The beginning and the end (Abby, Part 1)

HOLDEN: I know this sounds
pretentious as hell, but I like to think of us as artists. And I’d like to get
back to doing something more personal – like our first book.

ALYSSA: Well when are you going to do

HOLDEN: As soon as we have something personal to say.

The term “Spring Break” has been a misnomer around my house
for years. Since I stopped taking Easter Vacation trips with my folks somewhere
around age 15, the “break” usually meant a chance to catch up on work, take on
a part-time job or find some other thing that would suck up what should have
been a week of freedom.

At the front of this previous Spring Break, we had one of
those family obligations that we hadn’t really looked forward to as much as
most people would imagine. My grandfather was turning 90 and Mom’s whole side
of the family was heading out to Arizona for a visit. Thus, I packed up The
Missus, The Midget and myself and headed out for a four-day break that would at
least reassure me that somewhere on this god-forsaken planet, the temperature
was above freezing.

The trip was fine, the weather was good and The Midget spent
more time in the water than out of it. I loved recalling the days in which all
you needed to be happy was a hotel with a pool. Hell, my parents could have
taken me to Uzbekistan for a break, for all I cared, as long as the place had a

We landed in Milwaukee, took the two-hour drive home and I
prepared for what should have been a decent week, free of most problems.
Somewhere along the drive home, The Midget fell asleep in the car and The
Missus and I mused about what kinds of fun we’d be having if we could get some
time to ourselves. I’d do some writing, she’d do some knitting and we’d
probably get some minor satisfaction out of being done with the hard part of

When we got inside, The Midget went upstairs to check on her
hermit crabs and I went downstairs to water the pets. Archer still had plenty
of meal worms and a “Who the fuck are you?” look on his gecko face. Abby’s bowl
was full and her water was burbling into the bowl, but I couldn’t see her in
the shadowy room. I heard her moving, so I snapped on the light.

Something wasn’t right. Even with that “mercy C” I earned in
zoology in college, I knew that much. Her leg was tilting out of her cage. The
pet who never needed litter box training had made a massive pile on the floor
of her cage and the carpet next to her. She was laying on her side, a small
fore-paw trembling.

Oh. No.

I heard a wail from upstairs that I recognized as having
come from my child, so I hustled up the stairs. The Midget was wrapped around
my wife’s leg sobbing.
“One of her hermit crabs died,” The Missus said in a hushed tone.

“Why don’t you put her in the tub and come downstairs?” I
said in that “you need to come with me right now” tone parents have learned to

“Oh… OK… but.”

“Get down here. Seriously.”

If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the past five
years (man, that time flew by…), you know two immutable truths about me: I hate
pets and I’ve reported on crime long enough to have stronger intestinal
fortitude than a billy goat.

How we ended up with Abby the bunny was completely my wife’s

Somewhere around Year One of our marriage, she was lonely
for a pet or a kid. I think at the time, both of us kind of viewed a rabbit as
a test balloon: If you don’t kill or severely damage this thing, chances are
you’ll be OK with a kid.

After studying the greater Indianapolis area for rabbit
breeders and other rabbit folks, she found a number for a rabbit rescue
foundation. Turns out, a lot of people buy rabbits for little kids around
Easter, realize that rabbits aren’t what they thought they were and then dump
the bunnies off at shelters, many of which don’t have a “no-kill” policy.

Abby had likely been an Easter bunny for a number of
reasons. She was a brown and white mini-Rex, with a brown outer coat and white
apron of fuzz down her belly. She was at least a year or two old as she had
been fixed.

The ad for her noted that she was “very affectionate” and
“demanded constant petting,” two things we later found not to be true at all.
She feared being touched or held or petted. She also had a small scar that ran
down the back of her spine near her neck, a likely result of being grabbed at
by an impatient child or a negligent adult. She was constantly in a mode of
dynamic tension, seeming to want to spring in any direction that didn’t pose a
specific threat.

Despite my protestations, I agreed to meet with the “bunny
mommy” as she called herself. The woman, Amanda, had about three dozen rabbits
and a house that smelled like piss and hay. When we got into the room with
Abby, our job was to sit quietly and see if she came over to sniff us. Three
hours later, she kind of did.

My wife was bound and determined that this would be our pet.
I eventually allowed my distaste wane into malaise, so we agreed with Amanda
that Abby would be ours.

The process would take a couple weeks. They’d check us out,
check out our home and eventually bring us the rabbit. The cost was $40 plus
some sort of fees or other that added ten bucks to the bill. The Missus agreed
to pay it.

We parted company and I now had to figure out where the hell
we were going to put this thing.

With the child in the tub, The Missus came down the stairs
in a “what is your damage?” kind of trot.

When she saw the cage, she knew.

“Oh no…”

At first I thought Abby had a broken leg. I figured she had
gotten it trapped in the cage somehow and snapped it. However, after I pushed
the leg back into the cage, it dawned on me something else was wrong.

She couldn’t get up.

She was laying flat on her left side, her right eye wide
open to the point where we could see some white around her brown iris. Her
right paws flapped as they tried unsuccessfully to pull her onto her haunches.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” I began. “I came down and she
was like this. She’s still alive but…”

The Missus looked at me with clinical precision and yet a
tinge of finality based sadness.

“I think she had a stroke.”

Abby flopped harder as if to say, “No! NO! I’m fine. I’m
really… I’m…”

She collapsed. Her nose pulled hard at the air as she tried
to breathe.

The adage, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” came to
fruition with this rescue rabbit. First, there was the adoption fee. Then there
was the food bucket, the water bucket, the litter box and more. Finally, we
needed a place to put it.

The Missus pointed out a bi-level “enclosure” that would
allow the bunny to poop on one floor of the cage and sleep in the upstairs
level. It looked solid. It looked decent.

“How much?” I asked.

“Only $450 plus shipping!” she said as if her excitement
could outweigh the cost.

“Fuck that!” I spit out, as she suddenly glared at me. It
was instinct more than anything. There was no way in hell I was spending half a
house payment on a rabbit condo.

Instead, we found some plans on how to build one of these
things. I spent two days in the garage wiring one together with old metal
pieces, cloth-covered wood and zip ties. By the time we were done, it looked
just as good as the real thing.

“I bet she’ll like it,” The Missus said.

“I know I do,” I said. “It’s not $450.”

She just sighed at me.

I have seen some of the most truly horrific things a
reporter can imagine, short of spending time in a war zone or in the ghetto.
Farming accidents, fatality accidents, kids getting run over by cars… I never
once threw up. I never once teared up.

“We need…” I began and there it was.

Tears. Uncontrollable.

I wasn’t even crying. It was like my eyes were just
overfilling beyond capacity for some reason. It felt like blood pouring out of
two holes in my face.

Abby flopped again, her nails skittering on the plastic part
of the flooring in her cage.

I pulled it together.

“We need to find an all-night vet,” I told my wife. “She
can’t stay like this. She needs to be put down.”

The Missus began to look online, only to find that one of
the downsides of small-town life is that your options are limited.

No dice.

She got a small towel instead and placed it over the bunny’s
quivering body, trying to add some warmth and dignity to her.

She then looked at me.

“We have to go upstairs. We have to tell her.”

2 thoughts on “The beginning and the end (Abby, Part 1)

  1. There is no more helpless a feeling than the one you have when a pet is in severe distress and there’s nowhere to go.
    A year ago my elderly 15-year-old cat Faulkner developed asthma. At first we just noticed he was working harder than usual to breathe but he wasn’t in any obvious distress. We took him to the vet, had him checked out; Doc said “He’s got asthma” and gave him a steroid shot. Her last piece of advice was to use the shower to steam up the bathroom and take him in there as therapy.
    Big mistake. That night we did so and he seized up immediately. He collapsed on the floor and was gasping like a fish out of water. We live in a small town, too, and the nearest emergency vet hospital is over an hour away. We sat there, weeping, because he was dying and there was nothing we could do. “Despair” doesn’t even begin to describe how we felt.
    Gradually he came around. I sat up all night with him, watching him breathe. He couldn’t sleep because he had to work so hard to breathe. Early the next morning he fell out again, and after he recovered we took him to that hospital.
    They put him in an oxygen “tent” and he did great in there. But every time we took him out of the box he started heaving again. So we took him out for the last time, said goodbye, and put him to sleep. We cried all the way home, with his carcass in the cat carrier. We buried him out back, with the other cats that had preceded him.

  2. You did well with your Midget, seriously.
    When I was 11 I went on a school trip and came home to find my dog was gone. My mom said he was staying at neighbors. I kept agitating that we go get him, but she kept putting me off. Then I found his bowl and collar in the larder. When presented with this my mom said, “You know he was put down, we discussed it and you agreed! Your idea even!”
    I never. And in any case, what was that “neighbor” bullshit if we were all agreed on the thing. He was a little arthritic and had an accident in the house one day, that was all his physical problems amounted to. I never got over it, and each time I cry for another one of my cats or dogs passing, a good portion of my tears are also for Boy, 40 years gone with no goodbye.

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