On Bunny Love and Loss
It is such a simple statement on the surface: “rabbits bond for life,” an undisputed fact found in any basic care guide. And they do — to such an extent that it is preferable to bundle two apprehensive critters into a carrier and take them both to the vet when only one needs to go rather than separate the lovestruck duo for an hour or two.
But a “bond for life” only sounds simple, like “till death do us part.” Homo sapiens is far inferior as a species when it comes to living up to those words, but for those who do, be they cunicular or hominine, the end of term often leaves one half of the pair alive and well — in body, at least.
Such is the case with our Leopold, who lost his beloved Autumn this past weekend.
Autumn was my first bunny. I got her almost exactly six years ago as a young adult rabbit (she had been someone’s Easter bunny). I was just barely pregnant with Owlet at the time but didn’t know it yet. She has watched both children grow from rolling babies to animal-savvy preschoolers and has always been as gentle a soul as one could wish to know. Her spunky little lion’s mane lent her a curious expression and even after injuring a hind leg a few years ago she still skittered around with as much joy as ever. She loved Leopold, and he loved her. They spent most of their time snuggled together in the shade of the house Thor built for them, dozing and grooming one another.
Autumn died Friday night or early Saturday morning, giving Leopold a chance to spend time with her body and come to terms with her loss. This is very important because the process of accepting a loved one’s death is far more difficult if the dying rabbit is taken to the vet, put to sleep, and the lifeless body is not seen by the surviving partner, who is then left in a state of anxiety, not knowing whether their spouse is ever going to return.
Rabbits grieve the loss of their mate at least as intensely as humans, in some cases pining to death from loneliness. And where a concerned friend might (rightly) hesitate to throw the bereaved back out into the human dating pool too quickly, a concerned pet owner is advised to visit the local shelter for some bunny speed dating as soon as a week later, as the mourning period will last until a new pair forms. (Unless the widowed rabbit did not get to see the remains, in which case a month is sometimes required before a new partner can be accepted.)
With enough companionship from humans and other pets, a rabbit who has never formed a pair bond can live contentedly single. But once its heart has made space for a same-species mate, it no longer beats properly without one.
There appear to be no flings in the rabbit world, no one-night stands or rebound relationships. Just as a bunny mourns with every fiber of its being, as soon as the next mate is chosen, that same devoted little soul will share new love with heart unrestrained.
Thus we head to the shelter with Leopold later this week to introduce him to the adult rabbits available for adoption and see who he gets on with. Rabbits can be very particular, and I would never dream of picking one for him after seeing how clearly he and Autumn chose one another from the moment they met.
I am looking forward to seeing our sweet Leopold meet the second love of his life, shake off his sorrow, and kick up his bunny heels once again. Whomever he chooses will have a special place in our hearts as well.