House Rabbit Society was recently informed of the passing of a homeless woman, by a social worker who had worked with her. It turns out that even though she was homeless, she had left HRS in her will, leaving us the remains of her bank account. Following is a recollection of the woman, who everyone called “Bunny.”
I received a referral for a lady who was living in a doorway on University Avenue in Palo Alto. I was introduced to this lady who was seventy-three years old and had been on the streets for 30 years. I was startled by her appearance as she was absolutely unkempt, was nearly bent completely over with osteoporosis, and had one huge dreadlock which hung over one eye and well past her knees. She was surely a hoarder as evidenced by the aroma and the “necessary” items surrounding her, including bags of garbage and used cups, with a multitude of flies occupying the doorway as well.
We walked across the street for a cup of coffee, sitting at an outside table, as certainly we would not be welcome inside due to a pungent odor emanating from her. She moved slowly, using a walker. She was wearing dirty clothes and men’s boots which looked too big. I explained what “Housing 1,000” was and we filled out initial paperwork.
She was well-educated, with a degree in mathematics and a grand vocabulary. She was very strong-willed and resolute, knowing exactly what she wanted (and didn’t want). She had her eye on three different elderly apartments and was not willing to look into any other options. I was unconvinced that she could live on her own but she was determined. I offered a shelter stay which she refused. I offered to look for an inexpensive motel for her to stay in while we acquired funding for housing. She said that the places that she would be willing to stay in were likely $100 per night, which was obviously not an option. I also didn’t think that she could function in such a way as to not get evicted, even from a cheap motel.
At our next meeting I brought her some clothing, a walker with a seat on it, socks and a pair of comfortable shoes. She was half blind and had other injuries as a result of being attacked on the streets and left for dead last year. Over the course of the next several weeks I tried repeatedly to get her to a Dr. which she refused because of her religious beliefs which dictated no medical intervention. I was working in conjunction with two other agencies who had been working with her for years doing things other than housing case-management with her. They contacted me to let me know that they had a 51/50 client on “gravely disabled” grounds but that she was released from Stanford Hospital 6 hours later, after refusing to take a blood test.
Two weeks later we were talking again in the doorway when I noticed that she was not looking my way but instead facing away and hadn’t looked like she’d moved since the previous week. I asked to look at her face which was swollen. When asked about it she said that it was “just edema.” I have seen edema manifest in the lower extremities but never in the face. I expressed my concern and she refused medical care again. I told her that I was very concerned and wanted her to give some thought to what options might be acceptable to her because I would be back tomorrow and would not be leaving her then without intervening in some way.
I returned the next day with a representative from a sister agency and we executed a 51/50 hold on the client after adamant and loud refusals of any services. We specified that we wanted her sent to Valley Medical Center so that we could have more say as to her treatment (having contracts with and connections in Santa Clara County). By the next morning the doctors informed us she had consented to a blood test and that she was severely anemic and had very low blood pressure. They said that they would have to give her immediate blood transfusions to have a chance of saving her life. She refused treatment and so was sent to “comfort care” where they would keep her comfortable with whatever she needed while she passed away.
She was very lucid and clearly understood the ramifications of refusing this treatment. She quietly passed away two days later. At first look, this may not seem like a success story as the client is deceased. However this sweet lady was able to pass in a warm, clean, comfortable place, surrounded by people who cared deeply for her and who had known and worked with her for years. Most importantly, she died with dignity and on her own terms.
Epilogue: The Palo Alto community came together to remember Bunny with a lovely memorial service. In her kind way, she touched a lot of lives. Her beneficiary was listed as House Rabbit Society. After doing some research, she was able to donate over $11,080 to House Rabbit Society, who house and rehabilitate neglected, homeless or abandoned house rabbits. A letter of thanks from the organization ended with, “As House Rabbit Society welcomes these rabbits who have no one else, in her passing, Bunny G. also welcomes them with us.”
Bunny’s generous gift came as a complete surprise to us at House Rabbit Society, and as saddened as we were to hear of the difficult circumstances of Bunny’s life, we are grateful for the love she felt for rabbits, and we are honored and grateful that her generosity will allow us to help many, many rabbits in her memory.
If you’d like information on legacy gifts to House Rabbit Society, you can find out more here.