Learning to Love Again
Somehow I knew it would take two rabbits to roam the rooms that Dorothy left behind when she died. Of course I knew I’d never be able to “replace” her, any more than one replaces a beloved individual of any species. Her ways of showing affection toward us were unique, and being our first house rabbit, Dorothy defined bunny love for us.Late at night after reading to the kids, putting them to bed, and completing the evening chores, I would lie on the floor next to Dorothy while she licked my face, melting away my tension. Sometimes while my husband, Hugh, and I were cleaning up, our dog, Rosie, our two cats, Al and Jeff, and Dorothy would all end up in the kitchen. Jeff would rub against Rosie’s chest while she groomed him. Al would swat and pounce on the dog’s tail, and Dorothy would calmly watch it all.
Holding Dorothy like a baby brought me tears of love and appreciation. She asked for nothing and gave her all to all of us. She even gave to the dog, whose addition had changed her life, restricting her previously unlimited freedom. Once Rosie was reliably trained to understand “gentle,” the two often lay together, and Dorothy let the dog wash her. When Dorothy had enough, she got up and hopped somewhere else. She gladly received whatever attention we gave to her. I recognized this and never took it for granted, though sometimes she was relegated to the end of the line because she didn’t whine or meow or bark and drop soggy rawhide bones in our laps.
The Timeless Gift
We took Dorothy’s death hard. Then we discovered that even in her death she gave to us. She gave us the chance for our family to share our feelings and memories, a time for us to slow down and feel how all the threads of life are intertwined, sweet and bitter, harsh and tender, an opportunity for all of us to learn to trust the healing properties of the grief process.
I wasn’t sure I would really ever be able to adopt a new rabbit, though I spoke of bringing home two. Then one day I got a call: two litters of siblings were at the humane society. In fact this was the same shelter from which the House Rabbit Society had rescued Dorothy seven years earlier. Just as suddenly as I had gotten that information, the knowledge that it was right to bring home two rabbits rose from a place within me.
At the Oakland SPCA, the employees did everything in their power to make sure that a good match was made. They set us up in their conference room while eleven rabbits checked us out. The two teenagers we chose were spayed/ neutered before we brought them home. The SPCA even boarded our two new bunnies while we went on a previously planned vacation.
My sons had already chosen the names Tasha and Alex by the time the rabbits were ready to move into our house. Tasha and Alex did not come to us already comfortable with people, as Dorothy had. Yet driving back home, each sat quietly on my sons’ laps.
We are still in the process of becoming acquainted. It is a reciprocal process of learning to understand each other. When I come into the room to open the cage door for their foray into the house and garden, Tasha flattens herself until her eyes are on the top of her head. Alex hides his face in Tasha’s fur. But when I stroke them, their ears shoot back up and they relax a little.
From the window I watch their garden antics, Alex jumping straight into the air, curling his body into a “U” shape, Tasha hurdling flower beds. Both scramble about and sometimes they collide if I approach too close. They have learned to out-smart me, and as many as four of us have tried in vain to bring them indoors. I now leave the back door open and allow them to return on their own or herd them toward their cage.
I have learned to welcome their ways. I find their seemingly disgruntled reactions to me humorous when, in the next moment, if I’m bearing treats, Alex can’t get close enough, and Tasha shyly agrees to take one from my hand.
I welcome the differences. After all, they will never be Dorothy. And at the same time, the place she left behind in all of us is a place of love, healed now by the recalling of her. Our years with Dorothy have reinforced the knowledge that the more one loves, the more love there is. Loving Dorothy opened our hearts all the more. I guess that is why I suspected all along it would take two rabbits to join Dorothy in our hearts.
House Rabbit Journal Volume III, Number 1, Winter 1994