My darling friend Kate called a year and a half ago from her home in San Diego for an update on Winston. “You know I have a soft spot in my heart for him,” she said. I remember when Mike and I were in Hawaii in 2002 and she bunny-sat for three weeks. I can imagine there was a lot of bonding that happened during that time. While we were gone, she was mending a broken heart. I bet Winston got an earful. Fortunately for Kate, he has enormous ears. That was when I lived in a one-room bedroom apartment in Auburn Place. Winston and I moved in there together in 2001.
I only had Winston a month before I moved in to that apartment by myself. I had been lonely, a little withdrawn. Mike, boyfriend at the time and now my husband, decided I needed something furry to love. We took a trip to the pet store and found the perfect companion: a half-off Easter bunny. When I first brought my little bit of gray fluff home I would cradle him scooped in my hands. His lop ears stuck out to the side like a little helicopter. His body barely filled the cup my hands created but his back feet were almost twice as long as my thumbs. Feet that size seemed to be an indicator of quite a bit of growth. I had my suspicions then that he was not a true Mini Holland Lop. I didn't care. I was in love.
My roommate of the old apartment and I sat my bed watching this little creature with very large and inquisitive brown eyes as he explored his new surroundings. “What’s his name?” she asked. I had no clue. For three days, he was simply “Bunny”. This situation was getting critical, so like a true English major I sat down and began to brainstorm everything I could think of that was gray. Smudges. Grunge music. Flannel. Rain clouds. Cement. Plymouth Rock. Nickels. The novel 1984 by George Orwell. Looking at my little friend made me think of freedom. The reflection made by Winston Smith, the protagonist in 1984, "Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four," and an old mix tape of Seattle grunge music got my creative naming abilities going and Winston Foo-Foo Fighters Bunny was officially named. Since then, he's had lots of names: Bunny Butt, Grumpy Butt, Fluffy Butt, Bun, Snuggle Bunny, Twitchyface. Yes, I know. A lot of references to his cute li'l behind.
Back to the spring of 2001, the year I graduated from college, I was excited to have my first apartment without a roommate. Or, at least that is what I thought I was doing. My best friend Lori’s lease ran up and she needed a place to stay while she was in transition. I told her she could camp out in the living room for as long as she liked. By then, Winston was litter-trained and was allowed to hop about the apartment whenever someone was home. He would jump up and snuggle into my lap to demand and ear-scratch. Sometimes he would perch on the back of the futon while we watched T.V. looking like a little gray, furry pirate parrot. Mostly he kept waking Lori up at night by chewing on his water bottle for marathon water-guzzling sessions.
Living on my own was a big step for me, so I was glad to have Lori as my training wheels. But the coming months were momentous for Winston, too. That was the summer that Winston fell in love. Winston had finally hit puberty and had begun humping stuffed animals, throw pillows, shoes, blankets…well, there’s a reason for the saying “do it like rabbits.” Nothing, however, compared to Winston’s adoration of Mike's friend Andy. Andy would come over and Winston would pursue him across the kitchen, down the hallway, through the living room, and back into the kitchen. He wouldn't leave Andy alone when he was sitting on the couch. I decided to have Winston 'fixed' after a few episodes of this behavior.
Soon after we solved that problem, my mom went in the hospital for emergency surgery. Winston went to live with Mike and Andy while I temporarily moved back home to help my mom during her recovery until late August when I started student teaching. That September, Winston sat on my lap while the nation was glued to our televisions, watching as a giant plume of smoke and debris changed our lives. By October and November, my students were used to getting papers back with bits of the corners missing where Winston had nibbled. One student even tried to use this as a bargaining tool. “You might not have liked my paper, but Winston sure did,” the student said. I told him that maybe Winston saw promise in the writing and that perhaps he should revise the paper. Winston didn’t like it as much the second time, but I did--it was definitely a better effort. Who knew that a fifteen-year old goth kid would be motivated by bunny nibblings on paper?
Soon it was spring again, Mike was graduating and we went on that trip to Hawaii I mentioned earlier. A few weeks later, we were engaged. It was a happy summer. One day on a trip to the pet store for hay and treats, I purchased a little harness and retractable leash for Winston. See, there used to be this old lady down the street from me who would walk her orange smooshed-nose cat past my house every day. Although I had no intention of walking a rabbit, I thought that it may be a way to take my little friend outside safely. Winston hated the process of putting on the harness, but he loved going outside. We would go on picnics at MSU’s campus—a sub from Jimmy John’s for me, and a small iceberg lettuce salad for Winston. I would read and Winston would nap or investigate bushes and flowers.
It was in preparation for one of these outings that I found my friend Derek in a bit of a funk. He was still taking summer classes and had a final project due the following day. A final project that had not even been started. It was supposed to be some kind of a public service announcement. “Sorry, dude.” I said. “I don’t know how I can help. All I have is a bunny.” Something about this statement clicked, and before I knew it, Derek had acquired a gray stuffed toy lop-eared rabbit, a baseball bat, and a half-charged video camera. The satirical public service announcement warning the perils of Bunny Baseball (starting Winston F. Bunny and his plush stunt double as the "baseball") was completed in one night. Derek got an “A”. Winston got a grape. Everyone was happy. Yes, it was a good summer.
By August, Winston and I moved to Novi with friend and her cat, Charlie. Charlie and Winston soon became friends and were allowed supervised playtime and were often found napping together. Mike got a job down in Ohio and moved to Columbus to get our new house settled. When my lease ran up, Winston moved with him while I waited for my job transfer to go through. Shortly after I moved to join them, the three of us celebrated our first Thanksgiving together (Winston does not like sweet potatoes) and Christmas (Winston does like dried cranberries). Wedding preparations, the wedding itself, and our honeymoon took up most of the following spring. But there was Winston, in the middle of all the preparations, toppling my pile of bridal magazines and repositioning them about the room.
Not long after we were married, Mike splurged and bought himself a new 65-inch television. That meant the entire entertainment center had to go. It was old, but I hated to throw it out. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make a cage for Winston out of this?” I mused. Mike looked up with a gleam in his eye I knew meant trouble. There was a flurry of measuring tape and pencil markings and muttering about needing a staple gun and chicken wire, a trip to Home Depot, and two bottles of Coke. In a few hours, the Palatial Estate of Winston F. Bunny was constructed—complete with castors so it could be rolled out onto the patio in the summer. There were separate compartments for litter, a 'tunnel' made of the lower shelves, a food station, and a shelf high enough so Winston could see the whole room, even over the back of the couch.
I never realized how much I didn't know about rabbits until finding the Columbus House Rabbit Society online while looking for a vet and emergency clinic information in case we needed it. I met the head of CHRS and took a tour of her house which doubled as a rescue facility. I became involved in the "Make Mine Chocolate" campaign that encourages parents to not purchase rabbits for their children at Easter. Winston was one of the lucky ones purchased from pet stores, but many bunnies end up abandoned (or worse, "set free") after the novelty of the holiday is worn off and families realize they don't know anything about the animal or how to care for it. Winston became the 'spokesbunny' for my crusade and the "author" of letters that have gone out every spring.
Two years passed and Winston was transitioning to 'geriatric' status. Worried about the "ergonomics" of the Palatial Estate, Winston moved to what my friend Amy called the “retirement community garden apartment”—a smaller, one-story rabbit hutch. He also had to adjust to a new addition to the family: Orange Cat. There were some bumps in their early introductions. Upon observing Orange Cat sniffing at a bowl of rabbit pellets, Winston ran full force across the living room to defend his food and head-butted the cat in the stomach. Orange Cat was terrified. From then on if the rabbit was playing outside his hutch, the cat would stay on the couch. The addition of Oliver B. Superbiscuit, a rescued Rhodesian Ridgeback pup who had been abandoned and abused, also proved to defy stereotypes. When Ollie and Winston were first introduced, a loud bunny-thump was all Winston needed to assert his dominance. It was amazing to watch as Ollie’s body language showed he—a dog bred to hunt lions who would grow to be close to eighty pounds—would grow up being submissive to a six-pound prey animal.
We moved back to Michigan to a house down the street from Mike's parents. Winston quickly adapted to his new home and new living room playground, but shortly after the holiday season, I could tell something was wrong. The diagnosis of molar malocclusion and explanation of lengthy and routine treatments involving anesthesia were bleak. The blood work results indicating the beginning stages of renal failure made the prognosis even less favorable. The vet wanted me to be prepared: he had less that a month left.
It was three weeks of hiding pain medication in frozen peeled grapes, long snuggles and naps together on the couch, and a lot of bunny reiki. I was a nurse at a bunny hospice, Ollie was my assistant and slept by the hutch during the days to watch over his friend. Against all odds, he started to get better. He became more interested in his surroundings, playing with his toys, grooming himself again. By summertime he was back to his old self. "He's like the Energizer bunny," joked a friend. And he was, back to afternoons sitting outside enjoying the sun and naps and playing with his toys. No more free reign of the living room, though. The only lasting effect of that episode was incontinence.
Winston met more friends and their children, ate new foods and treats, discovered new uses for his toys. On suggestion from one of these new young friends, he had his blackberry. He looked like a little kid who had shoved his face in a blackberry pie--his lips and surrounding fur were dyed deep purple for a day. He found a new game, taking his multi-colored plastic toy chain and putting it in the water dish, pulling it out link by link. He especially enjoyed doing this when I was trying to rest on the couch. When his cage door was open, he would let Ollie wash his face, and when the newest member of our furry family joined us last December, bunny and puppy sniffed noses. They continued to "touch base" that way once the puppy was tall enough to stick his nose up to the bunny hutch.
I have had more time with him than I had ever imagined. Almost eight years. The last seventeen months were an extra blessing. A visit to the vet Friday morning confirmed he was in full renal failure now. He was lethargic and unaware at times, extra snuggly when he wakes up and wanting to be held. Fastidious to the end, he continued to re-arrange the towels underneath him in moments of clarity, occasionally 'churring' or making a happy grunt when he was comfortable. I’ve spent the past eight years doing everything I can to protect him, keep him safe. It is hard to let go of that, to remember that 'keeping safe' really means 'keep him from getting hurt'. So we had a morphine-like medication to keep him pain free. No more hurting. Just love and snuggles.
The last night, he curled up on my shoulder, nestling his head under my chin. I cradled him the same way I did when he was first that little ball of fluff that fit in my hand. He was ready to go, return his energy to it's source. And what a beautiful energy it is. While his physical self is gone, I know Mike and I are surrounded with his love and happy 'churring' noises. As we placed him next to Bailey in the pet cemetery at the edge of the property, the three horses next door came to attend the memorial. They stood there, stoic and silent and watching. I like knowing he is with friends and has these beautiful chestnut guardians to watch over him. He is an awesome bunny. And an amazing little friend.
I love you, Bun.