[rabbits] Helping a bereaved bunny

Those of you who have been reading regularly will know that Neville, one of our six rabbits, sadly died of old age at the end of last week.
He was survived by his brother Sebastian.

Sebastian has always been a reclusive bunny, Neville always spoke up for both of them and so part of Sebastian’s challenge in the future is going to be to learn to speak up for himself, to draw attention to his own needs without someone else there to do it for him.  Obviously, my OH and I will keep a good eye on him, but we rely on our rabbits to tell us when they’re unhappy with something we’re doing so we can change it and provide a better environment for them.  Sebastian’s just… never really done that.

Earlier this week, I couldn’t see Sebastian playing outside and felt that familiar worry, so went out to check on him.  He was just sat in his hutch staring listlessly into space.  I picked up his chewy play carrot and he attacked it with vigour, shoving at it with his nose and tearing at it.  I think it still smelled of Neville, and I got the impression Sebastian was taking out his anger, that Neville had left him behind.  I’m trying really hard not to project onto Sebastian though, because my mother died at the beginning of last month (literally two days after I started this blog, good job I’d prepared quite a few posts in advance and just needed to do photos and put it all together, but I didn’t think it was a good time to say), and I’m seeing behaviours in Sebastian that I know I’ve been exhibiting.

Anger.  Anger at everything.  That she went away.  That I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her.  Anger that the house got broken into over Christmas and that a lot of her favourite things got taken.  That I thought we had more time.  Anger at the stupidity and senselessness of it all.  She was 53.  Sebastian is very angry when he smells Neville on the toy carrot.

 This feeling that there is a huge rift in your life that will never be repaired, that some energy conduit has been cut away and you can no longer feel a connection to someone.  Sadness that she didn’t get to do half the things she wanted to.  Sebastian sometimes has water around his eyes.  I know people say rabbits can’t cry but mine all seem to when there’s something sad happening.  The first night we put Banacek outside last summer, when we came to get him he was sitting in the garden, staring through the kitchen window, waiting for us and crying.  The first night we brought Katie home, and she realised she wasn’t going to be separated from Fifer ever, she had water under her eyes too (until he bit her, then she bit him back, then his eyes were watering but that was probably pain because she’s a lot bigger than him.  He’s never ever started on Katie again).

Excessive energy.  Sometimes when I see Sebastian he’s just running around his rabbit run (which is sizeable) letting off steam.  I got an early Christmas present of my OH which was a pair of roller skates, so I could just run and run and run.  Sometimes I still lie in bed and just want to go for a long walk and just keep walking until I’ve reached the end of the world.

Aggression.  This is like anger but towards other people for no apparent reason.  Sebastian does it with me, he bites my fingers, and he’s never been a biter before (except play bites).  It’s like he’s saying “you control our lives, you’re all powerful, bring Neville back.”  I keep getting aggressive towards my OH, but we have a specific way to settle our differences so it doesn’t get very far.

Sadness.  Sometimes this is just sitting for hours staring into space.  We both do that.

Looking for answers.
 I see Sebastian sometimes trying to dig a hole to get to where we buried Neville (which was outside the rabbit enclosure).  He knows it’s happened but doesn’t understand why.  Why Neville and not him.  Why not some other elderly bunny who had an even longer life?  He stares at Cleo (who is the same age) and wonders why she’s fine, and he, Sebastian, is fine, and Neville is not.  I look at elderly people in Tesco and wonder, what did they do differently that my mother did wrong?  Of course, there’s no answer because cancer is just down to bad luck, and old age is just something that catches us out, there’s no reason why some people die of old age in their seventies and others don’t go until they hit 100, thirty entire years later, and the same for bunnies.

Distraction.  We both seem to spend an awful lot of time doing the most random things.  Sebastian even enjoyed a car ride on Monday when I had bathed him and didn’t want him to go into shock on his own because baths can be traumatic for bunnies.  He just sat in a box on the front seat and snuggled up to my hand, which was stroking him whenever it was safe to do so.  I seem to spend a lot of time doing housework, gardening, and sorting out minutiae for the rabbits.

Reaching out to people.  I’ve become a lot more talkative on social media, as well as more communicative with other family members.  Sebastian sits at the side of his run and tries to get close to the other two outdoor rabbits, who are both quite young and don’t really understand what Sebastian is going through.  When I brought him in on Monday, I sat him on the sofa and he just did his best impression of a bunny slipper, sat between me and my OH, and let me just continually stroke him.  Every  time I got up to make a cup of tea, I had to take him with me because otherwise he would get very anxious and start stomping his foot, which we know is a sign of fear.

Not eating.  This is another thing we’ve both been doing.  We have both been barely eating, and when we have done, it’s been fresh vegetables.  I’m slowly weaning myself onto pasta, rice and chips again, and trying to get Sebastian to eat some hay, because we both need our starchy carbohydrates.  I’ve recently discovered fruit in a big way, so I’m actually getting three things that look like meals every day.  Sebastian is not that into fruit.  We do share an interest in parsley, however.

The Replacement Question
I’ve been debating whether to get Sebastian a new friend as soon as possible or whether to wait longer.  The House Rabbit society suggests asap, with it being easier to bond a bereaved rabbit because they’re emotionally vulnerable.  I think rabbits are all different, and that three to five days is not enough to deal with their feelings before shoving them towards someone new.  I feel it’s a bit insensitive to go “oh, sorry the person you shared a womb with and have never been apart from your entire life is now gone.  Let’s get you a nice guinea pig…”  Also until his anger and aggression have abated it might not be the best time to try and bond him, although the flipside is that new bonding might help get rid of the negative feelings.  My OH doesn’t have as much experience with pets so is leaving it to me.  And my decision making is worse than ever at the moment.  I think the upshot will quite probably be that we’ll take Sebastian to Pets At Home on Saturday and show him the adoptible rabbits (if they have any), and if he strikes up a nice relationship with one of them, we will bring them home.  Part of me is worried that he’ll bond to a Giant Rabbit, and that we will be silly and let him, which would be woefully inappropriate for both of them – it’d be like pairing a dog and a horse.

I think, even though we’ve both lost a lot of people we were close to (Sebastian’s dad died 2 years ago, his previous owners moved to Australia eighteen months ago, and obviously being a 3D person who makes a lot of connections I’ve lost at least a dozen people in my life and been to even more funerals for all those people who I didn’t really know but were peripheral to my life in a way that I still needed to pay my respects), nothing has prepared either of us for this depth of loss or sadness.  I know I will be okay because I have my wonderful other half (terminology – we’re actually both complete circles that overlap) who looks after me and sorts things out and holds rabbits when I’m trying to pour tea.  The trouble with rabbits is they only make a connection to one individual at a time (usually), and in their serial monogamy, they lose the support network that other animals have, because other rabbits who see them frequently don’t seem to understand the significance of the loss.

For now, lots of attention, lots of understanding, giving him the space to act out (but making sure this doesn’t become a time for bad behaviour to be learned.  I feel that letting him for-real bite me would be completely unacceptable but play biting me, or attacking his toy carrot is another matter), giving him lots of extra tasty food so he is encouraged to keep eating,  My main concern is making sure he feels there is a reason to keep living, because I know rabbits are very emotional creatures and can sometimes die of loneliness or a broken heart.

Plenty of attention, warmth, love and affection, whilst making sure Sebastian isn’t smothered so he can also do his own thing.  And tea.  But not for him.  I think he’s our only rabbit who doesn’t try to drink our tea.  Maybe he should start…

There are no pictures today.  I felt it would be exploitative of the situation.

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