Last weekend, Em was watching the rabbits that belong to the family across the street, one of whom is a girl close to her age, and a friend of hers.
Let's just say that these rabbits? Aren't all one gender. And aren't separated into cages by gender. And aren't neutered. I have 'feelings' about that, but I'll just let that go for now. (SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR ANIMALS, PEOPLE! GET A CLUE! OK. Now I'll let that go.)
So it shouldn't have been a huge surprise when, on Sunday morning, Em and her friend Bec came running back across the street after going to feed the bunnies, yelling that there were babies in the cage, come quick, there's something wrong with them.
And, indeed, when Baroy and I went into the backyard with the girls, there were three babies, two of which had clearly been dead for some time, since rigor mortis had set in, and one of which was juuuuust hanging on.
There was panic. There was a quick run down the street to our friend K, who is a vet, but who doesn't deal with bunnies and such and didn't have much more of a clue than I did. There was Googling of "newborn bunnies." There was a heating pad to see if we could get this tiny little thing--which looked more like an alien's fetus than anything MEANT to be brought into this world--to perk up a bit.
There was a limited amount of success, too. The baby rallied a bit, started moving around more, making attempts to move around the box we had him in. (Yes, it's OK to handle a newborn bunny...we checked. It's even OK to separate said bunny briefly from his mom, since rabbits only nurse their babies once a day, and then usually in the middle of the night.)
In the meantime, the girls had returned to the cage to do the feeding they'd been too distracted to do earlier. And then came running back into the house again, yelling about MORE babies in the cage.
Another visit across the street, and I realized what had happened. There had been eight babies in this litter. Mom rabbit had made a little nest for them out of the blanket in her cage, which is why Em and Bec hadn't seen them the first time; they were covered up. But when they'd gone back, they'd noticed the crumpled blanket, straightened it out, and found a little mound of impossibly tiny babies, all squirmy and warm and huddled together.
I explained to the girls that, apparently, the mom had quickly realized that three of her babies weren't doing well, and so had separated them from the other five, leaving them out to die. We'd found one still alive, and while we were going to give it the best shot possible at surviving, his mom probably knew better, and thus it would be a reallllll long shot. Em did a bit of crying; Bec, a future zoologist, was fatalistic. But still, you could tell she was rooting for the little alien baby.
(And yes, thank you, no-neuter family, for making me have THAT particular circle-of-life conversation on a Sunday morning before breakfast or coffee.)
Anyway, we decided to put the now-warmed-up baby back in with his siblings. So I marked him with a red Sharpie--so we could tell him apart from the others--and plopped him into the middle of the pile of newborn bunnies.
We spent a lot of time, that morning, staring at bunny babies. Which of course led to a discussion of how, exactly, this particular circumstance had come to pass. After all, just a few months ago, there had only been the two bunnies...the male and the female. And then when the female had a litter earlier in the spring, the family separated out the male so that it was just the mom with her mixed-gender litter of four.
"So, I don't understand..." Bec began.
(Thank you AGAIN, no-neuter family. Still no coffee, and now I'm supposed to explain INCEST? Greeeeeat...)
Still, things seemed to be going well. The other bunnies seemed to be accepting the new one in their midst. Until, that is, one of the older, full-grown rabbits began nibbling on 'our' bunny's toes. No. I mean NIBBLING. Like, um, there were fewer of them after she'd begun than there had been before.
(The blood you see on that one bunny in the picture above is from its rubbing against our bunny's toes; our bunny is the one at the upper left of the picture, the one on his side; you can't see his missing digits.)
So we took that bunny out of the cage for a while again, put him back on the heating pad and applied pressure to his bleeding foot (did I mention, EW?) and eventually put him back into the cage. Because, as I explained to Em, he had a better chance in there, even with his cannibalistic aunt/mother/whatever she was, than out here with us clueless, rabbit-milk-less humans.
Em's friend came home later that day, and our bunny was still alive, and we considered it a victory.
It didn't last long. That bunny--who Em insisted would have been named "Hero" had he survived being both rejected and snacked on--apparently died overnight. One of his siblings died last night. So now there are four.
In any case, it was an experience. A sad experience. An at-times-joyous experience. A learning experience.
The main lesson, though? Spay and neuter your animals, people. PLEASE.
And if you don't, please don't ask us to babysit.