Eulogy for Hazel, a Disapproving Rabbit

Warning, this is a bummer of a post and not bird related. If you don't want to be bummed out, wait for the next post.

Today, we lost Hazel, our oldest disapproving rabbit. Apparently, El-ahrairah needed her to join his owsla. We got Hazel in 1996 when we first moved to Minnesota as a companion for our little male rabbit at the time, Latte. They were fast friends after some bullying on Hazel's part. Once both had established their boundaries, they were inseparable.

Hazel tended to be on the shy side, and never went anywhere without Latte leading the way. Once he had established that an area was safe she would follow. I remember early on when we had Hazel, we would let both rabbits run around the apartment twenty-four hours a day. Hazel looked somewhat like a ghost or negative space in the shape of a rabbit with her black velvety fur running around when all the lights were out. That all came to an end one night when I woke to a strange sound. Hazel was on the bed, sitting near my face. I didn't think much of it and closed my eyes. I heard the sound again and opened my eyes to discover Hazel eating my hair. Non Birding Bill said that it was the result of my using all those pricey, cruelty-free, all-natural fruity shampoos. I just thought that she disapproved of that particular hairstyle--perhaps a "Rachel" wasn't the best cut for me.

One day Hazel took her disapproval to NBB's writing, she opened his bag and started whipping out pages of his notebook and chewing them. NBB was horrified and amused all at the same time. There was also the time NBB almost got electrocuted by Hazel, which he re-enacted with her last week.

When I used to work at the Minnetonka Wild Bird Store, I would take both Latte and Hazel and they had a great time eating birdseed and parsley from the customers. I remember we discovered Hazel's favorite toy in the form of patina copper wall hooks. One had fallen on the floor, and Hazel grabbed it and flipped over and over. I bought a few and kept them on hand at home for her. Hazel suffered from chronic respiratory problems and we always knew when she was feeling bad because she wouldn't play with her hooks. We learned of her respiratory problems not long after we brought her home and she started making a wheezing/snuffling sound. We took her to the vet and got some antibiotics. She would wheeze worse when we picked her up so we avoided doing that. After that infection subsided, she would still make the wheezing sound anytime we picked her up. She had learned that we would leave her alone if she made that noise--clever bunny.

Though Hazel was shy, when she felt comfortable and in her own territory, she would fight like a tiger. As fast of friends that Latte and Hazel were, Cinnamon and Hazel were just as fast of enemies. I have never seen anything as violent as two female rabbits. They fight dirty! They rolled around the apartment, knocking into chair and table legs with little tufts of fur flying up in the air, as they would bite, kick, thump and grunt (yes, that's right, grunt). We tried everything, but those two just would not get along. We had to keep them separated and both would try everything they could to irritate each other. Hazel would skip the litter box and go to the bathroom right in front of Cinnamon's hutch. Cinnamon would sneak up on a snoozing Hazel as she was leaning on a partition and nibble her fur.

Hazel was quite the bruiser. In her hey day, she reminded us of that black bull in the Bugs Bunny cartoons that annihilated anything in its path and snorted. We used to let Latte and Hazel play in our building's hallway with our neighbor's cat Milo. Milo would playfully bat their ears or cuddle up to them. I guess Hazel had enough and once when Milo went to bat her ears, she lunged towards him in a single hop, pinned him and then chased him down the hall. The neighbors moved not long after that...I wonder if it was because of Hazel?

When Latte died in 2003, I wasn't sure how long Hazel would last. She didn't like Cinnamon, and she never went anywhere without him. I retired her from going to the bird store and she seemed content to stay at home. Her respiratory condition has been getting a little worse in the last year and recently our vet found an inexplicable mass in her abdomen. Tests couldn't determine for sure what it was, only surgery would do that. Since she was ten and in touchy health we decided against it, to just make her remaining time as comfortable as possible. This morning after a hearty breakfast of her favorite foods she had what appeared to a seizure. We took her to our vet and after discussing options made the choice that every pet owner dreads having to make.

I hate the whole process. Rabbits take longer to put down than dogs or cats. Our vet has explained the reason why and I can never remember why, but it bites. It takes forever. I hate the whole process: the decision, the vet seeing me bawl like a baby, waiting for the last breath, having to walk out in the waiting area when you are finished with an empty carrying case or leash while everyone else knowingly looks at you and feels grateful that they are not you that day, the nice and sincere card we will get from the vet with the "Rainbow Bridge" poem. The worst is still yet to come. Tomorrow when we wake up we will temporarily forget and then be reminded when the morning routine starts and discover that it is disrupted because our household is one member short.

There's also the bummed mood that will last for a two or three days and if someone asks, I have to gauge if they will understand if I say, "I just lost one of my rabbits." Sometimes I worry that I am someone who is too involved with her pets.

So, now I think I will lay low and avoid the listservs. There's some debate going on about duck stamps on the Minnesota bird listservs and I worry with my mood, I may forgo eloquence or what I hope is my easy going email demeanor and just start calling people buttheads.

Goodbye, Hazelrah, Disapproving Rabbit & Chief of Owsla at the Stiteler Warren. You will be deeply missed.