Content warning for pet death and light descriptions of gore.
Death is on my mind. Not in a morbid way. I’m thinking about death because it happens all the time. Everything I can say about this sounds trite; we’ve been grappling with it for millennia. Even just that sentence sounds like a rehash of previous rehashings.
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” — Genesis 3:19, King James Version
Three of my rabbits have died during the past few months. To be more accurate: two of my rabbits died and one was killed.
The first two deaths were sad, but they were okay. One bunny died while digging a hole in the garden, and one died while taking a nap, as far as we can tell. Both seemed peaceful, and rabbity — good ways to go. We can’t be sure without necropsies (animal autopsies), but our theory is that their deaths were due to old age. We didn’t know the precise age of either rabbit, since they were both adopted from Craigslist, from previous owners who also weren’t sure of the animals’ ages, but they weren’t visibly sick or behaving strangely. “Natural causes” is the best guess.
Of course, “natural causes” is a misnomer. We use that term to talk about expected deaths, ones caused by internal malfunctioning. But murder — to use a melodramatic term for predation — is natural.
The third rabbit, our favorite rabbit, the one we’ve had the longest, was killed. We think it was an owl. My mom heard the scream in the night — she went outside to see what was happening, saw that all the animals’ enclosures were shut, and went back to bed thinking that our pets were okay. As it turned out, Doof had pushed open the door to his enclosure, which bounced back behind him, and was freely enjoying the night, I presume. Until he was attacked.
I hope that his neck snapped quickly. I hope that it happened suddenly and his life was gone right away. Wild predators prefer to kill fast because it reduces the chance that they’ll be injured if the prey fights back, or that the food will be stolen. Knowing about the competitive pressures is somewhat comforting.
Doof was only in the rickety enclosure — which we thought was still strong enough to hold him, even though he was a robust rabbit — because we were in the process of bonding him with Lottie, our newest bunny. They needed to be kept separate unless supervised until we could trust them not to hurt each other. I wish that we had rushed the bonding. If we’d been less cautious in one way and more cautious in another, Doof would still be his hippity-hoppity self.
His body was a wreck. The predator stripped all the meat from Doof’s skull, which looked tiny and raw when bare. Mangled neck. The anklebone of his right hind leg was exposed — just the one. His greater bulk was intact, which seemed strange — why hadn’t the owl wanted its whole kill? I don’t know.
It hurts that my silly, sweet rabbit is dead. It hurts that I didn’t protect him; that conceivably he could have been safe under tweaked circumstances. I hate grief because it’s an emotion I can’t act on. It just sits there inside of me. What can I do besides wait for it to subside?
Last night I curled up in my boyfriend’s bed and cried. These rabbit deaths make me think of the other deaths that are inevitable. My dog is already old. My parents each have another quarter-century to live, probably, but contemplating their eventual demise is devastating.
When you see a body ruined like Doof’s was, you instantly realize why humans have done everything we can to escape nature. It’s brutal. Nature is not just hiking in Yosemite; it’s carnivores tearing off your cheeks, eating the jelly of your eyes, and leaving the rest for maggots.