Meaty Boy was a beefy, male rabbit. His real name was Bartlesby Bunny or something along those lines. We mostly called him Bart which caused sitcom-like confusion because our dog is named Burt. The Meaty Boy nickname was derived from the muscular nature of this rabbit. When I picked him up he offered powerful back leg kicks, unnecessary when I was placing him back in his pen and he was feet from the floor. He always needed to show off his power and leaping ability.
We watched him die, Tuesday, February 22, with the help of a veterinarian who made a house call. Bart was in rough shape. He had congested breathing, had stopped eating and pooping–bad for bunnies and it felt like he would stubbornly try to live too long in his near death misery. The first shot sedated him. His nose continued to wiggle. I realized it had never occurred to me that a rabbit’s nose is in constant motion. The second shot took him to what we euphemistically called the Rainbow Bridge. In that moment I felt calm. He lay on his side. There was no more congestion or sickness. There was no turning back, no more thoughts of whether this was the right thing to do. Losing a pet is tough. Other pets made it easier but it never really is.
I was skeptical when, my wife, Ronna said she was going to get a rabbit. I was sure someone else would get there before us. Responses to internet queries are usually high volume, but he became ours. Bart was hanging out in a hay-filled manger. His owner’s landlord wanted him gone. An abandoned house next door and Bart’s outdoor living space were causing a rat problem. He was two years old when we adopted him in 2017. Bart’s first “wife” had passed away so it made sense to get him a mate. They lived all over our North Portland home, the bathroom, the mud room and the basement. Bart loved escaping in the basement and had a great time chewing cords of some of the items stored there. I forgave him and it stills seems funny when I recall leaning over to put hay in his pen while watching him take a bite out of a headphone cord dangling from my neck.
The rest is the life of rabbits. We all like to say our pets lived a good life. Some days I felt like Hannibal Lecter with rabbits in a pen in the garage at our new place, but I often thought about how we had taken the rabbits out of a tough situation and given them the best life we could. There were free runs in the backyard and a trip to Colorado with Max the dog. When we had to evacuate because of a wild fire the rabbits had a blast chasing each other around various hotel rooms. They traveled reasonably well. Not many rabbits go on vacation.
The rabbits were part of an experiment to prove if there were any truth to an old riddle. What’s a rabbit’s favorite kind of music the riddle asks. The answer: hare metal. I told this joke to a student and I realized he had no idea what hair metal was. I borrowed a Ratt album from the library’s online music lending system, hooked up some speakers and let the music play. There was little reaction. Perhaps they really preferred long hare music, a little Chopin perhaps. It wasn’t until I overheard the later tracks that I realized what was bad about hair metal, the lyrics devolved into misogynistic women hating rants. The bunnies didn’t seem to care.
While working at my school, I noticed greens–abundant dandelion leaves grew in the courtyard area. I gathered leaves most days to take home. Bart knew his schedule. He would periscope, which is rabbit speak for standing on his hind legs, and then hold onto the bars of his pen with his paws in anticipation. I couldn’t let him down. I had to get his greens. I told kids at the school, “some people see weeds but I see rabbit food.” I brought home bag after bag. Bart’s insistence eventually earned him the nickname “Boss Bart.” He was always happy to munch away at his late night snack until one morning, last month, I realized he hadn’t eaten much the night before. Things weren’t quite right for poor old Bart.
Bart’s mate Jessica passed away in January of 2021. When it was just Bart again it felt lonely but we knew Bart wasn’t going to survive a third wife. I missed Jessica but I’d have laugh about walking in on the “rabbit things” they used to do together that I couldn’t avoid seeing. I’m still thinking about Bart and missing him every time I walk through the garage. I cleaned up the pen and the hay all over the garage floor but the image of the water bottle that was tricky to get in and out of the pen still gets me.
Thinking about and even talking a little about it made me realize how stuck in denial I am, telling myself it’s just a rabbit–it’s no big deal. I’m not talking about it much. After mentioning it to a friend by text and seeing his response about his being sad when his pets die I realized it’s okay to be sad. I was upset thinking about the scheduled euthanasia appointment. I didn’t like the idea of putting the Grim Reaper on the calendar. As it turned out there was a time window so we waited with the rabbit for his last couple of hours.
I’m looking for ways to accept death. In the meantime there has been what feels like an onslaught of deaths of people I’ve met, or worked with. As I write this I’m having more feelings of denial, not being able to take in the news that another friend has died. The day after Bart died the war started in Ukraine beginning a wider scope of senseless death. While it feels like there’s too death much lately, I have to consider what I can do about it. A student told me I should put a picture of the rabbit next to my bed. I didn’t take this serious until my sister-in-law sent us a miniature pewter rabbit in the periscope position. It made me realize the need to memorialize people and pets and keep their images in mind. I’ve also considered that death is inevitable and I have to work on getting past the denial stage and onto acceptance. In the meantime, I’ll hunker down with a book by Mr. Rogers that I just unearthed. It’s called “When a Pet Dies.” Rogers explains that “loss takes time to understand.” As for Bart, I’ll remember his foot stomps when we made him mad, his leaping jumps, known as binkies, when he was happy and roaming free in the backyard and his soft fur that he was always shedding. I’ll walk past the dandelion leaves swaying the breeze. Today I don’t need any rabbit food.