This has been a tough winter for our animals. A couple of months ago, a raccoon (we assume, as the perpetrator was never identified) rampaged through the chicken coop four nights in a row, feasting on our flock, decimating the menagerie from a raucous 17 down to a petrified 6. Emphasizing natural selection, said vandal removed all the old biddies, leaving only the newbies and a single, original araucana hen from our first batch of chicks three years ago. After that incident, she stopped laying, I assumed because of anxiety or old age, but strangely began producing again a few weeks ago. She's the last supplier of our beautiful minty green-colored eggs.
Now that all has quieted down in the coop, we move our melancholy to the rabbit hutch. Last week, while giving a tour of the farm, I noticed Midnight's head was tilted oddly to one side. It looked like the girl was in serious need of a chiropractor. I began checking on her more regularly, but it seemed her health was worsening daily until I doubt she was eating and her intestinal track was obviously experiencing major trauma. Every day, I expected death to have visited overnight, but there she was alive, lying uncomfortably contorted and in a growing sticky mass of feces.
This circumstance launched Michael and I into conversations on end-of-life treatments. As a farm animal, were we to let her die naturally? Were we to "do her off" on the chopping block, as we do the chickens? Were we to take her to the vet, and depending on the prognosis, to what degree were we to get involved financially?
We inherited the bunnies last spring from a family friend whose daughters had "outgrown" them and didn't want the responsibility anymore. We thought they'd be great manure-producers for the garden and a hands-on petting outlet for Sophia. They lived reasonably happy lives here, receiving regular visits from her and voraciously accepting the multitudes of carrots she shoved in their hutch.
This fall, I was jolted by the sound of screeching like I'd never heard before around midnight. Awake and reading in bed alone, I rushed to save my animal. Wearing nothing but my undies and a headlamp, I slipped on Michael's heavy work boots by the back door and grabbed a bat, chasing an unknown assailant in darkness. Whatever it was disappeared, and I found Midnight lying still in the grass. She was unhurt, with only a bit of saliva on her neck. But maybe she had been infected at that point. Was that the cause of her contortion months later?
Midnight and I bonded that night. I had saved her life. And now I was about to take it.
As I discovered at the vet's office today, after a week of waffling about taking her in, I was much more attached to Midnight than I had previously known. Dr. Hodges identified torticollis, the name for her head tilt, and said its cause was most likely related to a parasite. His somber expression told me what I knew was inevitable: that we could try aggressive treatments but that most likely she would die of starvation or infection on time's own watch. She looked so miserable and defeated that I gave the OK to create the outcome I knew was heading our way. He handed me a tissue box. Sophia waved bye-bye and thankfully didn't seem confused by my tears or even that the nurse took Midnight away wrapped in a towel. The bunny was calm. I put my hand out for her to sniff so she knew I was there and gave her soft ears a last caress.
Maybe we'll get another bunny friend for Fluffy, her sister, who appears to have avoided this fate, as we're surely getting replacement chicks in a few weeks, but tonight, I'm just gonna cry for my pet.