In the past 20 years I have shared my home with 16 “family” rabbits and a number of fosters and I have given each a safe and loving home.
When I first became involved in the “rabbit world” almost 10 years ago, I got the idea that it was “wrong” to find oneself drawn to one rabbit more than another. I honestly believed I was a terrible person when I realized that I did have a “favorite”. A couple of years ago I was talking to a rescuer and risked admitting that I had a deeper bond with His Royal Highness King Murray than with the other rabbits in my home. Instead of lashing out at me as I expected, she said, “That just means you are human.”
There are many reasons we develop an especially deep bond with a particular rabbit. It is very common to form an intensely deep bond with a rabbit with medical problems requiring a lot of handling and attention. You may develop a deep bond with a rabbit who comes into your life during an extremely difficult or stressful time. For those of us
willing to listen and learn, rabbits can be great teachers and we may be drawn to an individual rabbit because we have something important to learn from him or her. I met Murray less than a month after losing my beloved Smokey to cancer and was immediately drawn to him. When I adopted him and his companions, I was not aware of his many health problems or the fact that he was a wise soul who had much to teach me. I only knew in my heart that he belonged with me, and so our journey began.
Not everyone will experience a relationship like mine with Murray. To experience this, you have to be able to listen to your heart instead of your head. If, one day, you are lucky enough to feel especially drawn to a certain rabbit, I urge you to listen to your heart!
On Wednesday, April 9, 2003, Murray’s heart stopped, and when he died he took a piece of my heart with him. We knew he was ill, had been treating him for heart disease (in addition to his other chronic ailments) for 10 months, and knew the heart disease was progressing. However, he had a decent check-up with vet on Monday. He was definitely “off” Tuesday evening, turning his nose up at his beloved cranberries (but nibbling on greens). But ups and downs were not unusual with him at this point.
I consulted his vet, we agreed to just keep an eye on him, and Wednesday morning he seemed to feel a bit better when I left for work. I came home and found him stretched out peacefully on his special rug that I gave him for Christmas… not breathing.
This was my first experience with finding one of my bunnies dead. His body was still warm and I immediately called Dr. Allan. I told her how bad I felt that I had not been
there with him. She said, “Kathy, he wanted it this way.” I had watched both Frankie and Stormy die, gasping for breath with me unable to do anything to help them. I would have hated to witness that with Murray.
In my heart, I honestly believe he simply fell asleep and never woke up – otherwise Idon’t think he would have looked as peaceful and content when I found him. I realized his choice to go just before I got home was his final gift to me.
I knew I had to hold myself together. I laid Murray’s body in the front seat of my car on the Brave Bunny Blanket that always went with him to the vet. Dr. Allan met us at the
clinic and sat and cried with me as we said goodbye. When I got home I called a few friends those I knew would help pass the word at my office and to my friends in the bunny world. I received several phone calls that evening and the following day. Everyone remarked at how well I was holding up. Yes, I was crying, but I was able to see the positives: he went quickly, he didn’t suffer, he had a good life with me, heknew he was loved, I had no regrets about anything. I’m sure I was in shock at that point. Looking back, I’d say I was in shock until the point that I started feeling worse than the day before. That was when I believe the grieving process actually started.
I knew the “firsts” would be the hardest for me: The first morning I woke up at 4:30 and had no Murray to give meds to; the first time I made salads without making his; the first time I came home and he wasn’t there to greet me; the first trip for “greens” when I didn’t buy the special things that only Murray ate. It helps if you can anticipate the times that will be hardest for you and brace yourself for them. It also helps to have a circle of friends that you know you can call if you need to… even at 4:30 a.m!
Everyone deals with grief in her own way. Some things that may help you work through your grief:
- Give yourself permission to cry. If you’re comfortable with tears, they can
be quite healing.
- Take your time going through your rabbit’s things. Decide carefully what to
toss, what to leave where it is, what to pack away, and what to use for other
rabbits or donate to a rescue. For now, a corner of his kitchen has Murray’s
personalized bowl, the rug he died on and one of his King Murray towels. The
shirt I last held him in is packed away with special toys and dishes. If in
doubt about something, keep it for now – you can always toss it later!
- When you’re feeling really down, phone a friend who will let you express all
your emotions. Don’t try to go through this alone!
- Write down your memories or go through your pictures. You may cry while you
are doing it, but it will help you remember the good times. And down the road
you will be glad you did.
- Do something special for yourself in memory of your rabbit: buy a special
picture frame, have a portrait or laser charm made, plant a tree – whatever
works for you.
- Do something special for others as a tribute to your rabbit: write an
article orstory; draw or paint a picture; volunteer with a rescue group,
shelter, or otherorganization; offer your love to another rabbit when you
Things you can do to help a grieving friend:
- Keep in touch. You don’t need to call the first day; calls made on day three
and beyond are often most appreciated. The rest of the world probably thinks
she should be over it by then.
- If your lifestyle permits, be one of the people she can call whenever she
needs to – even in the middle of the night!
- Send a card. If you have a special memory of the rabbit, take time to
write about it… this will mean a lot to your friend. If you happen to be
artistic, a sketch or drawing of her rabbit will be a cherished keepsake.
- If you can afford to, make a donation to her favorite charity in memory of
her rabbit. Ask the organization to send her a card, acknowledging the
donation in her rabbit’s memory.
The Importance of Planning in Advance
Most of us don’t want to think about losing a beloved pet, but some advanced planning may make things easier when that day comes. It is hard to make informed decisions when you are upset and nothing could have prepared me for losing Libby and Rocky six days apart, but had I given it some thought ahead of time I would have done a few things differently.
Losing a rabbit is hard anytime, but when you lose one member of a bonded pair you have to consider what is best for the rabbit left behind. When we lost Libby we had some time to think about what to do, since she did not die suddenly but was euthanized. We considered taking Bear, her mate, with us to show him Libby’s body but decided against it. Bear and Libby had been separated once before due to illness and Bear seemed to be fine during the separation. Although Bear seemed lonely without Libby, he does not seem confused about where she went.
When we lost Rocky it was totally unexpected. It has been almost two months and I think I am still in shock over it his death. We were on our way to the vets when he died. I never even thought about Rocky’s mate, Chloe, but I now believe we made a mistake by not showing his body to her. She seemed lost and angry without Rocky and spent weeks searching for him. I know it would have been hard on me to show him to her but it was even harder watching her look for him for weeks.
Often people are concerned about this procedure but it is actually very similar to a surgery: after the vet is finished with the procedure, the animal is stitched up. What is
involved with the necropsy will vary with each case.
With Rocky, for example, it was very simple due to the symptoms he was showing prior to his death. The vet knew what she was looking for so it was very straightforward. A more complicated case may involve testing blood and tissue.
A necropsy should be considered if the rabbit’s death may have been caused by a contagious illness that could be a threat to other rabbits in your home. In addition, necropsies can also be a learning experience for both you and your vet. A lot of people do not want to have a necropsy performed because they are afraid that they will find they did something wrong.
Another way to look at it is even if you did make an error, you will be able to learn from it and possibly prevent another rabbit owner from making that same mistake. A necropsy can also help to put your mind at ease when there was nothing you could have done. Because Rocky’s death was so sudden, if I had not had a necropsy done, I would never have stopped blaming myself for what happened.
Necropsies range from $50 – $100 for a simple procedure. More detailed tests requiring lab work, for example, may add to the cost. If you have a good rapport with your vet, or depending upon the circumstances surrounding your pet’s death and what your vet may learn from it, your vet may perform the necropsy for free or at a reduced cost. If you are concerned about the cost, you should contact your vet and inquire about their fees and policies.
The Final Resting Place
When your pet passes away, you can choose to have him cremated or buried.If you choose to have your rabbit cremated, you have two options: a group cremation or a private cremation. In a group cremation, your pet is cremated with other pets, so you do not get the ashes back. This option is less costly. With a private cremation,your pet is cremated on its own, which allows you to get the ashes back. It may take up to 2 weeks to get the ashes back, if the crematorium is located off-site. Cremation services are available through your vet or most animal shelters.
If you decide to bury your pet, you have several options.
Depending where you live and barring any by-law restrictions, you may bury your pet or in your yard or in that of a friend or relative. One of the advantages of burying your pet on private property is that you can mark the grave with a special plant or other personal memento.
Keep in mind, however, that if you or your friend or relative moves, you will no longer have access to the grave site.
To avoid this type of scenario and to be able to visit the grave when you wish, you may consider burying your pet at a pet cemetery.
Unfortunately, a local pet cemetery may be hard to find.
A list of Pet Cemeteries, Crematoriums and Support Groups near you: Pet Loss Support Page-Canada.
Pet cemetery costs vary depending on any “extras” you chose, such as a casket or headstone, although neither may be required by the cemetary. Pet cemeteries also allow you to purchase family plots so your pets can be buried together.
Lastly, if you do not wish to keep the ashes and have no yard for burial you may wish to have your animal cremated in a group cremation and use the money you saved to make a donation to an animal organization or shelter in your pet’s name.