Monday, May 15, 2006

In Memoriam: George

My mother sends the sad news that George has died. I’m afraid it was not what I was expecting to hear first thing in the morning. Since George has been increasingly disabled and in intermittent bad health since January of 2001, we have periodically expected him to die, but George had an extremely strong will to live and repeatedly surprised us.
This time, evidently, his neurological problems were too much for him. According to my mother, she heard an unusual sound from him, so she went and picked him up as she always did when he had a seizure, but this one was the most violent she had ever encountered. She could hardly keep hold of him and next thing she knew he had gone limp. I cannot think how many seizures George must have had over the years, some of them intense and long-lasting—he used to have whole mornings when he would barely start coming out of one before starting another—but during the last couple of years his fits had been much milder and we had come up with some techniques to soothe him. I didn’t really think anymore that he would die of a seizure.
Still, I suppose it was not such a terrible end for a rabbit in his situation. The seizure was brief and he died in the arms of one of his very favorite humans. My only regret regarding the manner of his death is that he probably didn’t have any idea that my mother was holding him. He would have been glad to know that she was there to ease the way.
George was a remarkable rabbit. It seems a little peculiar to say this since most rabbits I’ve known well were also remarkable; the significant thing is that each has been remarkable in an individual way. When I first brought George home from the House Rabbit Society, he certainly didn’t seem remarkable in any way. Very likable, yes, but not possessed of any very striking characteristics other than that he was very energetic and seemed (and proved to be) capable of handling life with Penelope (a rabbit of difficult temperament). He didn’t seem particularly bright to me, but I later concluded that George simply had a different type of intelligence than some of the other rabbits I have known. He didn’t have a strong spatial intelligence and didn’t seem to figure things out the way Penelope did—Penelope was very smart but her psychological problems got in the way of her using her brains very well—but George proved to be psychologically smart, and as the years went on he became very wise. In his youth, he tended to do things like run back and forth hoping you would pet him as he went by, because he couldn’t sit still long enough to be petted in the usual way. He also had a tendency to behave like popcorn popping; every so often his energy got to be too much and he exploded into the air. He had a voracious appetite and could be lured anywhere with just a piece of celery; he constantly gave the impression that he hadn’t eaten in weeks.
Still, when I took the rabbits to the East Coast with me for grad school, George was the one who didn’t really have a problem being stuck in the car for a week. Most rabbits dislike car travel, and Penelope was no exception—she hated it passionately and refused to eat or drink—but George regarded as merely inconvenient, and settled down rapidly once the car stopped. He adjusted to our new apartment immediately and explored it with great interest.
Unfortunately, that first year in grad school I didn’t know that one could really take rabbits on the plane, so I came back from Christmas break to find George was seriously ill with what proved to be a pasteurella infection. I had no experience medicating rabbits, and George was very good at spitting out his pills. Had I realized then that I could grind up the pills and mix them with baby food, we might have knocked out the infection quickly and he might have made a full recovery. As it was, I was getting some medicine into him, so he got better, but we spent months trying to get him over the pasteurella and presumably it never really completely went away. This left him open to other ailments, some of them probably caused by e. cuniculi.
Gradually I became aware that he was falling when he turned corners, and I also realized that the thrashing sounds I sometimes heard were George having seizures rather than Penelope getting aggressive with the carpet. By the time Penelope died of a thymus gland growth in 2002, George was significantly less mobile. He fell a lot and had a very hard time getting in and out of the litter box despite my cutting away one of the sides. Fortunately, Calypso Spots cheered him up greatly, and he liked following her down the hall to watch her get into dreadful mischief by the front door.
Eventually we had to learn how to bathe George, as he could no longer groom himself. Initially, he hated anything that involved not being fully upright and in control of his body. After a time, however, he got used to the idea that being picked up and even bathed were not such bad things, and could even be enjoyable. He also quickly became accustomed to going to the vet, and regarded this as an opportunity to eat more treats. Veterinary assistants were always charmed by his easy-going temperament and the fact that he would simply lie there and eat a carrot while they were taking his temperature or giving him a shot. His vets in Washington, Pittsburgh, and California were very fond of him, and I think he liked them as well.
Actually, I don’t think George ever met anyone he didn’t like. He was a friendly creature, even if not especially demonstrative. Early on in his illness I had my brother coming over twice a day to help me give medicine (one person to hold George, one to syringe the stuff into his mouth), and he remarked that even though George knew he was there to assist with something unpleasant, George always hopped forward to say hello.
George charmed pretty much everyone he ever met during his last few years. As a creature who had once been so active and who became incapable even of standing up, he could have become embittered and bad-tempered. True, at times he did express his impatience about the whole thing, and he seemed convinced that one of these days he would simply be able to leap up again and run across the room. But I always looked upon George as a wonderful example. Should I ever become even half so disabled and am able to be half so cheerful and patient about it, I’ll be impressed. I’m not sure it’s even in human nature to be so patient about affliction. I simply hope that I never have to go through anything like what he did. I know I learned an enormous amount from him.
It pains me that I couldn’t see him before he died, but I know that he was extremely happy staying with my parents. No one could possibly have taken better care of him and paid more attention to his needs and moods. He had daily brushing and lots of cuddling, baths whenever needed, and a wide variety of delectable fruit and vegetable treats. He also had the benefit of a passionately devoted companion in the estimable Ms. Spots. She seemed to fall in love with him almost at first sight and loved to snuggle up with him and lick his ears and face. It was difficult for her when he could no longer follow her around the living room, but she accepted his limitations and worked out ways of playing by herself (tearing up phonebooks and boxes, mainly, and having adventures atop the furniture).
After George died, my parents left his body in his usual resting place for several hours so that Ms. Spots could get used to the idea of his death. She lay next to him at times and sometimes licked him, but I suppose then it would get to be too much for her and she would retreat to the area behind the love seat. She is getting a lot of petting and attention to help her through her grieving.
George is now buried under the fruit trees in the back yard, which seems like an ideal location. He loved to eat fruit, he spent many hours of his youth napping under the trees, and it is an attractive spot. We can be reminded of him when we are in the back yard. He was greatly loved by the entire family.
Being a black rabbit, he was unfortunately a bit hard to photograph well.

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