I’ve been writing this post in my head for some time now, but hadn’t gotten to the point of really understanding exactly what to say. As often happens when writing something though, you begin to see how your life aligns with the “bigger picture” going on around you and suddenly the purpose makes sense.
As those who know me know, I am very involved with For Bunny Sake, a rabbit rescue based in the S. Jersey area. I sought them out about 3 years ago when we began to fully understand the ins and outs of having a rabbit as a pet (I’m embarrassed to say that it took me that long to “get” it) and to realize that they are not just little animals who like to idly sit in a change until it’s time for food. Rabbits are just as fulfilling pets as cats or dogs.
This was something that surprises most people. Hell, it really surprised me. It wasn’t until Benny emancipated herself from her cage that we said “you know what? Clearly she is not really happy with this living situation…” and from there on out, Benny roamed free (only being caged in when we weren’t home to save the wires/carpet). It turned out that Benny loved us–she loved sitting with us when we watched TV, loved nudging us for pets. She would lay on the tiled floor in the bathroom when I showered and follow me back into the bedroom. She would race to the fridge in anticipation of her food. She would attempt to drink from our water glasses and knock them over if we weren’t paying careful enough attention. Benny was litter box trained. Her butt twitched when she ate her favorite snack, bananas.
And, it turned out, we really loved her. Gone were the feelings that we were missing out on having a “real” pet–since that brilliant escape, Donnie and I have never once talked again about maybe getting a cat. We learned that we had the perfect mix of puppy and kitty in our bunny.
I think I had an even more intense bond with her for reasons beyond just being the one who had her the longest (I got her with a roommate in college) because God knows I was not the perfect owner to her for the first few years of her life. But still, she and I bonded. Back during our dorm days, I would pet her incessantly to stop her from stomping (which I later learn was an indication of boredom). Her cage was close to my bed, so I could easily reach my hand in and stroke her face until she calmed down or I fell asleep (usually the latter). When I got busted for having her on campus my junior year, she ended up at my parents and under the loving care of my mother, who we have often joked is a St. Francis with all animals. She stayed there with my mom looking over her until late 2005 when I finally moved back to Texas.
From then until last October, Benny was with us and I did everything I could to make up for my ignorance and neglect as her owner. She got frozen water bottles in the summer, was able to lay out on our screened porch whenever the weather allowed, and was given countless treats and toys all year round. I finally got in touch with the rescue when I realized that the obsessive love we were showing for our one pet could probably help other animals in need. I chose a rabbit rescue because my stomach literally turned at the thought of how many clueless owners who were just like me were out there, still keeping their rabbits in too small wire floored cages, feeding them pellets and carrots thinking they were doing the “right” thing.
Then last October happened. I’m not going to get in all the details because you can read about it here, but the short version is that by trying to treat Benny to a trip to a local park by our apartment, I ended up putting her in a position where she got injured, had to have surgery to amputate her back leg, and inevitably did not make it home from that surgery. I can’t even type about it now without the tears coming back.
After Benny died, I was a mess. I ended up having to leave work early (my boss, who knew about Benny’s love for bananas, had left one on my desk that Monday after she passed and I broke down sobbing) and then I called out the next day. I cried every time I saw her empty cage and then I cried when Donnie put it away because I knew she wasn’t coming back. We made a little makeshift memorial for her in the spot in the living room where her cage was, using the ottoman, a brown bunny I had gotten from Ikea, and one of our favorite photos of her. That made me cry, too. The apartment felt overwhelmingly empty. Things that used to bring such silly happiness (opening the fridge to watch her charge over to us, tilting over our water when we were done with it so she could drink the rest) just brought a whole heart’s worth of sadness.
Losing a pet for anyone who is a pet lover is not easy. Most, if not all of the things I described above, are very well understood to people who’ve had this misfortune of living through it, too. There is this giant pain that you experience that is not just similar to the death of a loved one–it is the death of a loved one, but you have to pretend like it is not that big of a deal to most people because most people think you are insane for going through such intense feelings over “just some animal.”
Because, really, some people just don’t get “it.” I have learned more and more that there is definitely a difference between “animal people” and people who… well, aren’t. And there’s nothing wrong with not being an animal person–except for the way they manage to make animal people feel. Especially when they are experiencing some hardcore mourning.
In all honesty, I don’t expect these friends or family members or colleagues or whoever to understand how I feel. I know I don’t always understand how I feel. And if you just don’t feel the same way about something to begin with–well, how can you expect them to relate?
It was hard to explain why Benny’s death was so devastating for reasons beyond her being “just a rabbit.” Benny’s death seemed like the final nail in the coffin for the life that I once had. In a lot of ways, Benny was one of the only real connections I had to my college days, to my college life, to the person I was before. I had gone through some real rocky roads then and she was truly one of the only ones left standing at the end of it all who saw me through (and to those of you out there reading this who were with me then too, know how much I love you, too). Beyond that, she was one of the last connections I shared with my mother before she got sick. Benny knew my mother probably before the Alzheimer’s really took hold and I like to think brought her a lot of love and comfort during a time that was pretty dark for her, too. So, crazy as it sounds, Benny’s death just seemed to signify the death of who my mother was… it was like the person who had stood by me who could understand exactly what I was going through–who knew my mother before and after all of this goddamn mess–just suddenly was gone and I had to not only carry on my mother’s legacy, but Benny’s legacy, too.
(Oh God, the tears. The mascara…)
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t often feel stupid for how emotionally connected I was to that rabbit, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. And I’m sure there are plenty of people who think that it’s ludicrous and ridiculous and just too much to still be in mourning, a year and a half later, spending 1500 words to talk about the love and longing that still resonates for a long-lost pet.
But, at the same time, I also know that there are so many out there who know exactly what I’m feeling and who are going through the same thing right now. A coworker sat down in our cube yesterday, her heart breaking over the ailing health of her 12-year old cat. And while on Facebook, I watched a beautifully sweet video another friend posted about her beloved dog, who she just recently lost. And before logging into Facebook, I had read an article in a back issue of Philadelphia Magazine about a woman who struggled with the decision to put down her dog and then read the numerous follow up comments in the most recent issue of the magazine about how much they related (and cried) with her story.
I am not sure where the saying or thought originated (perhaps with some Google searching I could find out…), but there is talk of the “rainbow bridge” for animals–essentially it is the place where our beloved friends cross over when they leave us and find their eternal happiness. It is silly and sweet and a little more than childlike to think and believe in such a thing but the idea of a place where so many well-loved animals all live together, digging and playing and eating bananas ’til their butts twitch can’t help but ignite some long-lost feelings of hope, even in me, the most hardened sarcastic bitch around…
Here’s hoping we all see our beloved four-legged friends on the other side of that bridge someday.