Goodbye to an old friend

A closeup while I was shooting my holiday postcards

Like most rescue buns, his early history is long lost to memories of another household, who most likely bought him as a cute little baby bunny without realizing he would quickly become a big white rabbit with a strong personality. They then dumped him at a local shelter, who couldn’t get him adopted and when a spot opened up at the House Rabbit Society, he was brought in at the eleventh hour before being euthanized. He got his name there, the vet named him Badger due to his long sharp face and his propensity to nip people without warning. I originally adopted him to be a third wheel with another pair of rabbits. It looked promising at first; they all seemed to put up with each other in their initial meeting. But in actuality the pair was in shock from being driven to the shelter and being introduced to a new rabbit, and once they realized this was supposed to be a permanent arrangement, they made it very clear it was not acceptable. Even though Badger was almost as big as the other two combined, they fought him tooth and nail for a month before we finally gave up. Badger still has a little scar on his nose, nothing obvious, but if you looked closely, you would have seen a slight part in his fur.

So he was consigned to live for his first four years as a single bunny. Even after I broke up with my own partner and the pair moved back to California, Badger still had the occasional rabbit visitor in his house from friends in grad school. He never seemed that interested in their company, and though he was always the biggest bunny, he still managed lose the couple fights he managed to get into. I don’t think he ever had that deep fire, that true anger that made him proficient at actually fighting. He appreciated attention, but he never craved it. He enjoyed company, but to a point. He had a quick temper, you could pet him for a while, but once he had enough he would nip your hand without warning and hop away. As long as he had his water, pellets, greens, and hay, I think he was reasonably happy. Really, he loved his food. I remember the time he broke into a bag of tortilla chips and it took a year before he stopped pestering me whenever sat down to each something crunchy. And there was the time he knocked over a trashcan and tried out some rotisserie chicken! A nice middle class existence for a big white bunny.

Life intervened as I was wrapping up my master’s thesis. My girlfriend’s coworker found a lovely little harlequin bunny at Herman Park on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, this coworker was also the owner of a few snakes, so having a precocious rabbit riling up the big reptiles was not a good sustainable situation. With this prompt, I realized it was time to push Badger into having a friend and so Peppercorn ended up in our apartment. It took a few months before we could start bonding the pair – she had to grow up, get spayed, and drain out her hormones – and even with the long wait it wasn’t love at first sight, I think Badger was a bit too comfortable being by himself. But some after some persistent effort by Jing, he warmed up to this annoying little one who would eat all his food and hog the attention of the humans around them. And hump him. And demand grooming while rarely reciprocating. Their love only knew two boundaries. Whenever Badger thought she was getting too much human attention he would hop over and nip her in the butt so he could have his time in the spotlight until he got bored, nipped the human, and hopped away. And given a chance she would eat all his food; Badger was the heartiest eater I knew until we met this ferocious devourer; though with any unfamiliar fruits and greens, Peppercorn would let Badger try it out a couple times before she’d jump in herself.

Well, Peppercorn lost her food taster on Saturday. Over this last month he quickly declined due to arthritis, e. cunniculi, cancer, and infections. It was just a matter of time. He had lost almost half his weight and the use of his hind legs. After he began to have trouble sitting up with his front legs, I made plans to to take him in this week, but his body decided a little earlier. A couple days before he passed, I gave them some cilantro but when she threatened to inhale the whole bunch at high speed, I put her back in the cage so he could eat in peace. For the first time ever, Badger stopped eating until I let her back out to join him. I always fed them separately and he never waited for her before. I think he knew he did not have many meals left, and he wanted to share it with his lady – even if she would eat most of it. On Saturday morning he ate with gusto, but by the afternoon his appetite disappeared, and in the evening he was no longer with us. I have never been through something as heart wrenching as watching my Badger travel the passage out from the living. He no longer had the energy to sit up, and his body was convulsing as he went through his death throes. In our years together, he never spoke a word until he moaned in pain that night. Then he quieted down, his mouth opened, and life departed from his body. We were fortunate to all be sitting around him, me, Jing, and Peppercorn, but that final journey was one Badger had to take alone.

He now rests in my friends’ backyard. Even though they had a young newborn at home, my friends graciously stayed up late so Peppercorn could have her vigil with Badger. So late on Saturday night, we took him out of their cage, wrapped him up, went to our friend’s house, dug a small grave, and buried his body. But really the hardest part for us was coming home. For the first time in five years, Peppercorn was sitting by herself, and it tore our hearts out. Jing used to always ask me who I thought was was the cutest bunny ever. And I’d reply, Badger by way of seniority. Well Peppercorn’s got seniority now. And she doesn’t have a competitor for food either. Its just her world now, she no longer has to worry about the unfairness of life as Badger was fed unlimited pellets while she got only an eighth of a cup.

I never viewed myself as a sappy guy and so I always thought I had a distant relationship with the buns: I would feed them and in return they would provide entertainment by just being rabbits, doing their thing (destroying stuff) around the house. But when I came home to a quiet house, when I realized I couldn’t say “stay out of trouble kiddos” in the plural, I realized I had invested in him way more than I had previously imagined. As with most relationships, enduring strength is built on the small accretion of daily life, and every day I had given him a little bit of myself. Every time we let them out the cage and he’d just plop himself under the coffee table. Every time I chased Peppercorn away so he could eat in peace. Every time we sat together for a short moment. Every time I fed him, and he acted like he had never seen food before. Every time, every little act, every day I deposited a little bit of my heart into him. So when he finally passed away, it felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I had no idea how much he meant to me – I thought I just liked the guy cause he was soft and silly and entertaining. But no, I cared for him because he had soaked up so much of me in him. As pet owners, I think we like to map our own traits on those who we’ve chosen to spend our lives with. But of the four bunnies I’ve had the privilege of living with, I think I felt the most kinship with Badger. He was a big lug, a bit silly, loved food and sitting around, would display occasional bouts of joy, got lucky with a nice lady, and had a bad temper that would manifest itself unpredictably. He was my big boy and every day we shared more than just food and water.

I would have loved to keep him a little longer, and maybe there would have been some drugs that would have kept him going. But really I can’t complain, his health was stellar his whole life until the ravages of time suddenly made itself known this past month. And honestly, if he was quietly suffering, I’m happy he didn’t have to wait another week before traveling to the great beyond. As I washed down his litter box one last time (truly, god is with us in the most mundane of tasks!), I realized the interconnectedness of this world; whatever life force that left him Saturday night is now free to do what it needs to do for someone else. Even though the body is in the ground, I could sense Badger all around me, as surely as he will always be a big white bunny hopping through my memories.

Like most rescue buns, its a bit hard to pin down his true age, I’d guess its been ten years and I was very blessed to have been there for nine of them.