Pet Owners Know to Hold Them While You Can

Kayley Rae welcoming her new stepsister, Mia Hamm, to the family some nine years ago.
Kayley Rae welcoming her new stepsister, Mia Hamm, to the family some nine years ago.

By Nick Reiher

March 8, 2015: I was walking around a pet store in North Aurora, holding a Netherland Dwarf rabbit who had not long before had a litter.

The rescue group said they were all adopted out, so she was the only one left. Because of her fortune, the rescue had named her “Mama Mia.”

I held MM for about 45 minutes, perusing all aisles in the store. We had to wait for the people who had her in their temp home to arrive. And Tammy also had to gather the adoption fee, which had to be in cash.

MM and I picked out a carrier for her. Probably looked at some timothy hay pellets and bedding. She was cute, but still carried a bit of the pregnancy weight. So, I’m hauling maybe 3 pounds around.

I wasn’t sure at that point I wanted to do this. We had two Netherland Dwarf baby sisters we took on in 2003, when Tammy’s sister, Lori, THOUGHT they had brought home two males from a county fair. Or two females. Either way, they had a litter.

We took two, which we named Bean and Spazz. They would sit, together or separately, on my chest as I watched TV in the bedroom. Bean liked the Cubs; Spazz liked to be scratched behind the ears.

They were my baby girls. We all had fun together, and we had rough times together, like when we nurtured Bean back to health after she broke her sacrum.

Bean and Spazz had various issues through the years, but we had Dr. Etsinger, now retired, who helped us keep them healthy. But, in 2012, Spazz had been suffering for a few months, and Dr. E told us she passed one night during a stay at the vet.

Two years later, it would be Bean’s turn, right around Christmas. It was pretty rough. We kept their hutch, but I wasn’t sure how long we would.

And then daughter Jillian found Mama Mia on a bunny rescue site. Again, I wasn’t too sure about this. But we filled out the paperwork. On that March 8, as we got home from church, the rescue called us and said if we were interested, get on up to North Aurora asap.

Jillian was visiting a friend out of town, and didn’t know we had adopted MM. But she saw she had been adopted, and just hoped it was someone who would take good care of her.

When Jillian got home, she heard the rustling in the hutch, and hugged us. There was a new bunny again. One we would name Mia. Son Andy, who watched his pup Kayley get the middle name “Rae,” as in Tammy’s middle name, said he wanted Mia’s middle name to be “Hamm,” after the soccer star.

We didn’t hold Mia as much. She preferred to explore. We put a towel down on our bed when she did visit our room because now and then she would mark her territory with something other than her furry chin.

We bought her toys and treats. Learned spring mix and hay were much preferable to pellets. We put up a baby gate by the nook, which then became her kingdom for a few hours a day. She did not like being outside, even in a fenced pen with a hutch and tablecloth over it.

She got a carrot and spring mix in the morning, and a small piece of carrot and a treat at bedtime.

Dr. Ness and Dr. Mark helped us keep her healthy. But I learned that cradling her and gently rubbing her white, furry tummy could help break up some gas bubbles that were causing her to shun food for a bit.

Late last year, I took her to Dr. Ness a couple times so he could administer a vaccine that would keep away a dangerous respiratory virus going around for bunnies. We marveled that Mia was in such good health for a critter that had to be around 10 years old.

Not too long after, she started making some funky noises; now and then shaking her head. But the vet’s office said as long as she was eating, drinking, eliminating and still active, it was probably nothing.

A few weeks ago, she was still doing the honking. She wasn’t running around as much in the nook. And she wasn’t eager to get back into her hutch, even with the temptation of a piece of carrot.

When I finally brought her to the vet one Friday, it took a little bit to get her out of the carrier, as usual. But the tech noted she was struggling to breathe. He was going to put her in an oxygen chamber.

Naively, I told the tech to please trim her nails while she was being checked out in back. When the vet came in, he brought another vet, a trainee and some bad news.

Mia’s heart rate was way low, and she was struggling hard to breathe, something none of us had seen in the previous days. After much sincere discussion, we decided it was best to put her down.

But I had come alone with Mia. So, we set up a time the following day so that Tammy could be there, and we could have Jillian there on video chat.

They brought her in wrapped in a towel like a bunny burrito. Initially, she seemed pretty good. Bunnies are good at hiding their hurts. A survival reaction.

Tammy held her for a bit, crying at every whimper. I could see Jillian crying as well. I was holding up OK so far.

When it came time for her to get her relaxation shot, I asked if I could hold her. This is how she came in to our lives. I wanted to hold her one last time.

And I did, until the vet said she was pretty well out. I kissed her fuzzy head, like I did Bean nine years earlier, and said goodbye.
Thank you, Mia. We’ll miss you. It’s nice to know there will be at least three bunnies running toward me for treats someday.
Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review.

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