That’s right; my eight-years-old, black mini-lop is the rabbit behind my most recent web design freelance job. Here’s why:
Gracie was three months old when we brought her home. She was the smallest of her siblings, a jet black puffball. She came from a pet shop, and although I’ve since been educated to understand the importance of adopting, I know that we saved her. I’d had rabbits growing up as a child, so I had a certain expectation that most, as babies, were cuddly and trusting. Gracie, on the other hand, was skeptical and aloof. Now, at some point before she was ours, the end of her right ear had been chewed off, probably by her mother or one of her siblings. And I don’t know how long she was in that sleazy little pet shop, but I’m sure that being handled by various not-so-careful children didn’t help her, either. Thus, it shouldn’t have been surprising that she didn’t exactly warm to us for the first few months.
Mark and I had planned a trip to Washington D.C. and because we didn’t have anyone to watch Gracie while we were away, we boarded her for the week we were gone. When we returned and brought Gracie home, something in her had changed. She was clingy and followed us everywhere around the house. I might venture to say that she missed us, and it was her way of asking us to please never board her again (which we haven’t). Anyway, we had a new relationship brewing with her, and we liked it.
Not too long after our return from D.C., we adopted a companion for Gracie; someone to play with while we were at work. Now, most of my family and friends know of Haas: the insane, blue french lop that was into everything. Her (yes, Haas was a girl) stories are pretty legendary, and I hold a very special place for her in my heart. But unfortunately, Haas didn’t turn out to be the best playmate for Gracie. She was a bully and completely over-bearing. Haas was also an attention-sucker. We spent so much of our time wrangling Haas with her bad behaviors that oftentimes, Gracie (who is incredibly smart and quiet), sort of blended into the background. The two didn’t get along for the six years and often had to be separated. (Gracie, being much smaller than Haas, held her own very well, and even placed a notch, similar to her own, in Haas’ ear). However, three months before Haas passed away, they bonded. They played together, groomed each other, and were completely inseparable. When Haas passed, Gracie searched for her for days. And it killed us.
When Gus joined our family, there was a completely different dynamic to our household. He and Gracie were instant friends, and there was no longer the need to have separated playtime. With little supervision, Gus and Gracie were able to remain outside their cages and with us in the living room until bedtime. Gus learned to copy Gracie’s every move, and in a way, Gracie learned the joy of motherhood. Once again, life had become pretty sweet for all of us and stayed that way for over a year.
One morning last September, in my regular getting-ready-for-work routine, I walked into the living room to let Gracie and Gus out of their cages and feed them breakfast. When I opened Gracie’s cage, I noticed right away that she was swaying in her litter box with her head curved toward her side. I opened her cage, and she clumsily jumped out, fell, and began rolling while trying to gain her footing. I screamed for Mark to come help me because something was wrong with her. It took me quite a while to stabilize her. I placed her back in her cage and called the vet’s office immediately. Thankfully, our vet had just had a cancellation, so we were able to bring Gracie in right away.
Upon quick examination, the vet told us that Gracie’s eyes were shifting and she had severe head-tilt; this was not good. X-rays and blood results didn’t reveal any trauma or proof of disease, so the vet told us she would consult her contact in Colorado, who specializes in rabbits. After reviewing Gracie’s lab results, he advised that we start Gracie on Panacur, a de-wormer for dogs and cats that is also used to treat E-cuniculi disease in rabbits, along with Baytril for inner-ear infection.
The first day we brought Gracie home, her illness was so severe that she either lie on the floor of her cage with no strength at all, or she rolled in counter-clockwise circles when she attempted to move. Her eyes shifted continuously, which did not help her equilibrium. Mark began padding the sides and corners of her cage with cardboard and towels to ensure she wouldn’t hurt herself as she rolled. We also rolled up and tied a small hand towel for her to lie on so that the eye tilting toward her side would not touch the ground. She ate her greens and anything fresh, but she refused her hay (which is vital roughage for a rabbit’s digestive system). Her head tilt would not allow for drinking out of her bottle, so we poured water into a tiny saucer and held it to her as often as she needed it. Seeing her in this fragile state was devastating for both my husband and me. Gus, of course, was confused by this turn of events.
The next day there was no visible improvement, and Mark and I were afraid that we were contributing to her suffering instead of making a more humane decision. After all, our vet wasn’t confident that Gracie was going to pull through this, but our vet was more than willing to do her best and help us try. Day number three, however, brought a huge glimmer of hope. When we brought Gus and Gracie outside (Gracie remained in her cage with a towel over her for warmth, but we could tell she happily recognized the back yard) for some fresh air, I noticed Gracie’s eyes had stopped shifting! I began crying, because I was so happy.
Each day that went by brought subtle improvements. Gracie had proven to us that she was determined to fight, and seeing her will to live was all we needed to realize that we had made the humane decision. Gus often visited her outside the bars of her cage. Sometimes we allowed him in with her, which we at first worried would upset her. However, seeing the light in her eyes during his company assured us that his presence was much-needed medicine. We gained hope that the care throughout the day, the two weeks of sleepless nights that she stayed in our bedroom so we could tend to her, the frequent check-ins with our vet, and Gus’ companionship were contributing to her recovery. She lost her head-tilt completely, she no longer made circles when she moved, and she could eat and drink just as before (hay included).
There was, however, one set-back.
Life with a Disabled Rabbit
We are still unable to understand why Gracie lost the use of her hind legs. At the beginning of her illness, they were visibly functional. However, it’s possible that one night while we slept, or throughout the day while we were at work, Gracie may have suffered a stroke which resulted in the paralysis of her back legs. It’s also possible that her nerves were damaged as a result of everything her little body went through. Either way, life again would change for us.
Because Gracie’s hind-leg paralysis determined that she could no longer use her litter box, and most of her time spent with us is in our living room, we rigged up a tarp with towels over it (which we change frequently) to be her new living area/litter box. Although it’s not the loveliest sight in our home, it works for Gracie, and Gus is fine with anything, so we’ve learned to live with it. Additionally, because Gracie has a more difficult time grooming herself (although Gus does his best to help), her hind end requires that we give her a bath every other night. To our surprise, Gracie doesn’t put up a fight.
And, thanks to a sweet little website called disabledrabbits.com, we’ve learned how to provide physical therapy to Gracie’s back legs every night, which she also doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, she appears to appreciate the attention as well as the cuddling, since we keep her in a towel and cradle her like a baby while we exercise her legs. And the best thing of all? She’s regained feeling in her back legs and toes! She still can’t walk on them, but she can stretch them and clean them a little better than she could before, and that’s tremendous progress. We realize that she may never regain full functionality, but seeing her progress and spending such dedicated time with her has been truly rewarding for Mark and me. She’s now receiving the attention that she didn’t quite get in the past, and we can tell that she’s happy to be alive and loved.
How Gracie Got Me the Gig
After things stabilized with Gracie, I realized that I wanted to do something for our vet who’d helped us through this difficult time. I didn’t mention it above, but the doctors and staff at Gem City Veterinary were extremely compassionate and went above and beyond to provide care for Gracie and make sure Mark and I felt at ease. I noticed that they did not have a website, so I brought in business cards and offered my services to them as a thank you for all that they’d done for us. I told them I would work with their budget to build them a website or provide them graphic design, if needed. It turned out that they didn’t have need for a website at this time, but one of the technicians happens to be the vice president of a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping Laramie animals, and they needed a website redesign. I contacted them, a little too eagerly, perhaps, and I learned of all the tremendous things that they do for the animals and pet owners in the community. It turned out to be a design match made in heaven. So, without further ado (I promise) here is the website for Laramie Animal Welfare Society (LAWS).