How the death of a rabbit marked the end of a family era

Baby Gus.

Baby Gus.


We lost our last rabbit this week. Gus was a real Disney kinda dude, with glorious black fur and grey feet. He died in my daughter’s arms, safe and loved, but a little piece of me died with him because Gus was the last in a long line of childhood pets bought for our children.

Truth be told, our small pet collection did get a little out of hand. We already had a borderline collie dog, Paddington, when our twin daughters were born, and I added an aquarium to the household when they were three. But by the time they turned six, they wanted what most other little girls want: something furry to call their own. So we bought a hamster, Hugo, and a snazzy cage with a zillion add-on tubes and external satellites for him to sleep in. Plus a racing car so he could roll across the floor. He loved broccoli and came when we opened his cage door. Happy now? Nope.

One child was desperate for a guinea pig; the other couldn’t live without a rabbit. But would they really look after said animals themselves? We already had dog, an aquarium and a hamster. Well of course they would. And to prove it, they bathed Hugo in washing up liquid… The vet assured me he had suffered no harm to anything but his dignity. And suggested I gave the kids credit for trying. Humph.

So I did the research. We bought a baby black guinea pig, Sara, a baby grey-brown dwarf lop, Josefin, and a rather large indoor cage. Happy now? Nope. Sara was moody and miserable. I did a little more research and realised she needed a guinea pig gal pal. My husband rolled his eyes. So we returned to the pet shop and came home with a little five-week-old lady named Smilla. And that was supposed to be that: full house. We had a dog, an aquarium, a hamster, a rabbit and two guinea pigs.

Only, holy moly, Smilla was sad and scared. And two days later — bitten. What was the bunny thinking? Said rabbit seemed such a gentle soul. But now Josefin clearly needed a home her own, so I barrelled back to the pet shop. I’d just chosen a roomy rabbit residence when I happened upon a beautiful white and brown dwarf lop sitting on his lonesome in a pen. I picked him up and let him burrow into my shoulder. Big mistake. My husband rolled his eyes again. But Kasper soon settled in and Josefin had her tubes snipped.

But, but, but. Smilla continued to be skittish and piled on the weight. A trip to the vet earned me an ear bashing for allowing her to get so fat in such a short space of time. No more banana for Smilla! Until two week later when we found two babies in the straw. Turns out we’d bought a pregnant guinea pig… My husband was speechless. Now, guinea pig babies are adorable. Furry mini adults that both suckle and eat pellets from day 1. We had no idea of their sex, so we called them Ozzy and Teddy. Sara, of course, was furious and kept attacking mother and babies. Which is when we realised our error: Sara was behind the original bite, not Josefin. We returned Sara to the pet shop where we hope she found a happier home.

But now our wee zoo was definitely complete. And if you’re keeping up, you’ve realised that in the space of a few short weeks it had expanded to a dog, an aquarium, a hamster, two rabbits and three guinea pigs. Which was quite a kerfuffle every time we relocated to our summer cottage, with travel boxes for all and a second set of cages at our other home.

Then Kasper began to produce too much calcium, clogging his urinary tracts and resulting in an early demise. Which is when we got Gus, as a replacement pal for Josefin. Until Josefin developed jaw cancer and we replaced her with Daisy to keep young Gus company. And Gus had his tubes snipped quick.

Then Paddington died, and we replaced him with a new rescue dog, Jeffrey. And Teddy developed diabetes and died, and Smilla died of a broken heart (yes, apparently guinea pigs can), which left us with Ozzy, who’d had his tubes snipped so he could live with his mum and his sis. Then Ozzy died at the grand old age of six. Then Daisy was suddenly dead in the cage one morning, so Gus was now alone – except for Jeffry, the rescue dogs and two new additions to the family, Theodore and Simon, our Sacred Birma cats.

And so we’ve muddled on ever since. Until last week, when Gus left us to join the others in the great pet cemetery in the sky (although if I’m going to be strictly honest, his urn will join the others on the top kitchen shelf). As my daughter put the lid on his little cardboard coffin, it truly was the end of an era. There will be no more childhood pets in this house.

I’m proud that my children have been raised in a house full of animals. That they have some knowledge of all these small creatures and, more importantly, of how to meet their needs. That they feel outraged when they read of pets being abused.

And that they have lived through the pain of a losing a loved one. Because sooner or later that is going to stand them in good stead too. It was better to love them and lose them, than never have had the pets at all.

In memory of Paddington, Hugo, Josefin, Kasper, Daisy, Gus, Smilla, Teddy and Ozzy.

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