Last November, at the ripe old age of 9, our female rabbit died. Actually she may have been hare rather than a rabbit, or possibly a bit of both. Either way she left a hole much bigger than her tiny bulk. As Rabbit Awareness Week is upon us I hoped it might help some of you understand a little better if I tell you how we went about filling it.
I do understand people who don't really mourn their pets. In a way I envy you, I wouldn't mind the pleasure of having an animal in your life without the inevitable sadness of the loss. But in some respects I think I have the better end of the deal. I can't imagine that you can have fully appreciate your pet if you aren't hit hard by the loss.
Luna had been badly treated by some boys when we got her, so she had carbon fibre in one of her back legs and hid under a chair whenever I came into the room. In time and with work, she learned to trust me and would sit on my lap watching Dr Who (until David Tennant left). But she was always my wife's first and foremost. Luna was, somehow, aware of the pain my wife's disability caused and would follow her around the flat fussing over her, or sit at her feet and hiss threateningly at anyone who got too close. As well as a favourite Time Lord and favourite human she had preferences for colour and music and food.
What I am trying to convey is that she was a person, a distinct and discernible character with her own individual traits. But that isn't so odd because actually all animals are, or at least all animals who's domesticity means they can focus on something besides survival. If, like me, you are married to someone blessed with an unusual ability to understand when animals are trying to communicate you will find their personas emerge rapidly. If not you will have to learn for yourself. Watch for a while and you will notice them pick out their favourite items from the food you give them, and express pleasure when they find and consume it. You will notice they respond differently to different people or sights or sounds. And this isn't just a rabbit thing or a cat thing or a mouse thing because each animal's response is specific to them. Once you have the empathy to recognise their uniqueness and the desire to care for them, I'm afraid you will never find losing them easy.
If we struggled after Luna died, it was nothing to compared to how our male rabbit, Eclipse, suffered. He was just a few months younger than she was and they had been together since before either was a year old. When Luna died Eclipse nearly followed. He wouldn't eat, needed constant attention and simply sat, listlessly. When a rabbit stops eating it quickly becomes a big problem, so we had to do something because Eclipse was grieving.
My wife took Eclipse to the local rescue centre so that he could see if he liked any of the rabbits they had for adoption. He formed an instant bond with an 18 month old female who we renamed Ivy, so she came to join the household.
Introducing a new rabbit hasn't always been an easy process. Ivy is unused to being handled or played with or given a wide ranging diet. We haven't been able to introduce her to Eclipse completely because she is nervous and can still be aggressive as a result. My wife and I have numerous wide ranging wounds as badges of our efforts. But she is settling, her palette is broadening and she is learning to trust. And she saved Eclipse's life. Life is not the same for him and never will be, but he will be ok.
All this is a long winded way of saying that rabbits are elaborate, complicated, extraordinary animals. If you're going to keep them, you need to recognise that.