Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Taz in Memorium (Part II)--His Story

I got Taz from a pet store when he was only 4 weeks old, in the fall of 1999. I was a junior in college at Univ. Wisconsin-Madison. I would never get a pet from a pet store now but I didn’t know better. I knew nothing about bunnies. I was tired of all my fish in my aquarium dying and was allergic to cats. Dogs were not a good fit for apartment living. That’s when I saw the baby bunnies. All of them wore little black and white tuxedos. Taz was the only deep, seal brown color. The pet store guy said they were all Dutch bunnies. I later learned Taz was a Mini Rex. I held him in my arms. He was as soft as velvet. I breathed into his fur deeply. Not only did I not feel an allergic reaction, but he smelled wonderful. Of course, I could have developed allergies later on, but I was in love. He always smelled wonderful. A mixture of freshly ground coffee and something faintly sweet like cinnamon. I don’t know how he smelled so wonderful but I could breathe in the aroma of his fur all day, until I suffocated on the thick, downy, plushness of it. He was so small when I brought him home, he fit into the palm of my hands.

I fixed up his cage in the bedroom. Again, I knew nothing about bunnies. However, I had some instinct. Taz taught me the rest. It wasn’t until I discovered the House Rabbit Society, 2 years later, in search of Taz’s mate, Babs, that I was taught proper bunny care. The wire bottom of the cage seemed cruel. So I lined it with blankets and carpet scraps. I constructed a wooden box for him to hide in, pretending I was a carpenter. I gave him a little stuffed toy sheep that I got from a McDonald’s Happy Meal. He loved to snuggle with the sheep and do obscene things to it as he hit puberty, right before he was neutered. He loved that sheep. I still have it. He would eat his pellets out of his tiny bowl and then crawl inside and go to sleep; he was so tiny.
I didn’t know what to name him. I didn’t even know how to take care of him. I thought about Snickers since he made an almost imperciptable cooing noise when I petted him. Plus, it matched his beautiful dark brown color. The cooing would become louder and louder as he aged into his golden years. So loud, in fact, that it would be hard to fall asleep, or I would be rudely awakened in the middle of the night to incessantly, ear-splitting cooing. Sometimes, he would do it because Babs was licking him. Other times, he was just ridiculously happy and content for no reason. He would also do it upon getting petted. When he was scared, like when I picked him up to clip his nails, his cooing would become more like high-pitched, rapid squeaks. He would lick me frantically, as if pleading with me to put him down. I would try to clip his nails, and he would squirm and squirm. I never once accidentally got his quick. Nonetheless, his hind legs would shake and spasm, making it almost impossible for me to safely clip a nail. He never once, his entire life, bit or nipped. Anyone. Any bunny. Period. Even when Babs fought him, he would grunt and act mad, and head-butt, but never bite. Even when she bit him. He preferred to run away. I’m not sure he really knew how to bite. Most likely, he just didn’t have it in him. But he certainly loved to lick.

He was very into food. He used to jump in my lap to share my ice cream or cereal. He would eat anything. He loved popcorn. One time, he jumped into my mother’s lap and delicately but with lightning speed, grabbed a piece of popcorn out of her open mouth. It was so quick; we were all stunned. My mother is not an animal person but after the popcorn incident, she oddly enough, fell in love with Taz. He would body-slam Babs to get into her food bowl at feeding time. It was the only time he ever acted semi-aggressive, which wasn’t very. He would run across the room for a treat. He loved Bab’s anti-inflammatory medicine, which had a banana flavor. Since he was over 10 years old, I figured, what the hey, he probably needs some too. He would jump up from wherever he had been resting and sprint all the way across the bedroom, grab the syringe with his teeth and jerk on it, trying to rip it from my hands. No need to coax him into taking his medicine. When he was little, we fed him all sorts of junk food, not knowing the harm we were doing. French fries, pizza crust, cereal—he loved it all. Later, when we changed him over to hay, greens, and timmy pellets, he was very mad at me for several weeks. Even though his appetite was voracious, he never kept weight on like Babs and was always an easy keeper. I always tried to sneak him some treats on the sly. It was an easy key to his happiness.

He seemed to have arthritis in his late age. He compensated by running really fast on all fours instead of nimbly hopping. Although when he’d been younger, he could sprly leap onto any pice of furniture in the house and run up and down stairs faster than I, a feat he used to his advantage to get away from Babs when she pursued him (she was always dominant and bullying him) since Babs never had the athletic agility of Taz. He also had a benign lipoma behind his right shoulder that developed around age 7. It spread under his chin where the dewlap is on most females. It never seemed to bother him and was benign, although comically, I did see him trip over it one time. He had to kind of throw the big fat pad out of the way of his feet when he ran, which could have been part of the reason he took millions of tiny, little steps to maneuver. Despite his age and these setbacks, he got around pretty good for a 105-year-old. And when he laid down, he poofed his lipoma under his chin and used it as a pillow. He also loved to eat out of his food dish while lying down and sometimes even drink in the prone position. He loved to lay by the water bowl and could always be found sunning himself wherever the water bowl was akin to laying out by the pool.

He used to get into everything as a baby. I found out early on that he loved to destroy electrical cords. I wrapped everything in plastic tubing and secured high-risk areas, like behind the computer and tv with plexi glass. It was Taz’s mission to get into the forbidden areas. One day, he figured out how to jump on the desk chair, then the desk, then down behind the computer. Of course, once down there, he was trapped. I came home to find him stuck behind the computer desk, all our cords chewed through. I rescued him but he wanted to jump back there again. He watched me move the chair away from the desk to deny him access. I will never forget the scornful scowl Taz gave me after I moved the chair.

Another time, he grabbed a doily my grandmother had crocheted off the coffee table and took off across the living room with it dangling in his mouth. He didn’t get far. Halfway across the room, he tripped over it and did a somersault. He loved to jump up on the sofa, run crazy circles around the room, and binky all over the place. One of his favorite games in my Wisconsin apartment was to run in mad circles around the kitchen, dining area, and hallway, since it was all open. The kitchen was tiled but the rest of the apartment was carpeted. The tile was slippery under Taz’s nails. He would zoooooom around on the carpet, get to the tile, and cautiously click, click, click, as he slowly hopped over the slippery tile, get to the carpet, and zoooom back around again. Over and over. It was very entertaining. That was how he earned the name Taz. Like the Tasmanian Devil on Loony Tunes. He was so energetic as a youngster and always getting into everything. The name stuck.

He hated going outside. I got a cat harness for him. It fit perfectly. Around his neck and torso. He hated that thing. Once on, I would lead him around in the grass behind our apartment. He seemed curious and interested for a bit. He would sniff and root in the grass, graze and nibble. He would lead me around more than me leading him. He would root up garter snakes and chase them fearlessly. Then, a car would drive by, or a bird would fly over, or a plane, or any loud noise. Taz would panic and take off for the nearest drainage pipe. If I hadn’t had him on a leash, I would have never been able to drag him out. Afterwards, when he saw me coming with the leash, he stomped and ran under the sofa to hide, stomping periodically in protest. That was the end of the leash experiment.

He also hated when I went on vacation. Especially if he didn’t like the pet sitter. He hated my ex brother-in-law. He forgot to turn the a.c. on during the summer when I was on my honeymoon. When I returned, Taz was molting and very pissed off. He wouldn’t let me pet him for days. Instead, he hid under the bed and grunted every time I got close. Unless I was feeding him. One time, I had a friend take care of him in St. Louis. She did the bare minimum and even skipped a couple of days without checking on him. When I returned, Taz had torn the apartment to shreds, ripping carpet and chewing furniture he normally left alone. He had upturned his food dish and water bowls. Basically, he wreaked havoc on the place, letting me know that was unacceptable. I hired a professional pet sitter after that, and he never complained again. If anything, he seemed to love the extra affection afforded by the pet sitter. I never divulged to Taz that money was being exchanged for the attention he was getting.

Taz had a very sensitive sense of smell. If I had just washed my hands or put on lotion, he wouldn’t let me pet him. He would wrinkle his nose in disgust and turn his head away, eventually hopping away. “You STINK, mom!” I had to wait until my hands dried completely and the smell had wafted away before I could pet him. Only if I smelled like myself would he allow me to pet him. And, then, he would lick me incessantly. He loved to lick. He licked hands, my nose, my favorite was when he would push my eye shut with his nose and lick my eyelids. He was so delicate. His tongue was like a moist toilette. It felt delicious. He licked Babs and he used to lick Oscar (although he may have had an ulterior motive to get to his food—although, no, I saw him licking Oscar through the fence just to be friendly too). He believed in give and take. He licked me, then shoved his little head under my hand to get petted. Then, he pushed my hand under his chin to lick mine. And so forth. He loved to lick. Walls, the carpet, backpacks, god, he loved to lick my ex-boyfriend’s backpack. He would put his whole head into it and do it for hours. He loved to lick dishwashers, refrigerators. He loved to lick. I’ve never seen any other bunny that loved to lick so much. But when he licked me, it was heaven. It was absolutely my most favorite thing about him and his personality. He was so full of love and giving.

One time, I had a migraine. I never get migraines and didn’t know what was happening. I was overcome with nausea and had to lie down on the floor. It felt like a drill was going through my head. I must have been holding my hand to my head. Babs gets scared when I’m ill and stomps and runs away; I’m her rock; when I’m not well, her whole world comes crashing down. Taz was a caretaker. He immediately ran over to me and started licking the exact spot where the drill was pounding. Then, he laid down, pushing his little body against the pulsating spot. It gave me instant relief. The pressure. How did he know to do that? I didn’t even know. He always knew what to do. He always took care of me. When I was sick or depressed, he was extra attentive, extra affectionate.

Another time, Jason, my ex-husband, and I both came down with the stomach flu at the same time. I called 911 because Jason passed out in the bathroom. Taz wouldn’t leave Jason’s side. When the EMT guys came, I had to restrain Taz and hold him, wriggling in my arms, to give the guys room to work on Jason. Then, I got sick. We spent all night in our respective bathrooms. Taz and Babs took turns, alternating between Jason and me. Babs was upset and stomped her foot and ran away every time she saw me hurling over the toilet. Taz came over and snuggled against me as I lay on the floor, soothingly licking my forehead.

He was immaculate with his litterbox. Amazing. We had one litterbox in an enormous 3-story house in St. Louis. He loved to watch tv with us and would be getting attention, sprawled on the rug (he hated sitting in laps or being up on the sofa with us), and all of a sudden, he would jump up, run all the way upstairs into the master bathroom to use the single litterbox that was by the toilet. Never had an accident. He was immaculate. He did, however, love to chew on furniture but could be easily dissuaded with good chew toys. He was also very nimble. Had no problem jumping on chairs, tables, or running up and down stairs. His bathroom habits were impeccable, until he met Babs. She was very messy; he figured he didn’t need to be so clean if she wasn’t.
Before he was neutered, he ran circles around my feet. It means, “I love you,” in bunny-speak. He would run them endlessly. First counter-clockwise, then clockwise. I have it on video. It was precious. If Jason was nearby, the circles would become figure-8’s. Around my feet, then around his, then around mine, back-and-forth. Precious. I was sad to see this habit disappear after he got neutered. But not so sad to see the obsence treatment of his stuffed sheep dissipate.
Taz hated the smell and sound of dogs but was fearless when it came to felines. I once brought him to a friend’s apartment. She had a cat. Taz staked out the dining room table area. The cat came stalking over, investigating this new creature invading his territory. Taz, claiming his new area, charged out from under the table, grunting. The cat scampered away, confused and terrified. Afterwhich, the cat jumped onto a dining room chair where he could safely check out this new situation. Taz, of course, taunting the feline, placed himself directly underneath the chair. The cat began batting at Taz, and Taz began grooming himself nonchalantly, pretending to ignore the batting paws, just out of reach.

The only time he ever sprayed (common territorial marking for unneutered males) was when I tried to bond Babs, Taz, and Oscar. It might have worked if Babs hadn’t hated Oscar so much. Afterall, Taz loved Oscar, Oscar was aloof to the whole thing but Babs HATED Oscar. One bathroom session, however, Babs and Taz on one side, me on the middle, and Oscar on the other side, Taz circled me and Babs (his women) and sprayed both of us. I’d never witnessed such possessive behavior before. So out of character.

Taz loved Oscar. Or at least considered him a good friend. He would lick him through the fence. I tried to bond all three of them but after Oscar and Babs got into a horrible fight one night, resulting in a severed urethra on Babs, that ended all future bonding sessions. Every day Oscar bounded up to the fence so Taz could lick him. Babs, jealous creature that she is, would dive bomb Taz, bite him, and chase him away. Oscar would come over to greet Babs (or tease her) every day. Every day, she would bite him on the nose. Every day, Oscar acted surprised. Then, they would have pissing wars along the perimeter of the fence. Oscar would play with his toys by the fence and flop down by the fence, teasing her until she bit him through the bars. It was so aggravating. I think they enjoyed hating each other. It was an ongoing feud. Taz licked Oscar so much, I tried bonding sessions between just the two of them, even though Oscar was about 3x Taz’s size. Taz was so peaceable, he made it work. They would snuggle and Oscar loved the licks and cuddles. When Oscar wasn’t looking, Taz stole his food. If Oscar so much as gave him a sideways glance, Taz scampered away until Oscar was in a better mood. Oscar may have been 3x his size, but Taz was 3x as quick. They were together for about 3 weeks until Oscar started getting more pushy with wanting more and more affection from Taz. Taz started showing signs of fear, and I reunited him with Babs. He seemed relieved. His brief affair quickly ended and Babs took him back.

Bonding Taz with Babs took 6 months. I saw Babs on the internet advertised by the House Rabbit Society of St. Louis. Her name was Velvet and she looked like Taz’s twin, only slightly larger and slightly more red. I took Taz over to Joy’s house, the chapter manager. She dissuaded me from Babs, trying other bachelorettes to no avail. Taz was completely aloof. First, he just wanted to hide under my sweatshirt. Then, he wanted to do nothing but eat and fell in love with the hay in the litterbox. The other does simply stomped their feet in disgust and one-by-one, rejected Taz. Taz didn’t even realize he was being introduced to to other bunnies. Finally, Joy brought out Velvet from the sanctuary, where she had been kept because of severe cage protectiveness and biting. Babs (aka “Velvet”) fell in love with Taz instantly. She seemed aloof to me and spent the entire time pursuing Taz, trying to get him to snuggle with her and lick her as he scurried away, looking for food. Joy was impressed. This was the best “Velvet” had ever acted. Little did I know.

I brought her home and the disastrous bonding sessions began. Babs chasing Taz, the two of them fighting like dogs with hair flying everywhere and me screaming from the sidelines with a water bottle until the two were both drenched. Babs seemed to understand she was bad when she bit. Taz didn’t know what had hit him. He had been king of the castle and now, what the hell was going on? He was miserable. He lost weight and became dejected and aloof to me. I was broken hearted. I almost returned Babs. I came very close. Especially the day she took after him in the carpeted basement and I intervened. She leapt up, and hung from my pinkie knuckle. I had to shake her off. I still wear the scar to this day. I cried like a baby, not because of the pain, but because I felt like I had failed.

Stubbornly, I continued the bonding sessions, every day, religiously for 20 minutes to an hour. We went on car rides, had them in pens outdoors, in the dry bathtub, on top of the wahsing machine, and the tile floor of the bathroom. Anywhere that was unfamiliar territory. Taz would get scared, and, then, the oddest thing happened. She flipped onto her back as if to say, “I’m not threatening. Look, I couldn’t hurt a fly.” Then, Taz would flip over on his back. I decided to do the same. After I flopped over, the two began to play “King of the Mountain” on my belly. That was the beginning of the bonding. In the meantime, I read to them. Babs loved the sound of my voice, and I needed to do something to pass the time. We got through the entire Chronicles of Narnia, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After day-in and day-out of bonding sessions, I went out of town, and the bonding sessions were halted for about a week. When I returned, the two missed each other so much, that they were bonded. That was it. After that, they were inseparable. They moved in together and were never apart again. They were together for 7 years.

Taz became less neat with his litterbox, adopting Bab’s messy ways. She was always dominant and chased him at feeding times and other times too. She would nip sometimes or take out a tuft of hair but nothing serious. Lovers quarrels. They always worked it out and could be see cuddling minutes later. I chose to stay out of it. It was between them. For the most part, they cuddled and snuggled and licked each other. Babs refused to lick Taz until years later. When she did, Taz cooed loudly. She learned to give love is to receive it tenfold. They were my faith in true love. They always rode together in the car on the way to the vet. They were very protective. She would lie on top of him; it looked like she was crushing him. I would pull them apart, fearing that Taz was suffocating but he would just dive back under her belly and she would pull him close, her little front paws protectively holding him. The night Oscar died, I found them mourning in the office, lying in the middle of the room, Babs holding Taz. I had never seen them do that in the open until that night. I wish Babs had someone to hold right now. I hold her in my arms most night for a few minutes, and she lets me, something she never used to let me do. It’s the least I can do.

Taz was different from any bunny I’ve ever met, and I’ve met many bunnies. I feel so lucky to have had so much time with him. I always called him the bunny diplomat because he taught so many people how wonderful and personable and affectionate bunnies can be and what fantastic pets they make. He was my first. He taught me everything I know about bunnies. He taught me give and take. He taught me to give your love freely. He taught me how to relax. He had the softest fur of any bunny I’ve ever petted and licked more than any other bunny I’ve ever met. He was the World’s Greatest Bunny. And my Tazzer Schmazzer Mookie Bear (aka “Mookie”). God, I miss him.


Erin Nicole said...

What a sweet, loving bunny he was. I still remember having him and Babs over to play with Lucy and Sam -- what fun that was! I'm mourning for you, Rachel. He was a beautiful boy and will be missed dearly!

bunnygirl said...

Ten years is a long time for a bunny. You were lucky, and so was he. It seems to take forever to get over our "heart bunny" but you've got a lot of friends who know what you're going through.

Taz will be missed.

Renee said...

Beautiful and very moving tribute to him!

Fizzgig said...

awww! im so sorry to hear this!

He lived a good long life! My last bunny lived well over the age of 10 they have good long lives when they are loved!!