You couldn't ask for a more loving and giving child than my Dusty. Occasionally, after I got home from work and settled into my chair to relax, Dusty would lie close to me and bow his head looking to be petted. How could I resist? He bonded early on with me - especially when I nursed him back to health after he had suffered a broken bone in his right hind leg when he was about six months old. |
I don't know how the bone was broken -- I may have inadvertently and unknowingly hurt him. After all, I let him have run of the house, even though he had a cage. I may have accidently stepped on his foot without knowing it -- he was so quiet and quick in his movements. There is another possibility though. I had a large rabbit cage (2.5 feet wide, 3 feet long and 1.5 feet high) so that several rabbits could stay in one cage comfortably. Dusty, like most rabbits, had inordinately large feet. The toes of his foot may have gotten caught in the webbing of the cage's floor. I saw this happen to him several times in 2007and when it happened he, of course, panicked and thrashed about trying to free himself (the two times I saw this happen, when I put my hand on his body to calm him down so that I could free him, he immediately became still and waited patiently). He could have easily hurt himself under similar circumstances way back at the beginning. (After the second time this happened in 2007, I covered the floor of the cage with paper or an area rug so that it was not likely to happen again, and, to my knowledge, it never did happen again).
I acquired Dusty from the The Feed Store in Summit, Illinois on Father's Day (June 21) in 1998. I had been feeding the birds and the ground based animals around the house that I had rented in the Green Trails subdivision of Lisle (6418 Parksleg Court) for quite awhile. I took note of the shy and gentle rabbits that came to feed at the tree in front of my place. When I went to the feed store, I would look fondly at the rabbits in the cages in the back of the store. Finally, one day, I decided to acquire my first pet as an adult -- at age 55!
At first, Lacey didn't seem responsive to Dusty. Dusty was interested, but she seemed indifferent. So, after several weeks, I got another rabbit from the same feed store. I was looking for a female as a companion for Dusty, but the manager couldn't say for sure what the sex was of the bunny that I had chosen. This was a sweet, shy little rabbit. It had silky black fur all over except its left front paw was pure white. Its eyes were coal black.
It wasn't long afterward I concluded that I had gotten another male rabbit.
These, then, were my "children:" Dusty, Lacey and Cassidy.
At first, I had trouble getting used to sharing my three bedroom rental with anyone or thing. I let the rabbits roam around the house expecting, apparently, that they would not go where I did not want them to go, especially around my computer. But go there they did! This frustrated me, and I had a great deal of trouble accepting them. It had been a long time since I last had a roommate (1971), and I didn't feel comfortable with sharing my home with these rabbits. They also pooped a lot - anywhere they were at - and chewed on anything and everything!
One day I went back to the feed store to get more birdseed to place in front of the house, and I asked the owner if he would take back the rabbits. He hemmed and hawed, finally giving in saying that he would take them back but he wouldn't refund my money. That was no big deal, since I had paid only about $20 for each one.
I went home, thought about it again, and decided to make a go of it. These rabbits, after all, were so cute. They weren't mind readers -- if I didn't want them in certain places, it was my responsibility to keep them from going there. The thought of giving up on them and putting them back into those crowded and not so clean cages at the feed store was depressing.
One of my greatest joys with these rabbits was the morning feeding time. I would clean off the fresh vegetables at the kitchen sink and mix up the multiple types of veggies. There was Romaine lettuce, spinach, cilantro, curly parsley, plain parsley, kale, Swiss chard (rainbow and green), broccoli (against my vet's wishes), dandelion greens, turnip greens, and collards - a true cornucopia of veggies for my kitties! Eventually, I started adding strawberries to the plate. When I was finished preparing two large platefuls, I would take them to the living room where the rabbits were hopping around bumping into each other and leaping straight up into the air with so much glee in anticipation of the morning delight!
Dusty, physically the smallest rabbit, would nip at the heels of the others so that he could wedge his way into a position to get what he wanted. He especially loved those strawberries!
Usually I got up at about the same time every morning (at 6:00). But, there were some days when I would have trouble getting things started. Occasionally, Sir Dusty would take it upon himself to check up on me -- after all, it was the rabbits' feeding time and the kids were hungry! Half awake, I would hear the pitter-patter of his little feet. Sometimes he would come to just the door of my bedroom, hover around for a bit until he heard me stirring about, and then takeoff as if he were being pursued. And that's exactly what I would do -- go after him and sweep him off his feet, lift him way up in the air with both my hands, bring him down to my face, nuzzle my nose against his proboscis and admonish him for being such a "little devil!"
On other occasions, he would enter my bedroom and scamper underneath my bed. This made me a little anxious, because there were electrical wires underneath the bed that he might try to nibble on, like he did rather freely when he was very young. But, since he was in "foreign" territory, he usually did not dwell long underneath the bed. In anticipation of his rapid exit, I would slide over to the corner of the bed closest to the door and wait for my shot at grabbing the little devil as he tried to escape. Of course, I couldn't see where he was at, so sometimes he ran right through my hands -- he was so quick even with a pin in that right hind leg. Other times I was able to grab hold of him, and I would celebrate my capture of this fine specimen by performing my usual routine -- lift him high up in the air and let him know what a "little devil" he was!
I took him to his long time vet at The Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital (Laura Brazelton, DVM), who treated him with some special medication and Baytril, if I recall correctly. But nothing seemed to work. After reading a lot about the condition in various sources on the Internet, I came across a passage that suggested getting rid of all pine shavings used for bedding materials. Well, I used pine shavings a lot for the rabbits' toilet area. Once I cleaned all that material out, Dusty's problems stopped, at least for awhile. Who knows, his improvement may have also been the result in part of his treatment by Dr. Brazelton. It didn't matter that much to me -- the important thing was that he had improved. Interestingly, neither of the other two rabbits exhibited the same problem.
Dusty also occasionally exhibited a "darting eye" (nystagmus) problem. His eyes would flicker back and forth. This is believed to be related to the wry-neck (or "head tilt") problem. Dr. Brazelton's treatment of this with an antibiotic (Baytril) was always followed by improved results.
In his old age, Dusty had drainage problems with his eye ducts. These would get clogged with a sticky mucous and, occasionally, the vet would try to clear the ducts. Well, the right eye got very bad. On several occasions he had lesions on that eye, as well (there were several occasions when I was teasing Dusty with a small tree branch that I may have accidentally hit him in the right eye with the stick).
Near the end of his life, Dusty kept his right eye closed most of the time. One day, a few months before his death, I took him to the Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital to get his eye ducts cleaned, among other things. Dr. Brazelton wasn't there. The vet that tended to Dusty didn't drain his right eye ducts because his right eye was sinking into his skull! I didn't learn about this until I got home, and I wasn't too happy that nothing had been done about that eye.
Later on, Dr. Ness drained the ducts for that eye. I was given an ointment to apply to the eye, but Dusty kept his eye so tightly closed that it was very difficult applying the ointment without help. I tried to spread open his eyelids and, at the same time, apply the ointment. This was tricky. I did the best I could by laying Dusty on his left side, holding him down with my left arm while trying to open his right upper eyelid with my left hand. It was obvious that opening the eye was painful to him, because he resisted me -- whom he trusted 100% - so much. I just needed a small opening. But even when I was able to open up the eyelid, I couldn't see where I was applying the ointment, because the eye had, indeed, sunk into his skull!
I believe that I may have been applying too much pressure one time on his frail body in trying to apply the ointment to his right eye, that his left front paw was broken. Unfortunately, the stress of the break on his body was probably way too much for him to overcome, combined with every other problem that he had.
Because of the difficulties applying the ointment and Dusty's obvious pain, I oftentimes didn't bother following through on the treatment. But, of course, his eye problem didn't get any better. When Dr. Ness realized the difficulties that I was having (this is when I took Dusty in because of the broken left paw), he prescribed medicated eye drops rather than the ointment. Amazingly, Dusty's eye got better. But, a week and a half later, when Dr. Ness took a follow-up x-ray of Dusty's paw, he discovered the cancer.
When I brought Dusty in to be treated for the broken paw, I didn't realize that I was the cause of the break. When I told Dr. Ness that "Dusty may have broken his left paw," he responded by claiming that I was the one that had broken Dusty's paw. This statement stunned and upset me. Moreover, Dr. Ness seemed angry at me, as if I had done this deliberately (he didn't say that).
I do remember one day, while tending to Dusty by holding him in my left arm, he started nudging me with the bridge of his nose. He did this several times while looking at me with this serious look on his face. I assumed that he was trying to tell me that I was holding him too tightly, so I eased up on my grip somewhat, even though it didn't seem that I was holding him any tighter than usual. That may very well have been shortly after I, presumably, broke his paw.
Later on, Dr. Mueller suggested that Dusty's cancer may have made his bones even more fragile than they normally would have been for a rabbit that age. Anybody who had treated him as much as I had may have made the same mistake, not knowing that his bones couldn't withstand as much stress as they had in the past.
Shortly after Dusty's death, Dr. Mueller told me about a psychic that she had consulted regarding some of her birds who exhibited behavioral problems. Dr. Mueller told me that, although many of the things that Asia Voight had told her could have been tipped off to her in one way or another by the things Dr. Mueller had said or by her voice patterns, Ms. Voight did mention a few intimate details about the personalities of the birds that probably were not conveyed in any way to her, suggesting that there was reason to believe that maybe she did, indeed, have some special clairvoyant abilities.
I looked up her website on the Internet (http://www.asiavoight.com/ContactUs.htm). She operates out of a town near the border of Illinois and Wisconsin. Apparently she is so popular I had to make an appointment three months in advance to talk to her over the telephone! The cost was moderate. I had to send a photo of the pet that I wanted to communicate with and a relatively recent photo of myself. I sent her three photos of my rabbits, one of which was exclusively of Dusty.
I would come home from an evening of teaching. It would be about 10:45. I would take some time with Dusty (in the last year and a half of his life he was totally crippled, so I would clean and feed him, as well as try to comfort him by stroking him gently). But there were times that I was so tired, I would start drifting off to sleep. Of course, I was concerned that if I fell asleep with Dusty in my lap and then woke up suddenly, he might get hurt. So, I would compromise. I would simply take him into the bedroom, prop him up against the cushion on the bed board, wrap a blanket around him so that he wouldn't pee on the mattress, keep him near the edge of the bed (there was stuff next to the bed there, so he couldn't fall to the floor) so that I would be less likely to hurt him if I shifted around in my sleep. If I knew that he enjoyed this, I would have done it more often.
In retrospect, the reference may have been to what transpired the last several weeks of Dusty's life. I would prop him up on a cushion in a book box with small, soft blankets positioned to wedge him in an upright (sitting) position. I would set the box on the floor right next to the nightstand in my bedroom where I could easily reach him. I would put one or two other soft blankets over his legs, so that I could set veggies in front of him which he could easily reach. The veggies that he could most easily deal with were plain and curly parsley. They had long stems, so he could reach them with his mouth and start sucking them in with his teeth. Several times during the night, I would make sure his "plate" was full with such veggies. I was trying hard to get his weight up from about 3.5 pounds to about 4 pounds. Even 4 pounds was too low, but, for a rabbit his size, it was the minimum "acceptable" weight.
He loved carrots. Fairly frequently, I would slice three carrots (or a banana) for the rabbits at night, as a special "treat." But, it was much more difficult for Dusty to eat these without dropping them into some crevice in the box in which I placed him because of his disability. So, fairly frequently, I would wind up feeding him carrot slices one-by-one in the middle of the night. How he loved those carrots!
The last night of his life was a Friday. I was scheduled to teach at 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Evanston campus of Northwestern University the following day. I usually took the train to get there, since my car was unreliable and, being a senior citizen, I got free rides on Metra. However, I had an appointment to take Dusty in to see Dr. Ness at the Ness Wellness Center at 8:30 that Saturday morning. On Tuesday of that week, I had noticed that Dusty had become bloated throughout his body, and he seemed sensitive to even a light touch from my hands. I called Dr. Ness's office, but the message didn't get through to him. I called again on Friday afternoon as a follow-up. The doctor made arrangements for an early Saturday appointment. This meant that I would have to drive to Evanston, because, by the time I got out of the vet's office, the last train that would get me to Evanston in time would have already departed the Wheaton station (trains don't run very frequently on Saturdays).
In any case, I was concerned that I might be overly tired if I put Dusty in my bedroom again that night, and that might affect my teaching. So, going to bed around 11 p.m., I decided to leave Dusty in the living room. But, by midnight, I didn't feel comfortable leaving the poor little guy out there basically by himself, since he was kept separate from the other rabbits. So, I brought him into my bedroom, placed him beside me on the floor, made sure he had plenty of curly parsley to eat, and fell asleep content listening to his "crunch, crunch, crunch" noises. Of course, I got up several times during the night to make sure he had plenty to eat. At about 4:00 a.m., I dug into his box looking for the many carrot slices that had fallen into crevices, and began feeding them to him one at a time, patiently waiting for him to eat one completely before giving him another. I was very tired. But, I am so glad that I did what I did then. If I had left him out in the living room alone that last night of his life, my guilt would have been magnified tenfold!
I didn't want him to suffer excessive pain and, possibly, a horrible death, but I frequently wonder if I, or anyone else, have the right to preempt what God wants.
All in all, I feel better now that the right thing was done at about the right time -- he may very well have been on his way to a gruesome death. Nonetheless, February 14, 2009 -- Valentine's Day - was one of the three worst days in my life.
I miss him very much -- he gave unconditional love to me over his entire life. How I miss that! God bless Dusty! May he rest in peace.
Some of my favorite things about Dusty:
Dusty's right ear usually drooped, while the left ear was erect. Sometimes both ears were erect, especially when he heard something and wanted to hone in on the source. His ears were like radar scanners -- each one would scan the area independently of the other! This was both interesting to watch and amusing.
He trusted me thoroughly. I could carry him on my hip with just one hand - without holding his butt, and he would not kick or panic. He had 100% confidence that I had control, and he wouldn't be dropped.
I remember near the end when I came home from teaching after being gone for over twelve hours, I would immediately check on Dusty. I would lift him from the box where he had sat all that time without any interaction with the other rabbits. I could tell that this little guy was so excited for me to be there to comfort and feed him. His body quivered with excitement when I first picked him up. Who could not love this little guy?
I loved how he was so demonstrative at feeding time in the mornings. Looking up, trying to guess where I would place the plates of veggies. Bumping into the others, nipping at them, trying to gain an advantageous position. Leaping with the joy of a good life! All three rabbits did this at what seemed like random moments.
There were times when I would be cradling him while giving him his meds or cleaning him, and he would be licking away at my T-shirt. He sometimes licked my left nipple, and it tickled.
Speaking of nipping: Dusty nipped me many times, especially when I had teased him maybe too much, but he never broke my skin. However, he rarely nipped me in his old age (except when I held him too close to my chest).
There were other times when I was cleaning him or otherwise just holding him, that he would just plain pee. And, my goodness, this guy had a very forceful stream! There was little to forewarn me -- he might start squirming around a bit, but I read the signal too slowly most of the time. And, incredibly, I got hit by the stream squarely in my right eye one time. Another time, I got hit in the mouth. I was hit in the face many times. He couldn't have done any better had he been aiming (who knows, maybe he was!).
Of course, there were those times, described above, when Dusty would waddle into my bedroom in the morning and I would play "catch" with him.
Dusty was the alpha rabbit of this family, but he "ruled" so that Cassidy and Lacey were (seemingly) made to feel an integral part of the family too. I was blessed to have three rabbits that got along so well throughout their lives.
For all of his illnesses, you couldn't but admire his never ending will to live.
I also thank Dr. Ness for taking about 45 minutes of his precious time to talk with me regarding Dusty's condition and treatment about three months after his death. I had been reluctant to go back because that office was where Dusty had died. And, maybe, because I felt that I had been pressured to do what I didn't want to do. The talk was most cathartic. I now am convinced that the right thing was done.
I had expected to pay for Dr. Ness's time, but he refused to accept payment, claiming that he treated the family, not just the pet.
There were other vets that also saw Dusty on occasion. There was Dr. Gray at the Arboretum View Animal Clinic. For awhile, when I taught at night and Dusty could not stand up for long periods of time, I took him to the Arboretum View to be housed and watched over. I wanted Dusty to be upright so that he could breathe better. I was afraid that, if he were lying on his side, the mucous buildup in his sinuses might make it harder for him to breathe comfortably. Also, if he slipped down into a lying position with no one around, he might not be able to reach any food. So, for about six months I would drive to Lisle before class. Then, when I got to the Wheaton train station at about 10:45 p.m., I drove back to Lisle to pick him up at about 11:15. The people there were very kind to Dusty and seemed to like him a lot. Eventually, I propped up Dusty in a box with plenty of food within his reach, so I didn't think it was necessary to continue taking him to Arboretum anymore on my teaching nights.
Richard Nye also treated Dusty several times when he was at the Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Clinic, which he at one time co-owned with his wife, Susan Brown, DVM. Dr. Nye is now affiliated with the Ness Wellness Center.
Certain people on this website, especially on the Monday Night Candle Light Ceremony, like to quote poetry. Most of it is very touching. I have never been one who was much into poetry, but one time a few weeks ago (April 2009), I came across a book -- I guess it was a bestseller at one time -- called "The Shack." Basically, although fictional, it is written to help us cope with issues of death. There was one poem there that I would like to share with all of you who are also grieving the loss of a loved one (pet or otherwise):
Breathe in me ... deep
From The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity by Wm. Paul Young (published by windblown media).