In Loving Dedication to Oswald

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This is Oswald. Her story is a long one, and one that led to a huge surprise in my life, and a lot of lessons learned about rabbits and rabbit care. She left us last week. The pain is still there, and I still tear up when I think about her. But I need to write about this, because I want to remember her, and want to give her a proper goodbye.

It began in April, when the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary Facebook shared a photo of a black rabbit, named Mikey, who was in need of a home. An ASPCA worker had seen him for sale at a halal butcher shop in Brooklyn, being sold by the pound. She got him out of there, and gave him a new home. However Mikey needed a forever home, one that wasn’t full of other ASPCA rescues like dogs and cats. Steve felt a connection to Mikey, and we decided to take him in, because we could neuter him and, hopefully, give Bonnie a companion she was longing for and a playmate.

We brought Mikey home in May, but decided on a new name, Oswald (the lucky rabbit).  Oswald was peculiar, very overwhelming due to his size, a little bit of a go-getter, especially when it came to food. He would inhale carrots, handfuls of hay and lettuce. He had a clipped ear (as you can see  in the photo above), and I wish I knew the story behind it, but it gave him a personality quirk that made him loveable. He did a binky when we let him out of his cage, and he had a sweet habit of thumping every where, a way of saying “hey, this is new! watch out!” We made an appointment for Oswald the following week to have him neutered.

Bonnie scoping out her new friend.

Bonnie scoping out her new friend.

The day of the vet visit, I got a call from Steve. The vet confirmed Oswald was a girl. We were a little shocked, but we had a feeling this could have changed. We decided to go ahead with the neutering process. An hour later, I get a call from Steve, stunned and strangely happy: she’s pregnant, she is going to have babies. Four, maybe five of them. This moment left me speechless. What started as just an attempt to help a rabbit and give her a new home turned into many rabbits. A lot of questions ran through my head: How did it happen? How many would she definitely have? How do I help a nursing rabbit? Should we keep her name as Oswald? These were all things I never knew I would deal with.

But it turned out, it wasn’t hard at all. Because female rabbits, when the time comes to giving birth, know what to do. You just need to give them the resources to make them happy and comfortable. Two days after finding out she was pregnant, Oswald began attempting to build a nest, piling up layers of hay in her mouth. We gave her multiple boxes and left her in the kitchen, and in the morning, one box, with a hole in its side, contained massive amounts of her fur, and deep with that fur pile, were five babies.

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Born around May 15, the babies were all healthy. The black one was the runt of the little, but we helped to feed her. Typically mother rabbits nurse their babies once a day, and throughout the day pretend they don’t exist, for safety reasons. They didn’t mind, as they slept in a big pile all day. Meanwhile, Oswald was still chubby, and happy. She loved to be given treats like bananas and veggies. Almost so much that it was impossible to be in the kitchen without her begging. This was a character trait that was adorable, but also worrisome for me. Did she get enough food when at that butcher shop? She wasn’t skinny, but she acted towards food like it was something she would never see again, or had to fight for. Still, we were happy to give her food and her favorite of treats.

And so the babies grew:

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And we were all happy. It was hard at times to take care of seven rabbits, but we were happy. Everyone was healthy. And then suddenly, Oswald wasn’t healthy, and wasn’t doing well. She became disinterested in her food, and didn’t finish her bowl of lettuce. She began to sit listlessly with her head bowed. She would eat a little bit of hay but not the way she normally did. We brought her to the vet, and he saw a mass in her tummy. He gave her pain medications, medications for her tummy, and gave us CriticalCare, liquid food used to help a rabbit eat when it needs it most. She wasn’t eating, and needed to eat. But she would not take the CriticalCare no matter how hard we tried. She responded poorly to any help, and before we knew it, she had passed in our arms as we tried to comfort her.

Just as quickly as we had her, she went away, and it was heartbreaking. I don’t think I had ever felt a pain that deep in my heart, not in a long time. Steve and I didn’t see this coming, and when it came, we weren’t prepared. And we tried our hardest, and still lost her. It really tore us apart. I felt this pain for days, and only now am I feeling ready to really write about it here.

There are a lot of reasons why this could’ve happened, and some we can explain and others we cannot. I have a feeling it was gastrointestinal, as many rabbits get this problem. She had shown no signs of problems until suddenly she did not want to eat. It happened fast, and without warning. And while I think of all the things I could’ve done to prevent it, I also think about her history, and what we did not know about her. We only know what we saw of her then, and with her babies, but no other history.  All I know is we took her in, and we treated her like we did Bonnie, with all the love in our hearts.

Mom watching her babies

Mom watching her babies

There is nothing I want  more than to turn back time and fight harder in those moments, because I keep looking back on them with could-ifs and should’ves. But I try to remind myself that she was in our lives, that she was a gift, and she left us her babies to take care of. Oswald escaped a butcher shop, pregnant, and she was able to give birth safely, and find peace in a new setting. Her life was tumultuous, but in some ways triumphant. She did not have to face the butcher, and her babies did not either. For a time she was safe. And her babies will always be safe with us.

The babies at five weeks.

The babies at five weeks.

But, Oswald, we will never, ever forget you. You are in my heart every day. I think about you every time I see your babies, and I see your empty cage. We talk about you always, and we will never make the same mistakes we made before. We will watch your babies, and Bonnie, nonstop, and will protect them. You were an incredible rabbit, a beautiful mother, and a gorgeous, unique rabbit, an individual with a distinct life that was all yours, and only yours. We miss you, love you, and will always be thinking of you.

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This post is for Oswald, our lucky rabbit.

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