Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Little Rabbit

I took the dogs to the desert hilltop tonight to watch the sunset. As the sun lowered in the sky the clouds turned a bright, glowing pink. I positioned my camera so I could photograph a cholla cactus at the same time I was photographing the clouds when suddenly I heard a scream like a frightened baby. I turned to see my male chocolate lab, Buddy, with his head to the ground and I knew he had a rabbit.

By the time I reached the rabbit she was very still. The dogs were trying to get to her and I couldn't hold them all back at the same time, so I picked up the rabbit and held her against my chest. She was still alive. I could feel her heart pounding. I told her I loved her and whispered short prayers, trying to focus on making my hands warm so she could feel my warmth, knowing she was going into shock. She was the softest little creature I have ever held in my arms.

I could have been making it worse. I didn't know what to do. I led the dogs back to the truck. I knew she would not survive if I set her down, they would go after her again. I held her as gently as I could and as I carefully led the dogs back to the truck I felt her heart beat begin to slow down. Her tiny head fell limp against my chest. Her heart beat even slower. She made a faint choking sound, then her heart beat stopped. She had died in my arms.

I reached the truck and shut the dogs inside, then walked back to where I had found the rabbit to look for a hole. Mother rabbits tend to return to their babies at dusk, but if they sense a danger, they will move away from the nest to distract the predator and save the babies. I couldn't find a nest. I dug a hole in the sand with my free hand, but I couldn't bring myself to set her in it. For awhile, I could not admit to myself that she had actually died. She didn't appear to have any wounds. I pressed lightly against her chest trying to give her bunny CPR. I checked her eyes, and they did not glaze over. I placed my finger near her tiny nose, but I could not feel her take a breath.

It was dark. There was a full moon, but I knew if I stayed too much longer I would not be able to see well enough to find my way back to the truck. I had to say goodbye to her. I placed her in the hole and tried to cover her with sand, but I just couldn't do it! Her eyes were still open and I didn't want her to get sand in her eyes. If she was still alive, I wanted her to be able to see if another predator came near. I kept her head uncovered, then found some dried tall grass and draped this across her tiny head. I lifted it once more, just to make sure, but she hadn't moved. She was still warm. I scraped some of the sand off so that if she was still alive and in shock, when she calmed down she could crawl out, but in my heart, I know she was dead.

I keep replaying the scene in my mind, wondering if I could have helped her sooner. Did I hesitate? Did I respond at the first cry? Why was I taking pictures instead of watching the dogs? Should I have left her on the ground and tried to drag all three dogs back to the truck? I know that would never have worked, but this is what is going through my mind as I try to think of other things, and can't. One of God's precious little creatures has died a horrible death, a death of fear.

Fear is a horrible thing. I know. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have lived a life of fear for many years. It is incurable, but there are some treatments available. Still, I know what it means to be the frightened rabbit.

This is not the first time I've been through this experience. We bought Buddy and his sister, Holly, from a woman who was selling chocolate and black labs out of the back of a farm truck in a grocery store parking lot in Colorado. She told us their parents were hunting dogs, but two females were pregnant at once, both had eight puppies. As we walked through the parking lot with our groceries, Holly made eye contact with me. She placed both front paws on the truck's back gate and watched me pushing my cart. We placed the groceries in the truck and went back to take a look. She walked over to Buddy, who was the largest puppy in the truck, sprawled in the center like he owned the truck bed and watching us. "I think we have been chosen," my husband said. Sure enough, as the other puppies played, Buddy and Holly walked over to us, wagging their tails.

We lived on 35 acres of prairie land and hills in Wellington, Colorado. I ran with the dogs twice a day. We had great adventures, leaping over the eight foot bull snake who liked to lounge in the sun, chasing each other, watching the sunset. One morning, my husband went with us. Suddenly, he grabbed my arm and nodded toward Holly. She was pointing with her nose straight forward, one paw bent, her tail straight out. Buddy ran up behind her and started to dig. Then we heard the scream, the baby rabbit scream.

I ran to the nest and found one of the babies in Buddy's mouth. It was already dead. Steve took the dogs back to the house and buried the dead baby rabbit while I re-covered the nest then crossed it with sticks to make sure the mother returned. That evening, I checked the nest. The sticks were moved. She had returned. We watched over the nest carefully to make certain that the dogs did not try to dig it up again. A few months later, as we stood on the back balcony, we saw them playing with each other near the hole. Soon, we had the mother and four babies romping around our backyard, and we guarded them all carefully.

My garden quickly disappeared, and when winter came, the bark on the trees and all shrubs disappeared. We tried repeatedly to grow a garden and trees on the property, but something was eating them down to the ground.

The following spring we noticed more rabbits, then more rabbits. Soon, the property was over-run with rabbits. There were jackrabbits all over the hills, but the rabbits that lived near our house were cottontails. One bold mother built her nest beneath our bedroom window. Another built it in a runoff ditch and we had to rescue the babies in the middle of a midnight storm. When we decided to sell the house and move to Texas, there were so many rabbits on the property that when we drove down the driveway in the evening after work we could see six or seven sitting beneath the wagon, a few more in the front garden, five or six in the fruit tree arbor, even more bouncing around the backyard.

In Texas, I learned to watch my dogs carefully on walks and when Holly would point, and Buddy dig, I would run to the nest and pull them back. My husband made a few wire fence cages that we kept in the garage and when the dogs located a nest, we covered it with the cage. The mothers always returned for the babies and we only lost one other rabbit the entire time we lived in Texas.

I do not regret saving that first nest of rabbits in Colorado, even though they nearly ate the house. They were all blessed gifts from God, precious little creatures, soft and warm, gentle, loving. I wish they were not prey animals. I wish they had the boldness, the fierceness to protect and defend themselves as I often wish the same for me, but I also know that it is the soft and gentle creations of God that bring balance to this earth. My heart is broken, still, for that sweet little bunny that I covered with sand on the desert hilltop, but I know that now she is lying in the arms of God, her soft body pressed against His robes where she is safe and warm and no longer afraid.

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