My foster “Nibbles,” a white Russian dwarf hamster saved from being “set free” in Central Park as part of a frat boy prank, has been adopted today! We’ll miss ya, Nibs!
“Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don’t worry…I’m here. The floodwaters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.” −Charlie Brown to Snoopy
He’d been dumped at a dentist’s office sometime during the night. It’s hard to believe, he’s terribly irresistible this darling little bunny, a Holland Lop-Eared. He’s mostly white, has dark brown ears and spots running down his back. He came to me as Mickey but my brother soon renamed him to Snoopy. Very fitting for the “bun,” he even presents me with his food bowl between his teeth, a paw-printed metallic dog dish.
Snoopy. The sweet little guy that greets me in his cage every morning for days now seeking a handful of pellets and hay; set him free from confinement to the expanse of the non-rabbit-proof living room and random passing cat. How adventurous he is.
Snoopy. The bun who in the evening jumps into our laps, displaces a cat or two or three, nuzzles our faces with his whiskers, unearths a kernel of popcorn from in between the cushions. How playful he is.
Snoopy. I am his “foster mom”—I foster buns until they’re adopted, a rewarding task when it comes to a happy newfound bond involving children or adults like me who haven’t outgrown caring for small and furry creatures. I am not paid to foster; the sweetness of caring for them pays me in bushels. How sweet he is.
Snoopy. I grow to loathe the day he’ll leave me, get adopted into a forever loving home. It’s okay, I tell myself, this is what it’s all about. This is the process, it makes room for one more to come into my life, be cared for. How tender he makes my heart.
Snoopy, the puppy dog rabbit. Precious thing. Until my work schedule changes and his late afternoon salad of organic kale, dandelion greens, Swiss chard and romaine is delayed two hours and he begins body slamming me out of his pen. At first I think, okay, he’s upset, his routine has changed. I send him Reiki energy, surround his body in light, think he’ll adapt, it is but a mere adjustment. How quirky he is.
Snoopy, you’re a sweet thing, I think as I reach into his pen the following afternoon to give him a scratch on the ear and set his bowl of salad down. Never bite the hand that feeds you. This is my next thought because Snoop-Dog is upset, taken a chunk out of my knuckle, his salad is late again—it’s got my blood in it. How surprising his behavior is.
Snoop-Dog, oh, Snoop-Dog, I think a day later as I shield myself from his snapping incisors with the gate of his pen. I’d rather drown in the saliva from your kisses than be bit and bruised and have to give you back to the rabbit-whisperer for aggressive buns in which you came to me post rescuing from the dental office. How it breaks my heart.
Snoop-Dog, oh, Snoop-Dog, back to rabbit rehab for you. I always wanted to be here to care for you, recede the floodwaters, end your famine, shine the sun on you but I am petrified. Petrified of you, an adorable Holland Lop that bites into my flesh as if I’ve wronged you. Really wronged you. Oh, my dear lagomorph, what’s got into you?
Snoop-Dog, oh, Snoop-Dog, I hope Terry the rabbit-whisperer can bring you around. She tells me she is going to change your routine every day, not one hour will mimic the one before. Topsy-turvy, Snoops, your whole world is going to be turned upside-down. This is intended to tame you into adapting to change so someday you can be adopted and not bite the hand that feeds you. How saddened am I to let you go this way.
Snoop-Dog, oh, Snoop-Dog, I bet in Northern Central Mass. you are not getting organic greens, so many pats on the head, the freedom to wedge yourself behind the dryer for hours on end. I kinda enjoyed the bun body slamming but given the chance, would you have not bitten me, particularly the last bout when you lunged through the air like an acrobat to plant your teeth into my shin?
How I miss ya, Snoops. Wish you could come back to me. You have been cheated by love and trust, but too quick to form misunderstanding of all I am capable of giving.
To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. —Emily Dickinson
I am looking at Sabrina. Her head is out the window and the air is moving beneath her floppy ears, lifting them making her seem capable of flight. She makes my heart feel lighter, her being so free, finding joy in simple things.
Pine trees on opposing sides of the road pan by, then a grand estate. “Poles Apart” by Pink Floyd is filling the car, a song sung by Gilmore with his faithful guitar advancing me to the next moment. I can see his fingers strumming each chord.
Hours earlier, I had worried about the temperature. Worried about the state of the ground, if I could dig into the soil.
For soil, the ground, is a final resting place.
The last 3 weeks, I have not rested. I have watched one of my animal companions struggle, losing the ability to groom herself and topple over as she attempted to do so; seen her body become emaciated. I knew the day was coming—when it was up to me to play God and snuff her remaining life out. It has eaten away at me, causing me to have dreams, images of the decay inside out. “She,” “Pickle,” is a favorite; rides atop my shoulder as I do chores around the house, a pet rat that shows me affection like any dog or cat might.
I had arrived at the vet, checked in and sat down on a bench. The place was busy, chaotic. Sabrina put her head on my knee, a gesture that suggested, I’m here for you, Mama. Cradling Pickle I envisioned golden light around her, tried to help myself by taking deep breathes into my belly, blink away the tears.
The cat and dog people around me began asking what I was holding. A rat, I whispered repeatedly, knowing the fact would bring a wriggle of a nose, a grimace, a sound of disgust. Certainly not a clutching of the heart.
These are so-called “animal lovers.”
A vet tech approached me, hadn’t known what I was there for, the girl answering the phone who made the appointment for Pickle’s euthanasia was busy chatting with a friend on the line about shoes. I wanted to punch her, her chubby cheeks, sink my fist into the package of MalloMars beside her. Tell her how damned insensitive she was being. But the vet tech got in the way of my getting even, asked me to follow her to an exam room.
Down the hall and to the right. I set the carrier down on the metallic table, slipped Pickle inside and beside Cupid, another rat who’s health had rapidly declined, then made for the reception area. What’s wrong? the tech said, it’s just a routine exam?
I made my mouth into a straight line, told her the vet’s putting them to sleep and I’d like to leave with the bodies.
Saying “I’d like to leave with the bodies” brought my euthanasia experience to a very down-to-earth experience. I usually don’t have to articulate the words, just check off my preference on some consent form.
I’d like to leave with the bodies.
The vet had been kind; engaged in a sort of conference with me as I waited in the reception area snorting air through my filled nose, tears streaming down my face. He told me I did the right thing, the rats were old and feeble, that I was a good rat mom.
A voice in my head said, dear ratties, do you think I’m a good rat mom?
Chubby-cheeks cupped the receiver with her hand as I was leaving. She told me she was sorry for my loss. I looked at her long and hard and in a very un-Reiki moment considered telling her to take her MalloMar and shove it where the sun don’t shine.
The door closed behind me.
I climbed down the steps to the car; could see there was a blue towel folded into the carrier that I hadn’t brought. My animals, the ones that had life moving through them just twenty minutes ago were in there albeit still, lifeless, their little spirits gone someplace else.
Now, to “the rez”—our own dwelling offers no haven—with the dog, the bodies, my hand shovel and paper towels.
The soil that I had worried about was soft beneath the snow. I found a remote spot with a tree upended, dug a hole, and wrapped up their bodies which were so warm it left me feeling strange, wrong even. A couple of women walked by— without dogs—strange for the rez, an afternoon stroll. Thinking I looked conspicuous amid the bare trees, I ducked further down behind fallen limbs, my heart afright; figuring I’d be fined if caught for burying warm rat bodies in the ground at the Weston Reservoir.
Affluent women leave warm bodies at the vet; pay for cremation.
The women strolled on, seemingly without a care in the world, nothing to report.
I finished my business dragging heavy limbs over the grave and Sabrina followed me back out to the car. The carrier was still in the backseat, its door askew with the folded towel half in and half out of it. This was the towel that Dr. Hallisey had so caringly wrapped around their warm bodies, insulating them.
Now they were in the ground growing cold.
I wondered. Had I been brave? A renegade? Or strictly after mercy and doing what those animals deserved—to be returned to the earth, part of nature’s procession?
As I question myself, come to support my decision, I look to Sabrina. She seems to understand about death, the soil, the final resting place. Animals do.
And her companionship and light-hearted spirit, just like Pickle’s, took the chill right out of my