were over 6, and Thumper is just getting to be 9. She took x-rays of his left front and hind legs, and saw arthritis in the rear and a black spot over his toe in the front. She said it could either be a tumor or a break (even a bone just coming detached). She gave us some medicine and we took him home. Thumper started to lean against furniture and walls when he walked because he would fall over.

In the past two weeks we've had glimmers of hope, but nothing permanent. He's been in obvious pain at times. The strength has just left his body: he went from trying to walk, to standing and crawling sometimes, to finally not being able to stand at all. He even has trouble lifting his head now. He's also been eating less and less, and he's the thinnest I've ever seen him. He can't get to his litter, and he can't groom himself, so we've been gently bathing him. Where he never used to like being held before, now he can't get anywhere without us carrying him. We hold him a lot now. He doesn't hate it.

It's obvious he's not responding to the medicine. When we talked to the vet again on Tuesday, she told us that if he hadn't responded to the medicine by now--and he was declining so quickly--then what we saw on the x-ray was probably a tumor and not a break. She gave us two medicines, an anti-inflammatory and a painkiller, and both seemed to make him feel more comfortable, but that's all. She said it was possible that we could go and have blood tests done to see if he has cancer, but that she wouldn't recommend that path, because Thumper's 9 and, even if he does have a tumor, there's no guarantee they could do anything about it. He certainly can't have surgery; in his condition he probably wouldn't survive it.

What we do know for certain is that he's deteriorating. He can't lift his body up. He can't groom himself. He can barely feed himself, and he eats maybe a third of what he was eating just a month ago. He can't lift his head up for very long to drink from his water bottle; we have to hold it in place for him. He's losing weight. His quality of life has diminished to the rabbit equivalent of being bedridden, and it's done so very rapidly.

So we made the decision to have him put to sleep. Because if not, he's going to starve to death, and I don't want him to be in that kind of pain. He's in pain now, and I want that to end. There are times when he seems so alert and so engaged that I think it must all be some kind of mistake... but then I hold him and I can feel his ribs and he weighs less than ever, and I know it's not. He's at the end of his life. So this is the humane decision to make, so he can stop hurting and die in peace. I will be there until the very end this afternoon, because you don't let an animal who has meant so much to you die surrounded by strangers. After that, we're going to take him to Becca's mother's farm nearby and bury him with his stuffed panda and his blanket. His body will lie in a place where there are lots of other rabbits running around. You know I'm not a spiritual person, but that still makes me feel okay.

It's hard making this decision. I want to do what's right for him, but I've never had to be the one to decide this. All of my pets have either died or run away, or where taken when I wasn't there. I've never had to decide to end a pet's life before, and to be there when it's done. I have to admit, even at age 35, I don't really feel mature enough to make this decision. All I'm feeling right now is grief and sadness. Exactly how I knew I'd feel one day when, seven years ago, Becca wanted a pet.

Still, I'd never trade having had Thumper in our loves to save myself this grief. He's been a wonderful part of this family. I can't even imagine this apartment without him being in it. When I was a little kid, all I wanted was a lop-eared bunny. And one day I adopted one. And I've loved it. I'm happy he's been here.

I love him so much. It feels unfair to have to say goodbye now. I'm not ready yet. But we're never ready to say goodbye.

Last night I just held him in my arms and stroked him, and he licked my arm and cuddled against me. Even knowing it was his last night, it made me incredibly happy.

Thank you for making me happy, Thumper. I hope I've made you happy, too.



Chris Honeycutt said...

:-( I'm sorry about Thumper. It made me remember my cat Bell that I had to put down when I was about 18.

You're doing the right thing, though. You can't explain to him why he hurts. All he knows is that he hurts and he wants it to stop.

Big hugs. (And I am a spiritual person, so putting him in that wonderful field is beautiful to me. It's like The Velveteen Rabbit: he'll live a whole different life with the wild bunnies.)

Roger Owen Green said...

Very touching. Haven't had a pet in over 20 years, and this is partly why.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

That post just touch my heart. I can imagine your pain because I have gone through it many times myself. You gave Thumper a good life and all you can say at this time is that he was a GOOD Bunny.

Some Guy said...

All the best to you today, SF. It sucks having to make this kind of decision. It sounds like Thumper got a lot of love.

Daskaea said...

Much love to you and Becca. It's hard saying goodbye to anyone special, be they beast or human. You're doing the right thing but it's so hard. He's your baby. The hurt is hard, but your life was better for having that sweet bunny in it.

Jason said...

I'm so sorry, Frog. I lost one of my cats just a couple weeks ago, so I know all too well how you're feeling. Have no doubt though that you gave Thumper a good life, and on some level, he knew it and appreciated it, and loved you back.

Drake said...

*Hugs* to you and Becca
Love out lives us all.

Jon K said...

I'm sorry for your loss... I know how it feels!

Carl said...

I'm sorry to hear about this--you've described him as an amazing and unique individual, and I know you've cared for him and loved him as a member of your family. You have my deepest sympathies.

Lockwood said...

I'm in tears. So sorry for your loss, but also glad you recognize that pain is more than balanced by the joy of another (albeit too short-lived) family member.

Starly said...

"All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies. And whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you: digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed."

Goodbye Dear were well-loved and you will be very, very missed...

Anonymous said...

Rest, Thumper, rest: it's time to sleep,

your pain has faded, gone now; give

your parents time to stay and weep,

remember how you played and lived,

and surely they will simply say,

to those who'll listen, that your stay

was such a blessing for them too

because of you, because of you.

sanford said...

I know how you feel. Last January (2011) we had to put our 13 year old lab down. While he was doing ok, he also wasn't eating as much, although I think it was his own food he didn't want to eat. He still came and sat or lay down at the table when we at, waiting for food to fall on the floor. The last few months of his life he developed incontintent problems and would take a dump in his sleep. What did him in was something called vestibular disease. It is something nuerological. He could not stand up. It happened a few months prior but he recovered overnight. This time he just didn't have it in him. Intellectually you know it will happen, but still it was very sad. I was not going to stay to then end but my wife and I ended up staying. We were there at the beginning when we got him at six weeks old. Only fair that we were with him at the end. This is the second time I have done this and was one of the reasons I did not want another dog, but my kids wanted a dog. I think about him every day and just typing this is putting me in tears.

Oblio said...

A wonderful homage to your bunny... made me get watery in de eyeballs. We had our dog Pepper for 17 years and, after she grew ill we put her down with heavy hearts. I wrote this poem for my wife after Pepper left us, who misses her only just a fraction more than I do:

Black and White
(A Valentine’s Gift to Kimberly)

The gray and white ball of fur is sleeping,
and she dreams of times when she was black and white
and could see and smell and run and jump and play…

She snores and sniffs and stirs and stretches and yawns,
opening her eyes to a world she seems to have always known;
a world of love and food and warmth –
a world of soft carpet and soft laps and soft, musical sounds –
a world so far away from the dark days so very, very long before…

She pads over to her spot, standing for a moment to think of her good fortune,
loving her place in the world, no matter that she has already been a part of it for so long,
shakes off the slumber, drinks and eats and scratches and thinks some more –
“How lucky I am to have a home that I love and that loves me…”

The cool grass is perfect for this warm day,
so she walks a bit, sniffs herself and lays down feeling
the heat from the sun and the gentle breeze blowing her fur
across her eyes and nose and face and ears –
“This place is good… I am happy here, every day.”

The days turn to weeks turn to months turn to years
and her life becomes a sweet series of days and nights,
with all the love and companionship she could wish for,
and her heart is filled with the love she feels when she’s in our arms
and knows that nothing will ever harm her.

The light has gone again and the dark is outside but here inside
she slumbers and stirs and sniffs and flits her furry legs,
dreaming of her youth and barking at cats and chasing after balls thrown
by the ones who love and cherish her more as each day passes –
each day a gift… each day a treasure… each day a new beginning…

Night has come and sleep is the magic carpet,
where eyes see and noses smell and legs run and birds scatter
and the world is new and a fantastic joy to explore, and she dreams –
dreams that she will live forever (because she will)…
dreams that she will never leave (because she won’t)…
dreams that all is well (because it is)…
dreams that nothing is sweeter than her life (because it is so)…
Black and White slumbers, at peace with the universe.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Sorry for your sad loss. I have never lived without pets, mostly cats but some dogs over the years. My cat Clark is stretched out between my knees snoozing as I type this, whilte my litty Godzilla (Herself, at 14, very arthritic and a cranky old lady cat)is stretched out on a chair one yard away.

I've come home to find them dead, I've rescued a cat I had from dogs that were attacking him but too late to save his life. (He I buried myself, between the lilac bushes where he liked to lie in the sun.) I've had them disappear without a trace, I've brought home their broken bodies after they were hit by a car, and I've had ones who endured long fatel illnesses.

In all that time, only once did I have to sign my kitty's death order, and hold her paw, stroke her head, and look into her eyes as she was given the final injection. (She was so ill, she didn't even flinch when the needle went in, just looked into my eyes until she could see no more.) Only when she was gone did I begin to wail. I remember vividly the pitying looks from the people with their pets in the vet's waiting room as I left. They had all heard my wails.

It's left me overprotective. My current kitties (Who have been with me 12 years and 14 years respectively) are never allowed outside except in their carrying cage. No fleas, no catching communicable diseases, no attacks from other animals or from depraved humans or sick kids, no cars to hit them (Clark's mother died hit by a car). A cat box in the bathroom is small price to pay for keeping them alive longer. But nothing keeps out age.

Grief is the price of loving. It's a high price, but it's worth it.

Ben Balistreri said...

Sorry to read of your loss but happy to read of the great experience you had with Thumper.

Caffeinated Joe said...

So sorry for your loss. Remember the good. :)

rhymeswithplague said...

This is my first visit to your blog, and you brought this 71-year-old softie to tears. A fairly new reader of Roger Green's blog, I clicked on a link in his post today and found myself here.

I'm so sorry about Thumper. I cannot bear to think of losing our own Jethro, a canine of the Havanese variety, but I know that one day he will leave us.

Be strong, and re-read the poems in these comments. They're wonderful.