When Rescue Rabbits Need a Little Extra TLC - Part II
by Shannon Cail
“TLC fostering,” as I call it, can take an emotional toll on your heart, especially when working with a very ill rabbit. But my life has also been enriched, in one way or another, by all of the rabbits who have passed through my home over the last few years. Whether it be fostering them until they got better and could be adopted out, or fostering them until “the end,” they knew they'd be safe and have a home with me regardless.
SWEET PEA: She was one of a kind and unlike any rabbit I had ever cared for before. An amazing 1.5-pound ball of fur, and I had the pleasure of caring for her, fostering her and finally adopting her out.
She came into HRN care as a stray in the fall of 2007 in very bad shape. So bad, that one of our vets had to foster her while she underwent lots of intensive care for bad sore hocks, a tumor on her shoulder, and just getting her healthy enough to undergo spaying. During her spay, uterine cancer was found and the vet removed as much of the uterine stem as possible. We were hopeful the cancer was not going to return, but there were no guarantees. She also hopped a bit funny and we contributed that to her sore hocks, possible arthritis or even neurological damage from E. cuniculi. We were never certain of her exact age but could only guesstimate that she was on the “older” side.
Once healed, Sweet Pea came to me in December of 2007. She would charge at anything that moved toward her and bite! She would hold on with her teeth for dear life and not let go. I was constantly on guard with her and had to learn how to deal with her “aggressive ways.” I had dealt with cage aggression before, but nothing like what Pea showed me. This was a new challenge, yet I was ready and determined to turn this little T. rex into the name she was given…Sweet Pea.
She wasn't afraid of anything. She'd explore of her own free will, run and even try doing binkies at times. She didn't fear people either, despite the way she reacted at times toward me. I could only clean her cage when she was out of it. Otherwise, I risked being attacked. She was like a 100-pound, aggressively trained dog in a 1.5-pound bunny body. It was funny at times, but other times not so much. I could only imagine what her life was like before this for her to be this way.
During the months that followed, I worked with her and her aggression issues. We got to the point where I'd open her cage door in the morning, she'd come running over, bow her head and I'd give her a kiss. For an aggressive rabbit to bow her head is the ultimate form of submission and I recognized the progress we had made…until one morning. Pea apparently wasn't in the mood for kisses. Instead she attached herself to my bottom lip. In reaction, I pulled my head back, with her attached! Thankfully, as she released, I caught her mid-air, as the blood flowed from my lip. Let's just say we took a few steps back in our progress that morning. Not sure why it happened or what triggered her to react the way she did, but we moved on and luckily I didn't need stitches.
Treats were big with Sweet Pea. She learned the sound of the banana chips shaking in the jar and would come running. She was still a bit aggressive with the way she grabbed the treat, but at least she knew something good was coming with a treat. I'd take that opportunity to pet her head and talk to her softly, assuring her she was okay. Eventually, she started seeking me out for pets. This was huge! She would come over even if I didn't have treats, put her head on my leg and want to be patted.
While Pea was in foster care, we had many calls and inquiries about her. Many wanted to adopt her because of her cute little size or because of her feisty attitude. But she was not a bun who could be adopted by just anyone. Because of her cage aggression, I knew she could only go to a home that would allow her to be in a pen, was very bunny experienced and knew how to deal with her possible aggression. Many potential adopters were turned down because I felt they didn't truly understand Pea's needs. And then a former HRN adopter came forward. Pea went to her forever home on June 1, 2008, and I knew it was the right decision. Her new mom, Jillian, was bunny experienced and thoroughly understood what Pea needed in life.
Unfortunately, Sweet Pea wasn't with Jillian for that long. She passed away November 8, 2008. However, during the time Jillian had her, Sweet Pea did indeed live up to her name. She showed Jillian just how sweet she could be and I think this was her way of telling Jillian how thankful she was that she now had a forever home. Pea truly was a special bunny soul in every way.
CLOVER: She kind of came to me by accident. Her foster mom was away and Clover had gone into stasis as I was looking after the foster rabbits. I took her home to care for her and give her that one-on-one she would need to get well again. I decided that I couldn't let her go, so I would keep and foster her until she could be adopted. Clover never seemed to get truly well again, however.
She was a quiet, tiny, chinchilla-colored dwarf with big, dark eyes and beautiful lashes. Just a little pip-squeak of a thing. She had come to HRN as part of a seizure case in VT where the man who owned the rabbits quickly became overwhelmed with four-legged furries. Clover, along with some of the other rabbits, eventually ended up in HRN's care.
I don't think she ever knew what greens were, how the soft, gentle touch of a human could actually be a good thing or that there were people in this world who just wanted to love her. She enjoyed snuggling on a blanket or in a little pet bed I provided for her. She liked her surroundings to be quiet and calm and it was clear that with time and patience, and the right owner, she could turn the corner and become a wonderful bun.
Sadly, Clover never got that chance. About a week later, she started to go downhill again. She was brought to the vet that Saturday because it was clear that something else was going on. Two hours after her vet appointment and radiographs, Clover quietly passed away. We're not sure if it had something to do with what was revealed in her radiographs or something else - her abdomen was very irregular and it could have been from inbreeding. Unfortunately, we'll never know.
Clover was given a proper burial at my house to show her that she WAS loved like my own personal rabbits. She may never have found a home, but she was loved and cared for, and she deserved her final moments to be peaceful ones.
BUGGY: HRN got a call from a local vet about a bunny who had been brought in by animal control with a broken rear leg. The surgery to repair her leg (which was literally broken in half and in another spot) had already been performed and she was in recovery with pins in her leg to stabilize and help it heal. She acquired the name Buggy on the car ride home with me due to her bulging ruby-colored eyes. I couldn't resist and it fit her…it really did!
From the moment she entered my home she was super-sweet and super-lovable. She thoroughly enjoyed petting, greens and everything else good that came along with being a house bunny. She wasn't too keen on hay, but by the size of her plump body, she was no stranger to pellets. So we had to work on slimming her down a bit. Losing a bit of weight would also help her movement and use of the back leg, or her “flipper” as I referred to it, so there wasn't so much added pressure on it.
A few weeks passed and Buggy was doing well, but seemed to be a bit “depressed.” Upon examination and radiographs, it was clear that the pin in her leg had actually moved and was causing her some pain - I could actually see the end of the pin sticking out of her leg, but not through the skin. Pain meds were in order and she was given a bit more time to heal to see what the next step would be. One break was healing, but the other break was not. Once on the pain meds, Buggy began feeling a lot better and moving around more as well.
Another few weeks and we were back at the vet to check Buggy's progress. This time, the break that was not healing properly last visit, had collapsed. We scheduled her for a possible leg amputation. Prepped for surgery, the vet saw and felt that Buggy's leg was actually stable. Radiographs revealed that the broken bone had actually calloused and was healing on its own. No surgery for Buggy! The vet decided to leave well enough alone and see how she did. That was fine by us and I'm sure with Buggy as well.
Four weeks later Buggy was back at the vet for her final surgery to have the pins removed from her leg and to be spayed. She recovered with no complications and in no time she was trying to run “bunny 500s” and do binkies. Granted, her hop was a bit funny, but that didn't slow her down one bit. It was a long road to recovery for this little beauty, but she did it. It took two months of TLC, vet visits, surgeries and another two months of being spoiled rotten. On December 1, 2008, Buggy was adopted as a friend for another bunny. She currently resides in NY and has free run of her owner's home with her boyfriend bun. From rags to riches! The perfect ending for a little bunny found on the streets.
LEO & ALEX: I took this cute duo in because I was determined to get them adopted despite their lack of litter box habits and medical issues. I thought that just maybe, if they could be worked with one-on-one, things might improve and I could find the perfect adopter for them.
Leo and Alex were a tightly bonded, 3 to 4-year-old pair of male buns who had been in rescue for almost a year. They were constantly overlooked due to their medical issues and no one wanted to take on a pair of rabbits who might possibly need medical treatment for the rest of their lives. They were both extremely friendly. Leo was the outgoing, more opinionated and clown-like one and Alex the more reserved, preferring to snooze under the willow tent, always letting Leo lead the way. Both would come rushing to the open cage door, begging for pets and treats.
Leo had what the vet called a “non-infectious keratitis.” Basically, he had a problem with his cornea. It didn't hurt him and it clearly didn't affect him at all. He had some issues with molar spurs, tooth infections and malocclusion, so his incisors were removed. This just meant that he needed his veggies chopped up so it was easier for him to eat. Imagine having a bun who could never chew your wires or woodwork! That was Leo! Alex had a small infection in his eye, but antibiotics cleared it up. Due to these issues, potential adopters continually passed them by. Until one day…a woman named Emily entered their lives. She was unfazed by their possible vet visits and “issues.” She only wanted to give them a wonderful, caring home, with an owner who would love them no matter what. I think it was Alex's dorkiness and Leo's lopitude that won her over.
I still get updates on the pair, who are now named Pedro and Rico. Their antics and super-cuteness keep their human laughing all the time. They are now enjoying the good life. Their box habits have greatly improved, their health issues are just about non-existent and they even have another buddy, Charley (also adopted from HRN). Life couldn't have turned out better for these two!
BUTTERCUP: How can something enter and leave your life in what feels like the blink of an eye, yet leave such a huge impression on your heart? Buttercup did just that. She had been adopted out to a wonderful family, but within a few days, she was at our vet. Her new family didn't have a clue as to what was wrong. Buttercup's head and legs were limp and she could barely hold herself up, let alone move. Tests were run to determine just what was going on. One test in particular for E. cuniculi wouldn't be back for 7-10 days, so in the meantime, our vet decided to start treating for the disease and Buttercup remained there to be monitored. A few days later I was asked to take Buttercup into my home to care for her.
It was heartbreaking to see such a sweet, gentle creature hardly able to move, eat or drink. I made her as comfortable as possible in a small dog bed, with her food, water and hay within reach, as well as a litter box, just in case. During the next two days she slowly started to improve. Her movements were getting better. She was able to hold her head up and was using her front paws to gain a bit of control and balance. She also began to eat a teeny bit on her own, but I still needed to give her subcutaneous fluids and syringe feed her. By the third night, I had huge hope for her when she hopped! Not a well-balanced, full-fledged hop, but a hop nonetheless. I supported her belly with a small towel to make it easier for her to get around. I thought she was finally turning the corner and whatever the heck this was that was affecting her might be subsiding and she was getting better.
By the end of the weekend, she had taken a turn for the worse. She was right back where she started when I picked her up from the vet the previous Wednesday. For the next five days, I literally begged and pleaded with Buttercup to fight. Tears streamed down my face as I stared into those big brown eyes. I was right there fighting with her and would do everything in my power to see that she got better. However, she was now refusing to eat. I would try to syringe feed her and it would just dribble from her little mouth. The meds were obviously not helping and the subcutaneous fluids were just keeping her hydrated, as she refused to drink as well. Treats didn't even interest her. I could see at this point that it was like fighting a losing battle and she was only getting worse. As I sat in front of her, stroking her head and body gently, she would just look up at me, head not moving, with the saddest doe-like brown eyes I think I've ever seen. I knew in my heart, at that point, there was no fight left in this gentle soul. Her little body had given up and it wasn't fair for me to ask her to try, or to continue to make her stay alive.
That Friday morning, I wrapped her in a soft blanket, gently placed her in the carrier and took her to our vet. Buttercup was freed from all the pain that had consumed her body for the past week and a half. As tears fell from my eyes, I bent down, kissed her gently and told her how sorry I was that we couldn't save her, despite all of our best efforts. Test results came back later that day and revealed a very high positive for E. cuniculi. In all my years of bunny ownership and my few years of fostering, I had never seen that disease devastate and take a precious little bunny life that fast. For some reason, in the short week and a half that I shared my home with this special little bun named Buttercup, I felt like I had shared a lifetime with her. She touched my heart in ways I never thought possible and I'll never forget her.