July 03, 2006

The off-White Rabbit leaves Wonderland

It's Bunny Boo Bear-ski's last day with me. He hasn't eaten in six days, and Saturday, when I took him to the vet, he had lost 10 percent of his body weight in six weeks. Since then, he's eaten perhaps a bite of apple and a few pieces of hay, maybe a pellet or two.

His regular diet consisted of one-third of a cup of pellets, two or three large handfuls of hay (western Timothy, the only kind suitable for a grown-up house rabbit), a full stem (half a pound) of broccoli, and three carrots, with tops, and all the water he wanted from his Critter Canteen.

Bunny's life here featured has three meals a day, fully catered, including two servings of fresh produce and all the hay he could eat. He had full-time housekeeping and continual drinking water service, plus whatever hair care he could tolerate. (Half angora, half Jersey wooly, his hair grew long and, from time to time, he would get so matted I had to take him to the vet for a Mohawk.)

His hair cuts cost twice as much as than mine, and to comb him out was next to impossible. His fur was soft and seductive, but it was fortunate he never noticed his bad hare days, or we would have been at the rabbit beauty parlor on a weekly basis, just like my grandmother used to have her set appointment.

He had four stuffed toys, countless cardboard paper towel rolls, and, his all-time favorite, the wrapping paper roll, which he liked to toss with his teeth, and a mommy who played with him faithfully every night, when he liked to hop out of his cage.

I made sure he steered clear of any electical or electronic cord, which he would have sliced into two in short order, never mind what the electrical impulses could have done. Fortunately, he never had the traction to hop onto the hardwood floor, where he could have done some damage.

(I am a New Yorker. Those of us who are childless take on maternal roles with our animals. Even my mother considered him her grand-rabbit, and when he would go to stay at her house, her friends liked to come over to feed him treats. On my annual AmEx summary, the St. Mark's Veterinary Hospital comes itemized under "health care.")

If reincarnation is real, in my next life, I want to return as Bunny, living in my house. He never had to work, never had to shop, always knew his every whim would be catered to. Plus, his doctors were in the office seven days a week.

Try calling a human doctor after 4 pm on a Friday. Not going to happen, not here. Bunny's vet? If he had an emergency, I could bring him right in. On a Sunday afternoon, we could see the rabbit specialist, of which there are perhaps four in all of Wonderland.

From six pounds, one ounce, he's down to less than five and a half pounds. He has stopped thumping in his hay pan -- lacking vocal cords, thumping is his only form of communication via noise -- or coming out of his cage to play with his toys, let me pet him, or romp around the living room rug.

At the vet on Saturday, she took X-rays. They showed some large indeterminate masses, for which there are no cure. (Even if it were cancer, there is just no such field of study as rabbit oncology.) She asked if I wanted to leave him then and there. I could have hospitalized him, but I don't believe in heroic measures, not for me, and not for my rabbit.

(Bunny is terrified every time he leaves home, and I take him somewhere via taxi. Taxi usually means the vet, and there, he is so terrified he lets me hold him, something he usually avoids. Besides, he is an indoor bunny, and he has less to do with the great outdoors than I.)

I told the vet, no. I had to bring him home, just so I could try to say my good-byes. I've never had a pet before, and I didn't know quite how attached I was to Bunny until I couldn't stop crying at the thought that he was getting ready to leave me.

So I came home and brought him, his cage, and accessories into my bedroom. Yesterday my mom and I cleaned up the living room (the rug still needs to have hay vacuumed up) and moved the furniture so that when I come home without him, and I look for his corner of the living room, it will already have a chair and the library stairs. It won't look as if there is a gaping corner where Bunny used to be.

In my heart, there is already a gaping hole where my happy-go-lucky off-White Rabbit used to live and listen to me (or ignore me, as he chose when he didn't want to return to his cage). I inherited him from a friend when he was eight years old. Today he is ten and a half. He was, at his last visit to the vet, before the weight loss, considered a 95-year-old rabbit.

Yesterday I moved what was Bunny's lamp, set on a timer, to the dining room. When I went to plug it in, the bulb blew out. Last night, I went to close his cage, and the spring latch snapped in half. I pet him and felt his spinal cord, his tiny ribs one by one, the bones along his haunches.

I feel him saying good-bye to me. His cage is filled with his favorite foods, but all he does is chop down on air occasionally. I think it is his time. I am incredibly sorry to see him go.