One September Two Thousand Nine
Today, at about 2 pm local time on the Pacific Coast of the USA, a wonderful bunny reached the end of an extraordinary life.
Jack was named for “Jack Sparrow” the Pirate. He was a black and white bunny with a “Dutch” pattern (black panda patches on the eyes, white nose and collar, mostly black body). He had one white front foot where the white throat collar descended down his right leg, and one black. The right back foot had white toes. He was a very small bunny. About 2 lbs, I’d guess. (Or about a kilo).
He had one tooth that was a bit of a ‘snaggletooth’, a very athletic nature, and a personality that didn’t seem to mind a bit of adventure. And even as the smallest bunny in his litter, he didn’t let other bunnies push him around. Jack also loved indulgences. He would happily sit in your lap for a neck and shoulders massage, loved to have his ears gently stroked and rubbed. And he was smart. A very social and very smart bunny who knew how the world worked and liked people (though he would ‘size you up’ first and decide if you were a good person, or not.). Somehow he just seemed like a pirate soul, but a good pirate…
His father was ‘Cupcake’ (named before my son learned how to properly determine the gender of a rabbit); a Mini Rex. His mother was “Panda”, a Dutch. The litter was fairly large and included several boys and several girls, some of whom have also had obits here. Jack was the “runt of the litter”. That was about 6 or 7 years ago ( I may work out exactly when some time from now…)
A Special Bunny
That gives you your first clue about what made Jack special. His longevity. A bunny in the wild lives about 1 year. A fast, frantic, grow-up make-baby-bunnies run-fast-and-die life. In captivity, that can be extended to about 4 years, typically. Jack has lived longer than all his siblings, the next generation, and most of the third after his birth (some of whom are his kids).
His second special skill (which is WHY the third generation is “some of his”) and was why he was almost re-christened Jackie Chan or Bunny Chan… He could leap well in his “early years”. On one occasion, at about 2 years old, he figured out how to run, leap up at the wall, and bounce OFF the wall with upward momentum OVER the 3+ foot of so fence separating the “boys side” from the “girls side” of the “back 40” (square yards ;-) The fence was then made a 5 footer…
Thus we got a “surprise” batch of about a dozen very athletic bunnies…
He also would “talk”. Jack was one of the more vocal bunnies I’ve ever known (most will not talk, at least not around people; though even my “non-talkers” will vocalize when they don’t know a person is near). Most bunnies will “scream” if terribly hurt of terrified, occasionally “chitter” if happy by clicking their teeth together (like when having a good tickle / rub / petting fest) and that’s about it. Jack would “chitter”, but he would also make a sort of a “eep urrp nurf nurf ruupt” kind of sound when in your lap (and sometimes at other times).
I started to mimic these sounds at times, and we developed a bit of a conversation style. (Though my “Bunnish” is not very good. Sometimes he would look at me with a “You don’t really mean that do you?” look. On one occasion, as I entered the bunny yard, I said what I thought was “hello, I’m here and I’m OK, anyone else here?” which is sort of “urp urp rupt grnt eep?” but it came out more like “EEEP!’ than “eep?” and all the bunnies looked at the sky for a millisecond and RAN for cover under the brush pile. I think I in fact said “I”m here, I’m OK and Oh My God RAPTOR! RUN!!!” I need to work on my Bunnish… it is a much more subtile language than I’d expected. (There are sort of chortle sounds you can get with a proper rub of the ears and shoulder massage… at least from “talkative” bunnies, like Jack. “Yes, Yes, OH YES, a little lower, ohhh that’s right”… )
I’ll miss Jack. Not all bunnies talk that much, or that well. It was he who taught me that bunnies talk, and taught me to speak…
The Early Years
His litter was born in a hutch. (Before I went “free range”). This had the advantage that we were able to hold, and socialize, the baby bunnies. They each had unique personalities. Jack was the “runt” and was, I think, “picked on” by some other, larger, litter mate early in life. When he was about 1 inch wide and 3 inches long, he had a bloody upper lip. His white lip developed a large scab and a strange black color. Off to the Vet. Some cream to treat infections and all was well… almost.
He developed a “half moustache ” of black over his white muzzle / nose stripe on the left side. The vet explained that bunnies can sometimes change skin / fur colour after injury. Also, his upper left incisors developed with a bit of non-alignment with his lower teeth. This matters a great deal.
Bunnies are distinguished from rodents by having 6, instead of 4, incisors. The two front top ones have a matching set just BEHIND them. Each lower tooth fits between the TWO up top making a very efficient shears that also keeps the teeth trimmed. When they do not align, well, the teeth grow their whole life and if they do not get worn down, they can grow into spectacular things that obstruct eating and can pierce other lips and mouth parts. Not good. Not much of a risk if you only live one year, but if you are going for Lazarus like age, an issue. (In Human Years, Jack lived to the equivalent of about 200. Truly spectacular).
The bottom line is that about every month or two, I’d pick Jack up and put him on his back (A VERY uncomfortable position for a bunny, being basically the “predator is going to eat me” position) then take a set of diagonal cutters, open his mouth, and “trim” his teeth to the right length. He did not like the process much, but seemed to realize things were better after it. Eventually he got to where, when the lower tooth was too long and making it hard to eat, he would come over and look at me with a “now?” look. He also got combed out and a neck and shoulder massage, which he enjoyed greatly. Eventually he lost the upper left incisors completely and I only had to trim the lower tooth. Bunny Dentist. Never really expected to put that on my resume…
In his middle years, he had his own hutch on “the boys” side. He and his two remaining brothers (Toffee and Aragorn) each got one or two days of “free run” of the yard, then spent the rest of the time in the hutch while the OTHER brothers had a run. (Boy bunnies fight if mixed together. Why? They are males. Males fight. They enjoy it, but the vet bills are a bit much…) A while ago his last sibling, Toffee, died. The Obit is here under human interest. At that point, Jack got free run of the boys side all the time. I did not expect it, but learned that he LIKED his home and would return to his “box” in his hutch when wanting a safe place to rest.
Toffee never wanted his run to end. I had to train him that when his run was over, resistance was a Bad Idea (they don’t like being herded / squirted with the hose…). Jack understood. I’d say “Jack, your run is over. Get in your Hutch. Get in your Hutch.” And he would just scamper up his ramp into his hutch and hit the food dish. He seemed to know it was an issue of “fairness” and his “turn” was over.
The last year
I took The Fence down.
I was down to a couple of girls and one boy bunny, and that boy bunny was a Very Old boy bunny. So The Wall Came Down.
I did not expect what happened next.
First off, the girls did NOT suddenly run to the boys side (despite constantly hanging out at the fence showing off and looking at the boys – unavailable as they were… and despite the boys side being full of edible grass – the girls having long ago grazed their side to near barren.). No, Jack moved into the girls side. (And the girls ran to hide! They seemed to like the idea of being with the boys more than the reality of boys being on their side all the time…)
The result was a litter of 3 that are now reminding me of how cute Jack was when he was small. 2 black-and-white, named Tux1 and Tux2 for now, and one tan-and-white named “nugget” that looks like moma (Mimi – named when, as a youth of about 1 cup in size, she SCREEAMED in what sounded remarkably like a human scream of about 120 db, when turned on her back to be “sexed”. Yes, “Screaming Mimi” 8-) then she stopped and just looked at me with a “What? You’re not going to eat me? look… To this day she does not trust me.) I *think* Mimi may have a second litter in the works, but don’t know. We’ll see.
And the formation of a stable family unit followed.
Jack would stand guard duty at night. He would challenge “critters” that were headed toward the “home” and distract predators. (We have hawks that visit the fence, cats on the fence, ‘Possums that can be carnivores, etc.) He would stand at alert at the food dish (sometimes eating with the kids) when the kids were hitting the food bowl. And he and Mimi would mutually groom. Sometimes he would groom the kids, too. It was very touching, and just a bit spooky. When Mimi was in the “delivery” window, we even had a “sitting together in the garden” session where I’d swear his demeanor was that of “expectant Dad”. Worried. Hopeful. A bit rattled. Wanting help, but not willing to ask; wanting TO help, but not knowing how. He would get up, hop a couple of feet away. Stop. Look unsure. Hop back. Sit down and look at me. Change positions a couple of times. Then do it all over again.
So many behaviours that we think are “human” that were clearly being displayed by a bunny family. It was a full family behaviour set.
It was Jack, and his very human “attitudes” and social skills that has caused me to revisit the question of the merits of being vegetarian. I know I’ll never eat Rabbit again (chicken, well, they are dumb and mean…)
The Last 2 days
On Saturday, the neighbor came by with his kid. Jack had been hanging out in the “play yard” the last couple of evenings, munching special greens and fallen Japanese Pear Apples; one of the bunnies favorite treats. His kid is about 3? Jack came out from his “scrape” (a cleared dirt area) in the front “play yard” and grazed on some dandelions (bunnies LOVE dandelions). The kid went over to see the bunny. Jack just looked at him. Bunnies seem to understand that this is a ‘baby person’. He let the kid stand next to him and went back to grazing. Eventually, Jack headed off to the back yard (via the side yard). But Sunday something wasn’t “right”. Jack had a favorite spot under a large tomato vine in the garden. He wasn’t there. His favorite spot ( the scrape under a Honda 500CC motorcycle) in the “play yard” was empty too. I was a bit worried..
Today, I did a fairly full search of the back yard (“boys” side, “girls” side, garden) and found Mimi sitting in Jack’s spot under the tomato vine. Very odd. She had been there late Sunday too… This was about noon. At 2 pm I asked my daughters friend (who had been sitting in the “play yard” using wifi) if he’d seen a bunny. I was told “Yes, he was digging over there just a while ago”.
That was when I found Jack. Dead about 20 minutes. He had made a ‘nest’ in the leaves and litter from the trees and bushes (kind of a bed like ring of smoothed litter with raised edges) next to the motorcycle front wheel, laid down in his slightly curled up on his side taking a nap position, and simply passed away in his sleep.
Some bunnies have what looks like “congestive heart failure” with a panting cough, a bit of pain, a spasm, and a run for cover hide response, then stretch out long and die. This was not that way. It was a peaceful choice of a nice summer afternoon place, making a little nest, curling up, and letting go of life. The behaviour of not visiting his usual places yesterday tells me he knew something was wrong and the end was near. It looks like he chose his time and place to pass peacefully.
Jack is survived by a somewhat unknown number of grand kids from the “Jackie Chan” litter (and an even more unknown number of great grand kids by now) and an unknown number from a couple of other litters. He is also survived more recently by Mimi and her 3 including the 2 mini-me Tuxes. And perhaps by one more litter, to be determined. He will be missed, but had an extraordinary life for a bunny and had an extraordinary impact on at least one family of humans.
Please take a brief moment to consider your relationship to the other sentient beings who share this planet with us and, if you can, raise a small toast to a very large small bunny…