We decided to put Oscar down yesterday. He was old, and his body was failing him. In addition to severe and chronic tooth problems that limited his ability to eat, he had gone into kidney failure. There was little we could do. I didn't want him to suffer anymore. I gave him the best life I could offer.
"I have sent you on a journey to a land free from pain,
not because I did not love you,
but because I loved you too much to force you to stay."
We took Oscar in 4 years ago from the House Rabbit Society in St. Louis (http://members.petfinder.com/~MO56/index.html). He had been severely abused and had become aggressive, charging and biting anyone who came near. Everyone was afraid of the large, 10 pound, black rabbit. His name at the time was Cokie, presumably given to him by his first home, a couple of drug dealers. He had been confiscated by the police on a drug bust. Jason and I decided to foster him since we could give him a quiet place to live in peace. I soon changed his name to Oscar after the Sesame Street character. Being grouchy was part of Oscar's thing, even if it was just a false front.
The first thing I did was give him a box to hide in. He had been trying to hide behind one of his grass mats at the HRS foster home. When he hid in his box, he was "safe." I honored that and wasn't allowed to bother him when he was in his box. It was his private office, his home base. That helped his aggression a lot. Most animals, especially prey animals, are afraid when they become aggressive. They lash out because they feel cornered but most would prefer to run or hide first. I gave Oscar the option of hiding, and the aggression diminished.
I was afraid of him too, at first. When I would feed him, he would rush and charge the food dish, grunting wildly and flipping the food onto the ground. When he was out, he would circle my feet and "herd" me while grunting. After awhile, I realized he wasn't biting me; his bark was bigger than his bite. I would let him out to play every evening. He began to explore more and more as he became less afraid. He loved toys--empty paper towel rolls, a telephone book, a little plastic barrel with a bell inside. He would grunt and grab the paper towel roll and stomp on it until it was flat. He would "remodel" his box--chew new windows and doors on the sides, stick the flattened paper towel rolls under one side to prop it up. He would shred the pages out of the telephone book and toss the plastic barrel around, intrigued by the ringing sound it made. I tied a bell onto the fence of his pen. He loved to ring it when it was feeding time. I had to attach his water bowl to the fence too or he would dump it over. Even when attached, he would grab one end of it with his teeth and shake it like a dog.
He watched me for months. He watched me pet Babs and Taz and wondered what all that was about. I respected that he wasn't ready to let me handle him. I noticed he liked the sound of my voice. He listened intently when I was on the phone or talking with Jason. I began to read him stories--the Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, he particularly liked Lemony Snickett's Series of Unfortunate Events. Eventually, with me lying prone on the rug, reading a book, he came over to sniff me. I didn't move a muscle. Soon, I was able to gently pet his head for a few minutes at a time. He decided he really liked that. Soon, he was coming over to get petted on a daily basis.
One night, he refused to eat. He was curled up in his litterbox, his stomach making horrid gurgling noises. I felt my stomach tighten. With a sensitive stomach myself, I knew instantly what kind of pain he was in. I spent all night force-feeding him canned pumpkin (lots of fiber--good for gastric stasis in a pinch) and water through a 10cc syringe. The bathroom was a mess by morning. I took him to the bunny vet first thing. They gave him fluids and Propulsid. He recovered very quickly after that and was back to his old self. Boy, he scared me. He had looked so sick that night. He wriggled his way irretrievably into my heart that night. After that, I knew Oscar was here to stay.
I had no problems with Oscar after that. We had bonded. He knew I was going to take care of him. He trusted me. I had helped him when he had been his most vulnerable. Still, he wasn't great with other people. He never really trusted others. Our pet sitter had a hard time with him. We decided to leave him with HRS for 4th of July since they were experts in bunny care. When we returned from our short vacation, they had called us, urgently requesting that we come pick him up. He had reverted to his old behaviors of charging and grunting. He wasn't eating and had started molting. I brought him home and he immediately started running around the house, playing with his toys and kicking his heels into the air. He had decided where home was. It took a little while longer to convince Jason but when we moved to San Diego, there was no question in my mind. Oscar was coming with us.
Babs and Oscar never got along, though Lord knows I tried. She hated him. She went after him relentlessly, no matter how many bonding sessions I held. It didn't matter. She was jealous. Plus, since he was twice her size, she couldn't dominate him. She tried to boss him around, and he would sit like a lump not budging. He wasn't aggressive back, just dismissive. That seemed to infuriate her even more. She would bite him and never leave a scratch. When he would tire of her annoying antics and finally grunt and bite back, I would have to rush her to the vet. She was like my little warrior princess. As soon as I would bring her home, she would go after him again, stitches and all. I decided to keep them separated after that. Oscar would taunt her, running up to the fence that separated them and lay down next to it. He would play with toys right by the fence. She would stalk up and down the fence, waiting for him to come close enough to bite. He would always come over to sniff her. "Hello. Wanna be friends?" Every day, he would do this, and every day, he would jump back in surprise when she bit him on the nose. Taz and Oscar got along just fine, on the other hand (see picture above). Oscar always tried to cuddle up next to Taz because he would carefully groom his ears and eyes. Sometimes they would snuggle (as long as Babs wasn't looking--she would angrily chase Taz away if she caught them).
Oscar slept in our bedroom. The sound of him chomping on hay, bounding around the bedroom, rattling his water bowl, I was used to those nighttime sounds. Every time I got up to use the bathroom, I had to step carefully. He was usually right there at my feet, waiting to get petted. I would pet him when I returned too. In the morning, he would tug on my blankets on my side of the bed to wake me up. I wasn't allowed to get out of bed before petting him. Otherwise, he would grunt and circle my feet. He would put his front paws on the bed so I could easily pet his head from the bed. Sometimes, in the stillness of a dark, sleepless night, I would reach down and his head was there, waiting. As if he knew petting him would lull me back to sleep.
In the morning, if I took too long preparing his greens, he would pound on the bedroom door, demanding to be let out. He would beg for treats by the fence, scaling it, reaching the top. He was so big. We would say, "Oscar's doing the King Kong again." He would bound around the room, exploring each corner. Sometimes, when he was feeling really good, he would leap into the ear, kicking his hind feet up behind him and twisting his body in very athletic aerial acrobatics. He always had a mild look of wide-eyed surprise when he would buck playfully, as if his hind end had a mind of its own. He loved books. He would drag them off the bookshelves, open them up, and tear out the pages. We would always say Oscar was well-read. (We always kept the books for Goodwill on the bottom shelf). He thought the vaccuum was annoying (but not terrifying like most rabbits). He would stare at it in annoyance, not budging. Sometimes, he would sniff it, or charge it playfully like a dog. Even when the vacuum would come up right beside him, he wouldn't budge. He knew I wouldn't hurt him. I had to push him out of the way in order to vacuum under him. If I dropped papers onto the floor, he would go after them. One time, he demolished a small stack of crossword puzzles I was working on. He sat on one end to anchor them and shredded them to pieces with his teeth. Then, he shoved his head under my hand. I was supposed to be petting him, not working on crosswords. Anything I was reading or writing on was always in danger when I came near him. He demanded my undivided attention.
Eventually, he began to come down with more health problems. He went into gastric stasis about once a year. I fought each time to bring him back. He contracted a horrible tooth abcess that required in-depth surgery. He was in a lot of pain following the surgery. I stayed home to give him medicine, force-feed him, pet him, and read to him. He seemed to relax when I pet him. He only would eat when I would wash and cut his his lettuce into tiny pieces, fold it up, and hand-feed it to him. If I left the washed, cut-up lettuce on his plate, he wouldn't eat. Hand-fed only. I fought again to bring him back, and he recovered, became his old self again. Eventually, he started to decline again. It wasn't until very recently that I realized I was fighting a losing battle; he would never be his old self again. He had lost a lot of weight and was eating very little, even with soaking fresh pellets in warm water and offering him fresh, washed, and cut lettuce twice daily each. He had become lethargic. He wasn't running around, wasn't coming to my side of the bed, and he was unable to lay down and stretch out. Once a very clean and meticulous bunny, he had also become incontinent. When the blood work came back and I saw the look on the vet's face, I realized he was very sick.
Oscar became a very different bunny than the aggressive and scary "Cokie" we were first introduced to. He was playful, happy, and had a good sense of humor. He was always easy-going and laid-back. All he wanted was food, water, and a box to hide in. The attention and love I gave him was totally unexpected. He expressed extreme gratitude at everything I gave him. To say it was rewarding to watch him come out of his shell is an understatement.
"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."
This whole time, I knew that he needed us but it wasn't until yesterday that I realized that I needed him too. There is a huge, vacant hole gaping in my life. I keep thinking he will come bounding out of the bedroom. I keep listening for the loud crunch of hay as he leaps into his litter box or the rattling of his water bowl as he shakes it. I almost set out 3 plates of greens this morning. I almost put the fence up to keep Babs from going after him. All of his toys are as he left them. The soft blanket by his litterbox is still there--extra padding for his sore joints. His box is empty and waiting, the carefully gnawed doors and windows just as he left them.
Part of me can't wait to move so I can sleep at night without constantly thinking about how much is gone and missing. I am afraid to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night because I know I will automatically reach down to pet him, and he won't be there. I miss him.
I imagine him in a large sunny meadow with plenty of trees, burrows, bushes, and rocks to hide in. There are no scary planes or cars or dogs. Just other bunnies, and they are all licking him and snuggling with him. There is lots of alfalfa, fresh, leafy red lettuce and kale and on the tops of the grass are Autumn Wheat cereal, which he loved. There is a house at one end of the meadow with an old woman in a rocking chair. There is a blanket by her feet for him to lay on. She is reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to him and petting him softly at the base of his ears. His eyes are closed and he is purring. He is stretched out with his hind legs behind him and his forepaws in front, his head resting on his paws. He feels no pain. Only peace and comfort and love. I hope one day to meet him there.
"If my tears could build a stairway
and my memories a lane
I'd walk right up to heaven
and bring you home again"