Lessons from a Litter

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Our youngest with Willow.

One year ago, my husband showed up with a couple of rabbits for our children to enjoy raising. I honestly wasn’t too sure about it. The rabbits were big enough that they weren’t exactly cuddly, and I didn’t find them endearing in the manner of a dog or cat.

Winter arrived in Minnesota a few months later, and this was when our first litter of babies arrived. There were just three babies and none of them made it more than minutes. Our rabbits were outdoors in a hutch, and while they had grown thick winter coats, the babies were born without a strand of fur. I was really unsure about the rabbits at that point — not extremely happy with my husband for bringing such a sad experience into our lives. A second litter followed one month later, and we were able to keep three babies alive. One weakened and died, but we ended up with two that were doing very well by two weeks of age.

One sunny afternoon, we had taken them out of the hutch for the first time and were letting them hop around inside a large cage in the yard. They were able to squeeze through the bars and escape, and my three children delightedly scooped them up and returned them to the cage each time. While we were distracted with one escaping, the other escaped, and my 2-yr old picked it up. All three of us dove for her, and in her excitement and desire to imitate our own actions, she threw the baby bunny into the cage. (Toddlers, in their exuberance, tend to do everything times ten.) It struck its head against the metal side and we could see immediately that something was wrong. It couldn’t hop properly any more and I worried that it had broken its foot. But it was even worse than that. It turned over on its side, exhaled deeply and stopped moving. I scooped it up immediately and within two minutes, that sweet baby bunny had died in my hands.

It was honestly the saddest thing that had happened to me in a very long time — and to my children ever. My 9- and 7- yr olds were crying in disbelief, and my 2-yr old did not understand what had happened at all. I’ll never forget my 7-yr old daughter walking around with lifeless Coco, truly mourning its short life. It was her bunny of the two, and she had poured as much love into it in its two weeks of life as too many people are fortunate to receive from others in a lifetime. She prayed aloud that he would somehow wake up.

Mommy, will Coco go to Heaven? Of course, Darling (and inwardly: well, C.S. Lewis believed that pets go to Heaven! I’ve read since that C.S. Lewis wrote that animals who are beloved and thereby infused with meaning by their human masters are likely to experience the afterlife in much the same way as humans, who are beloved and have been infused with meaning by our Master.) My 9-yr old son, who’d acted like a nervous father as the litter was being born, could not believe that, after all the losses to cold the litter had already sustained, this could have happened. And I sobbed into my own pillow that night. Why, God, why? In my maturity, I could handle it (barely) — but my children?? To see life end so abruptly was more than we could bear.

Just prior to that litter being born, we had given the father bunny away — so you can imagine our surprise when four weeks later, we noticed the mother bunny building a nest. She tore fur from her underbelly — the signs were unmistakable. I ran to Google and learned that indeed, a female rabbit can carry two litters of different gestational ages.

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Introducing Hazel, Snowdrop, Pipkin, Willow, Rowan, Clover, Blackberry, Thistle and Dandelion.

And the next day, we had nine new babies. This time, the weather in Minnesota had warmed considerably, and while we anticipated some losses. all nine survived and are 9 weeks old today. They are all different colours — black, grey, brown, gold, white with spots or stripes of various shades. My children named them after the characters in the classic novel Watership Down and even my 2-yr old and all my kids’ friends in our neighbourhood know them all by name.

And oh, we love them. We have had a glorious few months taking care of them. I love to watch the confidence and care my children have all developed with them. I’ve loved watching them chase them around our backyard when my 2-yr old has tipped over the cage for the umpteenth time that day to create just this effect. I’ve laughed as Dandelion, the runt of the litter, is the hardest to catch every time — absolutely the fastest. As much work as bunnies and toddlers are, if I could freeze them, every one, at this age forever, I would.

But they are swiftly reaching the age where we must find good homes for them and we are actively engaging in that process lest we end up with a fully fledged bunny farm in our back yard. We have about three weeks with them left.

As caught up with raising babies/children as I have been over the past decade, I have often shaken my head at the attachment that people have shown to their pets and animals. Of course, I remember what it was like as a child, when our family cat had disappeared. One we never were able to find; another showed up safe and sound after 10 days out in a Minnesota deep freeze. I remember how devastated I was at that kind of loss/potential loss. I really thought that the wondrous weight of caring for children had muted that at least for the time being in me.

But our litter of bunnies has shown me that this not so, and some other things too.

1. The love I feel is an expression of the love of Triune God. I am 100% in agreement with Baxter Kruger when he says that any time we experience an outpouring of love or deep care and concern for another person or living thing, it is the love of Triune God we are experiencing and in which we are participating. If this is true, and I believe it is, then God cares for these seemingly insignificant woodland creatures just as my husband, children and I do. (Endlessly more than we do.) They are not insignificant to him.

2. All life is sacred. My experience with our family of bunnies gives me assurance that the human race, as screwed up as it can be, is going to be ok — because if the love we bear these animals truly is an expression of God’s love, then not one breath of life is dispensable or insignificant to Triune God.

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

What this says to me is not that the life of an animal or any living thing is cheap — but that if God cares THAT much for every creature on the earth, how much more does he care for you and me? It ought to blow our minds. He really is unreasonably crazy about us in the same way a parent is about his or her young child.

All life — human, animal, plant — is sacred. I have read that our children will only take care of our environment if they learn to recognise local plant and wildlife by name. It’s the same with people. If I were to get to know my neighbour and my “enemy” — the person I don’t like for a number of reasons I can claim, but in reality because of my own fear and insecurity — love would follow. Note that I said above that initially I did not feel that bunnies were very cuddly. As I’ve grown to love them, I’ve changed my mind about that. It’s exactly the same with people to whom we are not initially drawn as well. While we keep our distance from each other, we will continue to fear each other and continue to do the awful things to each other that humanity has done for generations. It must stop.

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My 7-yr old with her Coco, in happy days.

3. With perspective, loss, as hard as it is to bear, makes life more beautiful. The death of Coco and our losses, as hard as they were, made us appreciate our living bunnies all the more. We were ever so gentle with our surprise litter of bunnies because we had learned the hard way how fragile they were. I believe that, as painful as living can be sometimes, life would not be as beautiful without loss. We wouldn’t appreciate our world and the people in it as much. Perhaps our experiences of loss in this life will make our experience in the next all the sweeter, having felt the cruel sting of loss and then having regained all that we had lost and much, much more.

4. Nothing is ever truly lost, and even in this life, miracles still happen. I firmly believe that with God, nothing in this life is ever truly lost. My daughter prayed for Coco to live and he didn’t. But against all odds, seemingly, she gained an entire litter of bunnies instead. We won’t ever forget Coco, but his loss was not the end of the story.

The great news is that God is with us all, whether we acknowledge it or not. The losses we sustain in life, and we will, will never be the end of the story.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

 

 

1 comment so far

  1. tjbrassell on

    You write about the connection with the Trinitarian God, and that God in our everyday lives, in a very compelling and winning way! Fantastic and Thank You! You are a gifted writer!


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