Thursday, April 19, 2012
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.