Happy Trails, Vagabond Bunny

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On March 1, 2008 I boarded a train in Poznan, Poland. Destination: Warsaw. The train was almost empty. I had an entire six-seat compartment to myself. I set the empty pet carrier beside me and watched the winter landscape glide by. Rain splattered against the window, obscuring the fields and sky. Gray on gray. The wind howled.

After three hours, I arrived in Warsaw. I was met by the head of Stowarzyszenie Pomocy Królikom, a Polish rabbit rescue society. They were having a special event that day, but she had made the effort to come and get me because I had come a long way. SPK had a chapter in Poznan, but I came to Warsaw, because there was a special girl who needed a home. She had been at their shelter for so long that no one remembered where she had come from or what her story was. They only knew that she was about a year old. Big bunnies are not popular. People don’t consider them “cute”. I didn’t adopt her out of pity, however. My previous rabbit Gilligan had been a so-called “meat rabbit”. They are the Labradors of the rabbit world. Calm, good-natured, goofy love sponges.

As we rode the train back to Poznan, I stroked her nose and decided that I would call her Flower. She looked like a creature that you would see in your garden, eating your vegetables. By the time we arrived in Poznan, night had fallen. When I opened the carrier, she growled and charged at me. I pressed firmly on her nose, establishing dominance. She made a few rounds of the kitchen, and then hopped into her litter box. She had none of the skittishness of my previous rabbits. I had wanted to adopt a pair, but the shelter’s efforts to bond her had been unsuccessful. “She tries to kill other rabbits,” the lady said.

I knew what it was like to prefer the company of other species to that of my own. By the time my husband arrived in Poznan, a couple of weeks later, Flower and I were best friends. My husband had taken the deaths of our previous three rabbits very hard, so he was determined to not get attached to her. However, he soon succumbed to her charm. And she to his.

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I have always felt a deep affinity with little animals. Watchful creatures that scurry around in the underbrush. My very first pet was a rabbit named “Julie”. I’ve shared my life with hamsters, guinea pigs, and even a chinchilla. When I was a child, I tamed the chipmunks that lived in the forest around my grandparents’ cottage. They would come right up to me and eat out of my hand. It takes patience and respect. There’s something very rewarding about gaining a prey animal’s trust and love.

I am fascinated by “the subtle language of rabbits”, as my sister Pebby, another rabbit enthusiast, calls it. It’s so different from that of dogs and cats. You need to quiet down, get on the floor, and observe. Soft snorts of indignation, buzzes of affection. Nose nudges. The grinding teeth of contentment.

And, of course, the thumps. Flower was a formidable watchdog. She could sleep through a jack hammer battering the street, but a homeless person shuffling around the corridor outside our apartment in Poznan, and drunken tourists copulating in the bushes outside our window in Budapest sent those big back feet into a frenzy.

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Then there is the body language: ear position, nose wiggle velocity. Stances. She could be so intimidating.

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Poznan. Budapest. Bratislava. Prague. Every time we packed up a van and hit the road for a new home, Flower rode shotgun. As soon as we’d arrive, we’d open the carrier door, and she would venture out to explore her new territory. Four countries, all with different attitudes towards rabbits. Our landlord in Budapest loved her. In Slovakia we had a difficult time finding a decent apartment, because most landlords didn’t allow “livestock”. She was spoken to in six different languages. Bunny rabbit, lapin, królik, nyúl, zajac, králík. The Hungarians who knew her called her Virág, their word for Flower.

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Yes, she was a porker, but if faced with a choice, she would stop eating and snuggle up beside me. Love was always the most important thing. Whenever I’d have a panic attack, I’d lie down beside her and let her simple love bring me back to Earth. I proudly adorned our holiday greetings with her image. She was our girl.

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Monsieur Riso was being uncooperative. Hence the dorky Santa photo effects.

The feisty girl matured into a tough old babushka. Her gusty, high-pitched snores could be heard throughout the apartment. When she reached seven years old, I was finally able to pick her up. The last three years were difficult. Arthritis, teeth problems. Two types of medication twice a day. She had a massive tumor removed in August, but she was back to normal two days later. The big breeds usually live a maximum of eight years, and she was approaching ten. She seemed determined to make it. Every vet who saw her was impressed.

Rabbits are not low stress pets. Proper care requires vigilance and sensitivity. Often you don’t know that something is wrong until it’s too late. And just when you think they’re about to leave you, they bounce back. You always wonder if you’re doing the right thing.

But when the time has come to let go, you know. A calm resignation takes hold.

On November 30th, Flower went home to the Great Dandelion Meadow in the Sky. Her majestic presence is gone, leaving behind a gaping void. My husband and I are unable to speak. There will be no more bunnies, no more creatures at all.

Happy Trails – Foofie Butt, Her Royal Fatness, Princess Dingleberry, BubbaLicious. When I get to the end of this long and dusty highway, I know you’ll be waiting for me, along with all of the other beautiful beasts who have kept me company along the way.

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84 thoughts on “Happy Trails, Vagabond Bunny

  1. This is heartbreaking. I remember when you first got her and oh my goodness what a great life you two gave her. She was a big bundle of joy.

    • Thank you. Rabbits are very popular pets in many parts of the world- especially North America, Europe, Australia and parts of Asia. They are easily house trained and can learn to do tricks, too. 🙂

  2. I got up at 4 am today, all stressed out about upcoming life worries, including our little old dog who has already also surpassed her life expectancy, and saw this. So sad. Your love for Flower shines through your story and is so touching; I actually feel teary-eyed over that chubby bunny I’ve never met! I’have to believe as you do that you will be reunited somewhere, someday.

    • I was up at 4am, too. Writing this post to relieve some of the grief. I’d been preparing for this goodbye for three years, since the first time she almost left. But no matter how much you try to prepare yourself, it’s always hard. We had to send her on her way, and I just hope she knows we did it because we love her.

  3. Beautiful yet very sad story at the end. I am sorry to hear if your lovely furry family member passing. It has brought tears to my eyes. If she could read she would love this wonderful story of her life with you.

  4. What a delightful, yet bittersweet read you have here, Julie. And the pics are heartwarming. My thoughts and sympathy to you for this creature who blessed your life. 💔

  5. I had no idea you and your husband had a rabbit in the family, or that you are both so devoted to the love of other species.

    I am awaking to this story on a cold Oregon fall morning. Next to me is my best friend, a large tiger stripe cat named Spanky. His big back feet press against my thigh as he stretches. Together, we watch flames dance in the firebox of our wood stove. Your post reminds me that the companionship of another species is a blessing, a treasure.

    • I have mentioned Flower in previous posts, but it’s true I don’t often write about my day to day life on here. It is indeed a treasure and I’m so grateful for all of the little spirits who have come into my life. Please give Spanky a scratch behind the ears from me.

  6. Sorry to hear of your loss, losing a pet can be like losing a family member.

    Some years ago, after losing our cat my wife and I chose to not adopt again. But since then I found an alternative that gets me fur time and provides a benefit as well – I volunteer at a local humane society. Instead of adopting another cat I help others do so. Perhaps in time, when the sting of losing Flower abates a bit, that sort of thing might be a way for you to get your bunny fix without getting too attached to a particular one.

    • Thank you, Dave. That’s a great idea. I will definitely do it if I find a shelter that has rabbits or other small animals. If they manage to even make it to a shelter here, the staff usually has no idea how to care for them properly. If I were still in Poland, I’d definitely volunteer at the SPK. They are awesome. I’ll also be advertizing my services as a volunteer bunny sitter. 😀 It’s difficult trying to find one over in these parts.

    • Thank you, Robin. The thought of trying to hold Flower in that position, next to my cheek, makes me laugh. At her biggest, she weighed 12 pounds/5.2 kilos. It was a challenge to even pick her up and for most of her life, we couldn’t. Those back feet were unbelievably strong. The purple bunny lived with my photographer friend. 💜

  7. Oh Julie, I am so sorry for your loss. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the magnificent creatures that share our world. I have often wondered whether humanity is the most advance species. Animals understand our language (and Flower understood 6) but we have difficulty learning theirs. Your photos are spectacular. May your warm memories and the knowledge that Flower shared your life for a brief time, be a comfort to you going forward. Many hugs and love coming your way…

    • Thank you, kind Rebecca. I have serious doubts that we are the most advanced. Making the effort to understand the language of animals is so rewarding. I took a class in Animal Behavior at college and did my research project on chinchillas. Most of the time, I’d rather communicate with an animal than a human. There is no BS to cut through, no contrived drama. Flower and I had many profound conversations. 🙂

  8. You did Flower a kindness….a very selfless act of love. Ben will be 14 next month and I’ve been preparing for our goodbyes for a couple years but I know it won’t dull the pain and nothing will every fully prepare me! I get strength by knowing that we all meet our furry loved ones in Glory one day and that keeps me from total despair at the thought of losing the only “son” I’ve ever known. Hang in there dear friend!! She is now pain-free among the most beautiful of flowers! 🙂

    • Thank you, Shelly. I’ll be okay. The longer they’re with us, the more of a shock it is when they leave. Big BEN is such a magnificent gentleman. Please give him a hug for me.

  9. I’m more a big dog person (I am ashamed to admit, my family is used to eat rabbits and so do I, on special occasions…) but I can relate to that. Animals can become as important as humans in a family, sometimes more because they don’t have a tendency to become assholes.

    We bought my German shepherd dog, Tracey, in 2001. She grew up to be an incredible dog, becoming tremendously fond of my family. She even helped, once, the cleaner of our block of flats when she fell in the garages; she rushed to her, kept her distance because she was simply terrified of dogs, and then barked until somebody came to see what the hell was going on and found that lady with a broken leg.
    She died in early 2012, beginning a series that emptied my house and wracked my family; her death was the only time when I saw my grandmother (a hardy woman who at 13 was being sent into Milan, under carpet bombings to collect food, so no wimp) cry.

    So long kis Virág, jó utat!

    • “They don’t have a tendency to become assholes”…ain’t that the truth. I love how you just say it like it is, Fabrizio. I live in a country where rabbits are on most menus. It’s how it is. When I was in North Korea, dog soup was on the menu and most of the group had some. Didn’t bother me any more than people eating steak. I haven’t eaten meat for 26 years, just fish. Other meat makes me sick to look at. Anyway…I love all animals, but rabbits will always be special.

      I loved to hear people call her Virág, and I even started calling her that when we lived in Budapest. It has such a lovely sound.

  10. Such a refined animal soul that Bunny certainly was, to end up its earthly transit as the privileged recipient of your affections. Good catching up on this note with you, julie, after a long while…

  11. Oh, Julie! What to say? I don’t think you bestow your heart readily, but when you do it’s for life. She was a lucky lady to live with you. I hope you’ll meet again some day. Not too soon 🙂

  12. Big, beautiful Flower! So sorry – it is very hard to lose a dear pet, a family member. But you helped Flower have a wonderful life. I so enjoyed reading this. For some reason, you pressing on her nose when first bringing her home is sticking with me. What an intimate, cute way of establishing dominance!

    • Thank you, Leah. Rabbit language is cute, though still a little mysterious. Who would have thought, even a few years ago, that they could be trained and live without cages? There are even competitive rabbit “steeplechases” in Europe and America. I managed to train Flower to “stand up” on her back two feet. 🙂

  13. A beautiful and ultimately sad post. So sorry for the loss of your furry little family member. I was a bunny owner as a girl and have similar soft memories. We can take comfort in their passing by knowing that they lived with love. ❤

  14. Our pets are like amplifiers of our own hearts or something. It is truly amazing, to experience that pure love gifted in such innocent and furry forms. And the personalities they possess! The inside jokes we have with other creatures. The way we can go to them with our pain–no need to explain ourselves–and just share the warmth of life. We had a special pet in our home a few years ago and since he passed we’ve not been able to quite fathom starting again. But I think one day…

    Beautiful writing and sharing here, as ever…
    Michael

    • Thank you, Michael. The inside jokes and colorful personalities will always be with us to bring a smile when we need it. Our beloved beasts are now our angels.

  15. Lovely writing – I’ve never really considered a rabbit for a pet, always had cats or dogs, so it’s interesting to read your take on it. Pets bring love and heartache into our lives and they are worth it. We always succumb and we should!

    • Hi Alex – Rabbits aren’t for everyone, and rabbit people tend to be eccentric. You have to be to understand their language. 🙂 The pain of loss is terrible, but our lives are so much richer with our animal friends. Yes, it is worth it.

  16. How sweetly loving Julie …the chipmunks trusting you , creatures who share the earth with you ( I see you always as deer ) …and flower hopping in that meadow of heavenly bliss now …you will find each other again …sending love always to a beautiful soul I’m so thankful to share the earth with too 💜

    • I see her there, hopping through that meadow along with my other little friends. It makes me smile. There are a few videos on Youtube – maybe you’ve seen one of them – of real deer with wild rabbit friends: https://youtu.be/q3zW0e0dSbA What would the planet be like without the gentle creatures? 🐿

  17. Je suis vraiment désolé, Julie. I’m sure “Lapinos” enjoys the Great Dandelion meadows.
    There is not much more I can say that I understand and share your feelings. Our cat Miao DzeDong just “took off”, two weeks before we were to move houses. She was already an old lady.
    I also just managed to read your Easter Island post (Comments are closed). More insight into the life of Julie. So you’re a leftie? We must be related. 🙂 My father was (contrarié by the catholic priests of course) our oldest is too. (Me? I’m a rightie. Hidden genes) The post was fascinating. It takes courage to go to a kid’s dream place. Some times, the real place is so different from the Dream. (Happened to me in Chichen-Itzà, but that is another story). L’île de Pâques has always been a dream destination to me, don’t know when I will go, but thank you for taking us there. You gave your readers a feeling of the place. A bientôt. B.
    PS. I commend you for being so faithful to the little girl you were. 🙂 Few people are. Au revoir.

    • Merci, Brian. Sorry to hear about Miao. I remember you posting about her.
      It takes a lot of courage (or defiance) to be faithful to our young selves. I understand why people shut off that voice.

      • Thank you. We still her. Now you have an interesting perspective. Forgiveness in fact. To me, a lot of time, people betray the child they have been. A bit harsh maybe. And… thank you for giving me another point of view. Still, I prefer the courage. 🙂 Bon week-end and regards to hubby. (Must be cold out there right now…) Brrrr.

  18. Your gorgeous pictures of Flower make me want to have a rabbit. We always had cats, guinea pigs and mice and our cat got sick last summer so that we had to put it down and since then our house has been empty! So, I can feel your loss a little bit. Thank you also, Julie, for having told us of how differently people behave towards animals in the countries you lived.
    Very best regards Martina

    • Hi Martina – Rabbits are delightful companions, but high maintenance compared to guinea pigs and other small animals. They take as much time and energy as dogs, except that you don’t need to walk them. 🙂 If you do decide to get one, please consider adopting one from a shelter. Except for the SPK in Poland, most European shelters don’t screen the people who adopt rabbits, so they often end up as snake food. 😦 Thank you so much for your kind compliments about my big, beautiful girl.

      • Thank you very much for your helpful information, Julie. 💐It’s clear that one should not buy a rabbit just because it’s Christmas!! Food for snakes, unbelievable! I wish all the best Martina

  19. Your bunny is so big and cute! I would like to have one. I’m sorry for your loss. I know how it feels like losing a pet. I just lost mine 2 days ago and it really hurts. 😦

  20. Hi Julie, I know it’s too late … but, I wanted to tell you that I’m very sorry for your loss.
    It is sad to lose a good friend …
    This is a beautiful farewell, the pictures are lovely.

  21. Never considered rabbits to be intimidating, but after seeing the closeup photo of Flower, I see what you mean. My sympathies on your loss. May your sweet friend rest in peace. (Also love that last photo of the two of you.)

    • Thank you. 💙It was so funny when the pizza delivery person or other stranger came to the door. She’d bound up the hallway to see what was going on. They always jumped back and said “woah”. 😄But she was never a biter.

  22. This is such a lovely post… Not to mention that I learnt quite a bit about rabbits, their behaviours and“the subtle language of rabbits”, as you and your sister call it. You are right that animals have their subtle ways to express themselves. My cats are not the exception 😉 Love the photographs here too. By the way, I met a blogger from UK who loves rabbits. This is her blog: https://racheldejong28.wordpress.com/ … Julie: I am wishing you an excellent 2017 ahead! 😀

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