His Naughty Little Friend

When I was a housewife, before I started my master’s degree (which should basically have the title, ‘Lucy wants a master’s’), I had a lot more time to pay attention to my rabbits. Now, I am still a housewife (in the sense that I take care of it, because I like how it grounds me) but I’m also doing my MSc in Obscure Science (not housewifery or even midwifery, either of which would be useful), and I have a social life now thanks to the university’s writing (Lucy starts a book club) and sports societies (Lucy goes sailing), and doing a placement at an academic publishing house (Lucy wants a career), where I code their website and copyedit bibliograhies into English from bizarre languages; then I’m also applying for grad schemes with Severn Trent (Lucy still wants a career) and writing my romance books (Lucy… writes something??). While I’m cooking his dinner or sorting out the dishwasher in the evening (Lucy’s a fifties housewife again), I tend to look out of the window and see the rabbits. It’s the only time of day I tend to notice them now, but don’t worry, they’re not being ignored. Ricky – I mean my Dearest – can spend lots of time with them because he’s getting hardly any work due to having a very foreign last name which is career-fatal in post-Brexit-vote-Britain (Lucy and Ricky still want to move to Canada).

Poppy and Fifer are the only two rabbits living in the huge indoor-outdoor enclosure (Lucy gets a rabbit… or 4), who live in the big shed in our garden which I think the council built in the fifties so housewives got some reprieve from their husbands filling their home with tools (like mine does, since our shed is home to our rabbits). After Fifer lost Katie (Douglas Adams never had to write about these sort of problems) I thought he’d never love again, then Poppy appeared. The bunnies love each other so much it makes my heart grow three sizes just to see them grooming each other. Until Timmy goes outside. Then sparks fly because Poppy is a romantic at heart.

Poppy is a very determined rabbit (by Fifer’s standards). Fifer wants her all to himself, and she wants some sort of three-way with Timmy (our indoor rabbit). If Timmy is outside, every time Fifer hops away from the fence for a few minutes, his naughty little girlfriend is straight over to where Timmy is sitting, and she’s trying to get out of the rabbit run to be with him. I think she might be a polyamorous rabbit, but Fifer has no interest in a guy-on-guy relationship.

I think in Poppy’s mind, there’s no problem with having two boyfriend rabbits and she can live a life of luxury. I guess she’s a little bit of a bored housewife sometimes too (maybe she can be Ethel in our Lucy analogy; she’s also a housewife) and wants something more than a giant rabbit hutch, 24/7 indoor/outdoor access, an attentive (if slightly overprotective) boyfriend and a nice view of the rest of the garden. She wants the excitement of a second relationship with Timmy. She adores Timmy just as much as she loves Fifer. Fifer, however, disagrees, and he’ll chase her away and bite her if he catches her showing an interest in Timmy.

little Timmy and his bed
Timmy lounging on his bed in the living room next to a pile of his toys.

Anyway, it’s been even more fun this weekend, as we had to put Poppy and Fifer in the kitchen due to the November 5th fireworks. Guy Fawkes night is a British thing where people celebrate that something horrible happened to someone for standing up for what he believed in, because people need to know that conformity is hella important and whatnot. I was raised Catholic by my strict Irish grandma (who looked after me in fits and bursts when my mother was lounging around the house sleeping her life away and waking up to shout at us, hit us or lock us out and tell us how lucky we were to not be Chinese, where, apparently, people were starving. Long story short, my grandma stepped in whenever we started missing school, but sent us home again every time my mum promised she’d changed).

My grandma was an amazing woman (I’ve kept her last name after I got married, in the matrilineal style – when I was engaged, one of my biggest worries was how to respect my husband by taking his name while still honoring my grandma by keeping hers, so I split my double-barrel, dropped the side I had no affinity for, and replaced it with my husband’s name). So, anyway, I digress a little, but the point is, when you’re raised Catholic by a grandma who never moved on from the fifties and sees *everything* you do, you tend not to burn Guy Fawkes for being a Catholic criminal. She was more vigilant than the nuns that I knew, but like the nuns, she was lovely until you were naughty, and she was lovely again straight after. My grandma died in ’99, when I was twelve, but as far as I know, my entire extended family has never made a Guy to burn.

Maybe it’s my old-fashioned upbringing, but as an adult, I find the idea of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes to be in very poor taste. We wouldn’t stand for people doing that to Saddam Hussein, for example, we’d say it was racist jingoism, but Guy Fawkes? Get kids to scrounge money by walking him round in a wheelbarrow then set him on fire. Because it’s British.

Poppy is his naughty little bunny
Poppy wants her picture taken.

Anyway, the rabbits are terrified of fireworks and last week the neighbors on one side decided to have huge loud expensive fireworks aimed over our garden, and I was being pelted by shells of fireworks and getting sparks inches from my face and explosions a couple of feet above my head while I was trying to get the rabbits in, so we planned ahead and got them in early this weekend, to make sure my PTSD wasn’t triggered by a giant dick with too many fireworks. Because of our brand spanking new door between the kitchen and the living room, with the see-through glass panels, the rabbits can now see one another when the door’s closed. I open their indoor hutch because I don’t agree with confining them just because the rest of the world is setting off incendiary devices for entertainment. To be honest, the heat level in the kitchen is far too hot for outdoor rabbits so I try and keep the thermostat low while these two are inside. So while Poppy is hopping around in the kitchen, she can get a glimpse of Timmy, but Fifer can’t smell him, so he doesn’t know. But his naughty little girlfriend sits by the kitchen door and watches Timmy while he sleeps (Timmy sleeps a lot). If only Fifer knew what she was doing, she would be in so much trouble!

Poppy and fifer little rabbits
Fifer decides it’s time to put his foot down

Katie’s Funeral

On Tuesday, I put Fifer on his rabbit lead because the carrier was at the vets with Katie. There was a spare carrier, but two boxes and a husband don’t fit in my car safely. It turns out Fifer much prefers to wear his harness and sit on someone’s knee for car rides than to be put in a box. We learned he likes looking out of the window. I told him we were going to see Katie. I wanted him to have the chance to see her again, because whilst I’d been worried about her when I took her to the vets in the morning, I had had no idea that this was going to happen or that we weren’t getting her back. I’d been worrying in the morning because Katie was worrying; it was like she knew.

We arrived at the vet’s 20 minutes early. Contrary to what the receptionist had said earlier, we were shown straight into a room and Katie was brought out for us by the nurse. We put Fifer on the table with her so they could talk in bunny language to each other and share a moment. She wasn’t very with it because they’d sedated her, she’d been in so much pain after the anaesthetic wore off that they had to, apparently. She still looked like she was in pain, and she basically just sat there and Fifer came and snuggled her and licked her nose and she just stared at him for the longest time, then she nuzzled him with her nose and sat next to him.

Our usual vet (not the one I’d seen in the morning or the day before, but the one who founded the practice and who has been seeing us since we first started going here, a few weeks after they opened) came in to talk to us about Katie’s situation. She showed us the X-rays. It was much MUCH worse than it had sounded on the phone, and as soon as I saw the X-rays I started crying because Katie’s skeleton was effectively crumbling away inside her. Before we came to the vet, I’d kept an open mind and if I’d thought there was the slightest chance of her having a pain-free or fulfilling life after that day, I would have paid the money. I would have remortgaged the house if I’d had to to pay to save Katie. But there’s only so much that can be done, and the leg was today’s problem, but as the X-rays of the rest of her showed, her other leg could split at any second, her knees were fucked, her spine was fused together, her hips showed significant lack of bone density, and that was just the lower half of her body (which was what was X-rayed). This more experienced vet told us she thought Katie was probably about 7 years old, and that from the bone density throughout her skeleton, it was extremely likely that she wasn’t actually fed rabbit food by her previous owners. From this day on, her life was only going to be vet stay after vet stay, interspersed with what they called “cage rest,” during which her movement would have been inhibited as much as possible and she would have spent months in extreme agony until this leg healed, then there would have been the rest of it, a ticking timebomb inside her ready to go at any moment, causing her more unspeakable pain and fear. I wanted my squishyboo, but I wasn’t going to keep her alive so I could selfishly stroke her nose.

Would I still have adopted Katie if I had known she was so old? Resoundingly yes. I just would have maybe expected this instead of it being such a shock. It was only last week that I was thinking that one day, in a few years time (with her and Fifer being our youngest rabbits – or so I thought), the only bunnies we might still have of our current set would be Katie and Fifer. I thought she would even outlive Banacek, who we got when he was a tiny helpless baby three and a half years ago. Because she should have just turned three last week, when I got her vaccinated. She should have had about another five to seven years of life. That was what was most shocking I think – because we have some very old rabbits (over age 10) and Katie looked and acted nothing like them.

Before I took her to the vet, she had taken herself to a spot in her hutch and stayed there. When I came to pop her in the box, she screamed in pain but she didn’t resist. She knew her time had come and she was very serene about it. I didn’t understand at the time (hence my worry before and after dropping her off at the vet that the anaesthetic would be the killer here). I never expected to end the day having to make a living death or death decision over my favorite bunny.

While we were talking to the vet, Katie seemed to perk up a bit, and she started eating the cilantro that my Dearest had brought for her and strewn over the examination table. Then, with superhuman effort, she managed to get up and hop over to where Fifer stood opposite her, and she faltered when her injured leg touched the floor, but that didn’t deter her, she went to lick his face profusely. Then she turned around, and just lay down sideways on the examination table. She only managed to do it for a few seconds before she had to get up again because her leg hurt too much in that position, but after her little energy spree, she turned to my Dearest and licked his hand, then she turned to me and licked my hand, then she licked Fifer’s nose again, then she sort of switched off again, it was as if she was saying “there, now I’ve done everything, now I have said goodbye to you all, I can go now. I’m ready.” I was in floods of tears throughout. The vet picked Katie up and took her out (they can’t do rabbits the way they do dogs because their veins are too small so she had to do it away from us then bring her back).

When the vet took Katie in the back to do it, Fifer just sort of sat there staring at the floor looking morose. Then, about a minute or so after she’d left, Fifer suddenly looked straight up towards where she’d been taken, he stared at that spot for a second, then he lay down on the examination table. It was as if he knew the exact moment when she died. After Katie was PTS (put to sleep), the vet put her on the examination table for us and then she just let us stay in the examination room and take our time.

I let Fifer have a look at her. He declared that she smelled strange then indicated that he wanted to leave. So we bundled Katie up so carefully (the vet let us have a towel). I just scooped Katie up, supporting her head because she was limp, and held her for about ten minutes, just rocking her and crying and kissing her nose and trying to deal with the situation. Then I popped her back in her dog carrier (she’s the size of one) and took the bunnies home.

When we got home, I popped her in the big outhouse where Fifer’s hutch is (they have 24/7 indoor/outdoor access and no door on the entrance to the hutch for their own freedom to roam), and I lay her down next to the hay pile. We fed Fifer and we had given him copious snuggles and strokes.

On Wednesday morning, after the school run, the first thing I did was go to see Fifer. I went to his outhouse and just sat by Katie’s body with him. I noticed there was now some broccoli in her ear. He had tried to feed her broccoli at some point in the night. The rest of her had been thoroughly groomed.

Rabbits have a special ritual when one of their herd dies. They sometimes do a rabbit dance around the dead one, and they often groom them. It’s critically important that they get to see the dead body after the bunny has been PTS, which is why I put Katie out with Fifer overnight. That morning, I lifted her up – rigor mortis had set in by now – and I took her out into the outdoor run so that Sebastian could see her as well. Fifer of course had priority because they were bonded first, but Sebastian loved Katie and would often be found on the other side of the fence snuggled up to her.

When I got Sebastian out of his run and put him next to Katie, he nosed her then lost interest. He didn’t seem to care. I put him back away and gave the rest of my attention to Fifer who was clearly mourning his Katie. Fifer sat with me and Katie for hours in the garden, and when I went to the flowerbed to dig her a grave, he came and “helped” without getting in the way. He knew what we were doing. He’s very intelligent. I lined the bottom with lots of her favorite plants. After that, I popped Katieboo in the outdoor toilet room so that bugs and birds didn’t start on her, then waited for my Dearest to finish work so we could bury her.

After I moved her, I watched Fifer from the kitchen. I saw him sniff around where she’d been before, then he laid down where her body had been, and stared into space wistfully. This is why they have to see the body – otherwise, they will wait for weeks sometimes for their friend to return (because they think they’re out feeding and haven’t come back) and they won’t eat or drink if you’re not careful.

When He got home from work, we wandered down the road and picked loads of dandelions and daisies for her. Dandelions were her favourite thing to eat that grows wild, and she’d eaten all the ones in the garden which is why we went looking. We were losing light, as the sky turned a dark pink, it was Katie’s favorite time of day (bunnies naturally are most active in the hour around dawn and the hour around dusk, and out of all of our buns, Katie and Fifer are/were the most in tune with their natural rhythms). We gathered her some broccoli and a whole carrot from the fridge, and all the rabbit nuggets that had been handed back by the vet because she wasn’t eating properly. I got her out of where I’d put her, and rigor mortis was wearing off again so she was a bit more movable than before. I placed her carefully on the bed of plants, then we placed the dandelions, daisies and broccoli where she could get at them (I put some of the broccoli behind her ears as per Fifer’s broccoli-feeding attempts, in case he knew something about all of this that we didn’t, such as that rabbits eat backwards in the afterlife maybe). We snapped the carrot and placed it in front and behind her. Then we took the bunny nuggets and scattered them around her, so she was totally insulated from soil by all her favorite snacks. It’s what she would have wanted.

The hardest part was putting the soil over her. It felt so wrong. She just looked like she was sleeping, peacefully, dreaming, with her eyes slightly open. I covered all the rest of her then I did her face last because it was so hard. Then after I’d covered her a bit I handed the shovel to my Dearest and let him put the next layer on. I was too upset. I didn’t want to let her go.

In the end, I took over again because he was too upset too. Fifer stood beside us, looking on, I’m not sure what he was thinking but he knew she was there. We put a protective fence (made of spare panels of rabbit run) around her because the last thing I want is a cat to dig her up and eat her. I’ve let Fifer out since and he’s gone to the place where she’s buried and he’s nosed at the fence, like he’s saying “that’s where Katie is, isn’t it mummy?” and I’ve replied (because I do) with “yes, honey, that’s where Katie is.”

He seems to be coping pretty well. He’s just gone back to being his loner, lonely, languishing self from his pre-Katie days. We’ll probably need to get him a new friend soon but for now I want to just let him (and us) get over this profound loss.

My Dearest asked me a question yesterday that threw me. He said, “what are your thoughts about pregnancy now?” and my answer was “it’s strange that you should ask, because when I was holding Katie’s body in the vets, the only thought in my mind was ‘if we get pregnant RIGHT NOW then we might get her reincarnated spirit.’ Because I know that Katie will get reincarnated if she doesn’t just get a free pass to the afterlife. Look, I know it’s weird but in the last 12 months I’ve lost 2 parents and 2 rabbits, I think I’m allowed to have strange afterlife ideas.

The night after she died, I had a dream that her and my dog Dillon (childhood BFF) were both pissed that only humans get let into the afterlife (in my dream it was Elysian fields, pearly gates, huge drinking festhall of Valhalla – the works – all together in the same place), so they broke in (Katie burrowed then Dillon barked at anyone who tried to stop them) until St Peter and Hades both turned up and St P. said “well, you’ve clearly made a lot of effort so Imma let you stay” and they went to the fountain of youth and drank from it and tore around heaven like racing cars.

Then I had a dream about all the ginger people I know, all in the same room, and I was looking for Katie but she wasn’t there. I had that dream the next night as well. Weird, huh?

I still can’t upload pictures, internet’s still fucked and intermittent, so here’s the link to my last set that I posted that were all of Katie doing really cute stuff.

I’m going to miss my Marmalade Princess Katieboo.
I don’t think there’s another rabbit the same as her in the whole world.

I also need to give a big shout-out to my vets who were really really wonderful about the whole thing (even when I got stressy, and even sent Fifer a condolences card with a pair of rabbits on it). If you live in York, you can’t do better than Vets4Pets for rabbit-savvy vets.