A few weeks ago I had to write a Facebook eulogy for one of my rabbits, Leander, a ten-year-old who succumbed to complications of arthritis and gastrointestinal stasis. I’m not trying to jump the gun, but I know I’m going to have to write something, at some point, for Celeste, a fourteen-year-old half-lop who, as near as the vet can tell, has a brain tumor.* But I want to write about her now, not then.
Celeste is one of the smartest rabbits I’ve known, as much as you can measure it—which I think is by behavior. She’s always had a remarkable sense of cause and effect, willfully foregoing bribes if she knew it meant a few more minutes of freedom. Her ability to perceive spacial relationships has always been superb. She would remember doors that opened for only a second and where they lead. She coupled this intelligence with courage, boldly venturing into new areas, going nose-to-nose with my sister’s Manchester Terrier. If she wanted to get on the dining table to steal a turnip (which she once did), she would jump to the chair first. She always looked to see where she could go next.
She doesn’t do that anymore.
A few months back, Celeste started having seizures. Even though they’re mostly under control with medication, they still happen on occasion. One happened just the other night. She seemed confused as to how to get out the litter box. As I lifted her out, her legs started scissor kicking while her front paws tensed. When I tried to put her down on four feet, she curled into a crescent shape, meaning she could only be on her side. Her breathing was heavy. And then the horrible screaming—an unusual thing for largely silent and stoic beings. There’s a trick my wife figured out, giving her a bit of petramalt which used to snap her out of it, but less these days. This seizure lasted thirty seconds but felt like minutes. Since her first round of seizures, she’s been dragging her back legs. Some days are better than others but she still does her daily run into the living room.
Here’s what gets me: Her brain is so remarkable—always has been. How ironic that that’s the thing that’s taking her down. There’s no way to tell how much time she has left.
I have to bathe her hind legs and tail once a week, and spot clean them nearly daily. It’s ok, I don’t have a job. I often have to feed her her cecotropes by hand—cecostropes are the stinky, vitamin-rich droppings rabbits produce and eat. She’s too inflexible and forgetful to always get them herself. I help her with leg extensions too.
And yet, I’m getting to know this doe-eyed beauty in new ways. She’s always loved to cuddle and be handled, despite her independent nature. Now it’s even more important to her. Mornings and evenings are epic snuggle sessions. She eats with pleasure, sleeps long and comfortably, and clicks her teeth frequently (the rabbit “purr”). I’ll sit on the sofa to read a book and she’ll hop towards me, kind of sideways. I help her the rest of the way. She looks confused when she tries to hop and can’t do it right, but her eyes are peaceful and happy when she lays down in my lap.
So, my rabbit has a brain tumor. I sometimes look at her head and think of the size of her brain, and how small the tumor must be. A part of me wonders how something so small can affect so much—but it’s that willfully naive part. I know. It’s all about scale.
We know this when we get pets. We will outlive them. They may get ill, but either way we will watch them deteriorate. We will want every last minute with them, while knowing at some point we may have to decide it’s time. A dear friend told me she seems happy but that she’s just winding down. It’s true. When things get too tough for her, well, that’s then. But this is now.
But the willfully naive part of me also thinks that maybe if I write this now, in lieu of a eulogy, she will just always be.
*A CT scan would diagnose it, only CT scans for rabbits of any age can be dangerous. And truth be told, it wouldn’t change the treatment much at all.