The Midget came creeping down the stairs around 6 a.m. It was still dark and the room was quiet.
“Can I say goodbye to Abby?”
I pulled myself off the fold-out bed and smiled half of a smile at her.
She went by the cage, only to have the bunny start to flap and flail, sending the Midget streaking back to me.
I petted her head. “It’s OK, honey. Abby’s just scared.”
“Did you stay here all night with her, Daddy?”
“Yes. She wasn’t lonely.”
She went over to the edge of the cage and whispered something to the bunny before running upstairs.
“I don’t want her to be alone,” my wife explained to me.
I sighed. Dammit. I knew this was going to happen.
The Missus had been trolling the house rabbit society websites again and found a person looking to place a few lop-ear rabbits. She had decided that if one rabbit was good, two would be better.
My logic was that I’d pretty much ponied up about as far as I was going to go when it came to pets, so this was kind of a shitty thing to do to me.
Still, to keep the peace, we agreed to meet this woman and her rabbits. Instead of going to a home this time, we met at an animal shelter with a “friend pen.” This would allow the rabbits to meet on neutral ground and avoid territorial spats.
The first thing we noticed about these rabbits was that they were giant. They had to be at least twice the size of our mini-rex.
Second, they were dumb as shit.
We placed Abby in the pen with the first one, who just stared at her. It looked like an awkward blind date between two gawky teens.
The second one wasn’t much better. He tried to sit on her before waddling away and peeing in a corner of the pen. Abby grunted her disapproval and tried to hop away, only to have this behemoth shove her toward the piss like it was some sort of gift.
The woman grabbed her rabbit, and tossed some paper towels on top of the urine. She then added rabbit number three.
“Third time is the charm,” she said with a weak level of humorous optimism.
The third time was, indeed the charm.
Abby was sniffing at the paper towels when the third rabbit, the largest of the group came over and attempted to mount her. She flipped on him and ended up sitting on top of the paper towel.
The other rabbit then got more excited about the pee than the sex and began bullying her. Despite having no interest in the pee, Abby was in no way going to be pushed around by this dink.
She raised her hackles and began to thump loudly. The other rabbit reciprocated.
“Oh, no…” the woman began. “We have to watch out for…”
And they started to go at it. I’ve never seen rabbits fight before. Trust me. You don’t want to see it.
The woman managed to grab her animal away while Abby jumped about thumping as if to say, “Yeah, BITCH! You want some more of this you FUCKER?”
“Well, if they get to know each other a little more,” she began.
“Oh, yeah. Totally.” I added. “We’ll have to discuss it but we’ll get back to you.”
About six seconds later, we were in the car and on the way home. The rabbit continued grunting from the carrier. My wife was silent.
After that, Abby gave us the bunny butt for about a week or two. Eventually, all was forgiven, but the underlying truth remained.
She was the queen of everything and being single was just fine, thank you.
The Missus came downstairs next.
“How is she?”
“She’s still alive, but not good.”
“The vet opens at 7. I can call in to work and take her.”
“No. that’s OK,” I told her. “I don’t have to be into work today right away. I’ll do it.”
“You hate this stuff.”
“Yeah.” Pause. I looked down at the bunny and then back up at my wife. “Some things are Daddy things.”
“Seriously? Macho shit now?”
“Help me get her into the carrier and I’ll do what I have to.”
The Midget came downstairs and said her goodbyes. I couldn’t keep the tears back. What the hell was wrong with me?
“Goodbye, Abby. I’ll miss you.”
My wife and child then left. I was alone with the carrier.
“I’ll miss you too… fucking rodent…”
The vet was only about two blocks away. It was one of those ridiculously cold mornings, though, and every step across the parking lot felt like a mile.
I walked through the door, placed the carrier on the desk and began to try to explain that I needed the bunny put to sleep.
Every word caught in my throat. My nose began to run. My chest locked up with a giant knot near my heart.
“My… rabbit… had… a… stroke…” I managed to gasp out to the woman at the desk.
This person was everything a desk worker at an animal shelter shouldn’t be. That’s about the only way I could describe her. She wasn’t cold, but she was daft. She had a complete lack of tact and couldn’t quite wrap her head around some basic human decency. She had to be in her mid 50s, so she must have seen something like this somewhere in her life. At the very least, she didn't have youthful ignorance as an excuse.
“Oh,” she said in a cheery voice, like I just said I was bringing in doughnuts. “We don’t have a vet in for another hour!”
I reached for a tissue as I tried to figure out what was going to happen next.
“Now what is wrong with it?” she asked.
It was a fairly pedestrian question that for some reason galvanized my ire.
“SHE,” I began, emphasizing and differentiating between the use of pronouns, “had a stroke. She needs to be put down.”
The woman had this dazed and confused look on her face. I had to pause and look around. This was a vet’s office, right? I didn’t accidentally wander into a fucking ice cream shop, right?
“Well, hmm…” she said, tapping a fingernail on the desk. “I guess… Hmm…” Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Do you really have to be here when it gets the procedure?”
“Yes,” I hissed. “I need to be with her.” More tears, more snot and more anger, just building.
“Oh. Mmm. Do you live near by?”
“Yes, just a couple blocks away.”
“You know, you can just leave it.”
That was it. That was the end.
I’m not a pet person. I’m not an animal person. I’m not exactly the world’s most sentimental person. However, anyone with half a brain and an ounce of compassion would have been better than this woman. I get that we’re not all equipped to handle everything we do at a job, but this was ridiculous.
“Her name is Abby,” I started.
“Look, lady, she’s not FUCKING LUGGAGE! I’m not going to leave her here to die alone. She suffered a stroke, she’s in horrible agony and that’s nothing compared to the agony my kid is going through, which is killing me. If you think I’m just dropping her off, you’re out of your fucking mind. Figure this out.”
Stunned and yet still lacking comprehension, the woman walked to the back and talked to her boss. Abby stirred a bit. I could see her one eye through the holes in the carrier.
Please, it said. Don’t leave me.
The woman returned with the same stupid look on her face.
“If you bring… If you come back at 8 a.m., the doctor will get you in right away.”
I picked up my carrier and walked out into the parking lot. The wind whipped through me and blew through the carrier.
“I’m sorry it’s so cold, sweetie. I’m sorry.”
“She’s going to freeze. We have to do something.”
The ice storm that had decimated most of Northwest Indiana had knocked the power out to our house. I’d managed to get a kerosene heater and get it working. It was late at night on the second day and I was bone tired.
The Missus, however, was concerned about Abby. If we left her in her room, where temperatures were rapidly approaching 40 degrees, it was not going to be any great shakes for her. However, given the size of the cage she had (I had to build it in the room) we couldn’t just move her. We also had trouble in terms of figuring out what we’d do with her once we got her into the family room.
To solve the latter problem, I built a two-wall cage out of metal wire squares. We’d capture her in the corner of the room and set her up in there with us.
Solving the former problem wasn’t going to be easy.
Armed with nothing but flashlights, we closed all the doors to all the rooms along the way. We propped up the “rabbit gates” in other spots to help create a funnel of sorts that would force her to go where we wanted her to.
We then went into the room opened her cage and let her out.
Immediately, she noticed something was wrong and began to freak out.
We stomped our feet behind her and waved the light nearby. She freaked and ran in every direction before finally darting down the hall toward where we wanted her to go.
Success. Sort of.
Once she was in the room, she didn’t want to go into the corner. I backed her in with the two walls, but she kept getting around them. She hid under the chairs and behind the couch. Unlike dogs, rabbits are rarely enticed by food or gifts, so we couldn’t bribe her.
Finally, I threw a towel at her and managed to cover her. I wrangled her to the ground as The Missus set up the cage. We tossed her in there as she grunted and hopped around.
The thing I remember most about that whole experience was the sound of her hopping around on newspaper we put on the floor in her area. Every morning around 5 a.m., I was woken by the sound of crunching paper.
It’s odd what we remember.
After one of the longest hours I’ve had in recent memory, I went back to the vet with Abby in tow.
The idiot was still at the desk.
“The doctor can examine it before he does the procedure,” she said as she pulled up a billing screen. It felt like she was trying to sell me undercoating on my new car.
“Her. He can examine her.”
“Look, I’m not a vet, but she’s not going to make it. We just need to do this. Please.”
“What would you like us to do with it?” she asked, apparently suffering from the condition that Guy Pearce had in Momento.
My eyes ached from the tears. My head was pounding. Everything hurt. I didn’t have the strength to tell this woman that she should go to Hell and take a left.
“Well we have several options for disposal. If you take it with you, that’s free. Or we can cremate it with other animals. You won’t get the ashes back. However, if you want a private service, we can return the ashes to you. That’s a bit more pricy…”
I had always imagined that the end would come with me and a shovel in our expansive backyard. A small marker and that would be it. However, the cold snap after a short warm up and melt had turned the ground to concrete. Add that to the fact we were trying to sell the house and there were too many barriers to a proper burial.
Also, there was no way I was digging up the rabbit and bringing it with us if we sold, despite what I’m sure would be anguished sobs from my child.
“The group ceremony will be fine.”
“Now, we require payment up front. The cost will be..”
I flipped my credit card at her. “Lady, just charge me whatever. Just please stop talking.”
She looked offended and yet somehow not smart enough to fully realize why she was offended.
Finally, the assistant showed up and took us back to the room.
“She had a stroke,” I managed to say.
“Oh, no. I’m so sorry," she said as she looked at the carrier. "It’s OK, little one…”
Over the past couple years, we could tell Abby was getting older. Her fur began to gray a bit more. She didn’t want to come out of her cage as much. Her hopping was labored, even as she got in and out of the cage.
I could tell the rabbit wasn’t long for this world.
The Midget took notice, but in a much more positive way.
“I can pet Abby more now! She doesn’t run away as fast.”
Aside from that positive, most of what we were seeing was negative. She had trouble getting into the litter box. She didn’t seem to be able to see us as well.
After one of our myriad hermit crab funerals, The Midget asked, “Will Abby die some day?”
“Yes, sweetie. We all die some day.”
“Oh no…” She wept.
This was an odd change from a few years earlier when she wanted a puppy. We explained that we couldn’t get a puppy because for the most part puppies and bunnies don’t get along and Abby was here first.
The Midget had a different tactic.
“Oh. So can we go to the pet shop and trade her in on a dog?”
The woman led me into a small room where she pulled Abby out of the carrier. I explained the situation for about the fifth time today, but this time it somehow felt better because I could tell she gave a shit.
She explained to me how this would work, how the shot would be in the abdomen and how it would be over soon. She said the doctor will be in shortly, but she didn’t leave me alone.
“How old is she?” the woman asked.
“Twelve, we think. She was a rescue.”
“Wow…” the woman said quietly. “That’s really a long life for a bunny.”
The doctor arrived and explained what he was going to do. It was all happening in slow motion, but it was still happening really fast. It’s an incongruent explanation that is both accurately descriptive and yet temporally impossible.
I watched as he slowly pressed a needle into her white belly and pushed a full syringe of something blue into her. She didn't even twitch.
He checked her over and over again with a stethoscope. A minute later, she was gone.
“There, there, honey,” he said as he petted her. “No more suffering.”
He placed his hand over her head and tried to close her eyes. The eye wouldn’t close. He tried again with the same result.
Stubborn, little cuss…
“You can have as much time as you need,” the woman told me as she and the doctor retreated from the room.
I stood there for a minute, sobbing and then trying to figure out why I was. After all this time, I guess maybe this was why I hated pets.
I did in death what I couldn’t do in life. I petted her. Her fur was soft, but her skin was loose and old. Her bones were easy to feel under the coat.
Goodbye, Abby. I put the towel over her and left everything behind.
The doctor saw me coming down the hall, and said, “We’re sorry for your loss.”
The assistant said the same thing as she directed me to a back door. At least I didn’t have to see the idiot at the desk again.
I got in the car, plugged in my iPod and hit play. After some brief fiddling, I found the song.
Ave Maria. It played the whole ride into town.
My phone buzzed. It was my wife.
“How r u?” the text read.
“Fine. Done.” I sent back.
“You OK?” the next note read.
About five hours later, I went to pick the Midget up from school. She looked better than she did in the morning. I’m sure I looked worse.
We got in the car and it wasn’t long until I heard, “Daddy?”
“Did you take Abby to the doctor?”
“Is she all better?” she asked with a child-like optimism in her voice.
“No, honey. The doctor couldn’t fix her.”
“Did he have to give her a bye-bye shot?”
I gripped the wheel harder to prevent myself from driving off the road. The tears were back.
“Yes, honey, but she’s better now. She doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“Is she going to see Jesus and Lucky?”
“I’m sure she is.”
“Yes. She was a good bunny, honey. I’m sure she’s just fine.”
“I’m going to get to see Jesus some day.”
“Yes, peanut, you are.”
“But you’ll see him first because you’re old.”
I laughed. It was probably the first time all day.