| In Memory of Olive|
Not all events at rabbit shelters are cheerful. We like to highlight the cheery parts of working with rabbits, but sometimes reality isn't so cheerful. This piece was written by one of our volunteers after one such day.
Those of us who volunteer at rabbit shelters typically have shifts filled with chores such as chopping veggies, scrubbing dishes and pens, distributing food and water, chatting with staff and other volunteers, and, of course, the chance for some delightful interaction with the beloved rabbits. This week's shift was a bit different.
It started out with the usual scrubbing. Suddenly, another volunteer called to me, with much concern in his voice, to come and see Olive. Like all too many rescue rabbits, Olive had seen far too much hardship in her short life. Apparently abandoned, she had managed to somehow survive on her own in the yard of rabbit owners for at least a month. When she hopped into their garage, the rabbit owners called our shelter, asking what to do. They were told to close the door immediately, catch her, and bring her to the shelter. A beautiful, affectionate creature who loved getting pets, Olive quickly became a favorite of us all. We were sure she'd be adopted by a loving family soon.
Sadly, Olive was not destined to have such a happy ending to her story. A month or so after her arrival at the shelter, she started exhibiting the "tilting" that is a frequent symptom of E. cuniculi, a disease caused by protozoa. While not curable, it can be treated, and the rabbits who manifest the disease can be stabilized and live comfortably for a prolonged period of time. But Olive's symptoms worsened so quickly and dramatically that staff started to suspect she most likely had raccoon roundworm. This parasite does not affect the raccoon host, but when other animals unwittingly ingest the eggs that are hanging on grass on which the raccoon has left feces, the larvae will develop in the intestines, break into the bloodstream, and burrow into other organs, especially the liver, eyes, spinal cord and brain. While such parasites have made for interesting plot lines in science fiction shows, for a rabbit, the end is worse than horrible.
And so, I entered the clinic to find Olive clearly terrified as spasms wracked her little body. I did my best to soothe her, directing another volunteer to immediately call the staff vet, who dropped everything she was doing and raced to Olive's side. At this point, there were two options: Olive could continue to live, slowly dying while going blind and having her body contorted by seizures as it struggled to fight off the parasites. Or, we could do the humane thing by giving her a peaceful passage across the Rainbow Bridge. For us all, the choice was clear.
Another volunteer and I gently placed Olive on the fleece-covered clinic table while the vet went to get the drugs, which are kept in a safe place under lock and key. The first injection relaxed the rabbit. Slowly, the muscles that felt like steel bands against my arm eased, Olive's breathing slowed to a normal rate, her eyes lost the frightened stare, and she became calm. When it was time, the vet injected the second drug. While the three of us, tears streaming down our cheeks, caressed her and told her what a brave, beautiful girl she was, Olive's valiant heart beat slower and slower, and her gentle spirit soared free of her tormented body. A feeling of blessed peace filled the room.
This was the first time I had been through this experience. For the vet, this was but one more in a long stream of such heart-rending scenes. So many of the rabbits who come to our shelter have had little or no care. Some of them are wonderfully resilient and go on to live happy lives. Others are not so lucky. So terribly weak, sick or injured, they are unable to get well, even with the love and care showered on them here. When a rabbit is so wracked with pain that even strong pain relievers make no difference and each breath is a frightening struggle, keeping them alive is an act of cruelty. As hard as it is for the vet, she honors rabbits in such dire situations by giving them a loving, peaceful passage across the Rainbow Bridge.
As for me, in the midst of my tears, I feel humbled and honored to have been able to help give Olive a peaceful passing, surrounded by love. But I am also angry. Angry at people who can so mistreat the rabbits who love and trust them. Angry that they can abandon a gentle rabbit to fear and almost certain death from predators, disease, starvation or a myriad of other fates awaiting a domestic prey animal in the wild. Angry at people who should know better who see an obviously domestic rabbit in their yard and make no move to rescue it. And that's why I'm writing this. If her tale stops even one person from such cruel acts, Olive's death was not in vain. Binky happy across the Bridge, dearest Olive.