Death came a calling this weekend. We had been away for a couple of days with the kids. When we returned the neighbour who’d been feeding the pets for us scuttled over and pulled me aside. “I didn’t know whether to call you. I think there’s something wrong with the little grey rabbit – he was fine yesterday but he’s not interested in his food at all.”
The grey rabbit (let’s call him Grey Worm) belongs to Number Two. I hurried over to the rabbit palace at the bottom of the garden, bracing myself to discover a lifeless bundle of fluff. Thankfully he was still with us – but definitely not his usual hyperactive self.
A call to the vet secured us an evening appointment. The mood was apprehensive but not too dark at this stage. The vet gave Grey Worm the once over – and pronounced that he had some stomach pain. She would give him an X-ray and phone us at home in half an hour with the prognosis.
At this point Dad Dancer started to get a bit nervous about the cost. We haven’t insured the bunnies – and X-rays sound expensive. Could be looking at a £100 bill here, I think naively. Thirty minutes later, the phone rings. Before I can stop them, the kids have snatched the handset and put it on speakerphone – which is a real pain because I haven’t worked out how to take it off speakerphone. Grey Worm seems to have a blockage, she tells me. He may need surgery. They don’t have the facilities to do it there – but she’s found a private animal hospital that will take him. But if they have to operate it will be pricey, between £800 and £1,600.
“Can you repeat that,” I squeak. Surely I have misheard her?
She repeats herself – and it doesn’t sound any better the second time around.
“Err, can I talk it over with my wife and call you back.”
I should maybe explain at this point, that these two rabbits have been nothing but trouble ever since we got them. The two eldest girls had been pestering me for a while, asking if they could have rabbits. I fobbed them off with some excuse that it was the wrong time of year to buy rabbits – but if they still wanted them in the spring, I would think again. I was hoping they would have forgotten all about rabbits by then.
Having rashly agreed they could have these little furry friends, I started doing some research – and the findings were disturbing. Those little hutches you recall from your own childhood are a throwback to the days when people kept rabbits for meat. If you want to treat them humanely, I learn, they need a hutch at least 6ft long, with an attached run. I ended up investing in a 6×4 shed as it was not much more expensive than a giant hutch. My eldest brother, Grumpy Old Man, helped me build a splendid run using the impressive array of woodworking tools he’s amassed in his bungalow-sized man shed. By the time vaccinations were thrown in, I didn’t get much change from 600 quid!
You’d have perhaps thought such paternal indulgence would have earned me the undying gratitude of my daughters.
Rabbits, we soon discovered aren’t very fond of being cuddled, especially Groucho’s rabbit (we shall call her Psycho) who tries to disembowel you whenever you attempt to pick her up. Groucho declared she was too scared of spiders to enter the rabbit palace. The job of feeding – and of course cleaning out – these cursed beasts soon fell to Dad Dancer.
So, fast forward back to the present – and I’m being asked to fork out possibly in excess of £1,000 to save the life of an animal I spend most of my days cursing. Khaleesi summed up the dilemma. “It’s not whether we can afford it. Of course we can’t – but it’s a moral question isn’t it. She’ll always know the rabbit died because we chose not to pay for it.”
That’s it settled then. I phone the vet back and tell her we’ll be right over to take Grey Worm to the animal hospital. When we get there, the news is grim. His blood sugar levels are off the scale – a sign that his gut has shut down and he’s in shock. He’s not in a state to have surgery at the moment – they’ll do their best to stabilise him. Then she asks to have a private word about a “legal issue”. The kids leave the room. “If we operate, he may have a cardiac arrest – or he could have one at any time. If that happens do you want us to try to resuscitate him. Solemnly, I sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form. “I think you’ve made the right decision,” she tells me.
It’s a grim drive home. Number Two holds it together during the journey – but once back in the house the tears come. “I don’t want him to die. I love him so much” she repeats over and over again as she cries herself to sleep. Watching her I realise that for the first time she’s experiencing real grief. The helplessness of it all. Losing someone dear to you and there being absolutely nothing you can do about it. It’s not the first time we’ve had to deal with death. My mother and aunt died a few years ago – but the kids were too young to really take it in. This time it’s real, and it’s awful.
Groucho comes down to say goodnight as I wait for an update from the animal hospital. I put my arm around her. She’s crying too. It’s close to midnight when I finally get some news. “We’ve put a tube in his nose into his stomach and we’ve given him fluids. He’s looking a lot better. He’s not out of the woods, he’s still very sick – but the signs are positive,” the vet tells me. A flicker of hope – but I try not to be over optimistic.
I ring again in the morning. The vets are on their “ward rounds” I’m told. But the news when it comes is positive again. “He’s had a good night. If he continues to make progress, it may be possible for you to take him home this evening.”
So a happy ending. He’s back in his rabbit palace, bouncing around like it was all just a bad dream. Death came, laid an icy hand on our shoulders – but then moved on.
The final bill? Nearly £800. Am I crazy spending that on a rabbit? That kind of cash would buy lots of vaccines for kids in Africa. On the other hand, if I spent the same sum on booze, fags or on buying the latest smartphone, no-one would raise an eyebrow. The truth is, I spent the money less to save the rabbit – but rather to spare my daughter from the pain of losing him.
I’d do it again in an instant.