I would consider myself a mildly above average pet liker. Up until my 30s, I always had cats in the home, plus a handful of reptiles. Some were more interesting than others. Some were not always in their cages and slithering around our home, but I preferred my fur babies.
I wasn’t what you might consider a dog person as a youngster. Not that I had a problem with other people's dogs, but my family didn’t appreciate the extra work of walking and grooming them. Plus, there was my poo aversion.
When my husband and I got married, we combined our two homes contents, which included a brood of animals. Two dogs, three cats, and a cardinal nest in a fir tree… No, we weren’t stupid enough to move any nests — at least not at this time.
Two daughters later, and several passings of older pets, we came down to our current household quota. One spazzy Goldendoodle, two irritable cats and our annual caterpillar/butterfly fostering, from which we hope the transformation of a giant moth or butterfly would emerge.
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While this spring abruptly made its debut, with inviting buds on the trees and tips of tulip leaves merging from the ground, our ever-delightful dog brought in her first gift of the season. Other than the newspaper, our dog has not been good at gift giving.
One newly born bunny was gently laid in the middle of my living room, luckily with no apparent harm. It was so young it couldn’t walk yet, so I wasn’t in any danger of having to play tag with another seasonal gifting from the dog.
I put on thick work gloves and gently put the baby back with its siblings. The only thing I had to worry about was keeping the dog out of that nest in our backyard. Or so I thought!
Within the hour, our dog managed to escape and bring another gift to my feet. This sweet thing was only 3 inches long and at first glance looked like a mouse. A big mouse though, with long ears. Once again I safely schlepped out the babe to the nest, hoping my human scent wouldn’t disturb the bonding and feeding of the babies.
Once my tween daughters saw them, they were hooked by the cuteness factor. Despite my warning to not get attached, they were smitten by the kittens. Did you know that baby rabbits are called kittens? I learned that recently.
We watched this tiny group grow, walk and hop for several days, but then one sad morning, we lost some of them. We told my girls they must have been big enough to join their mama. We didn’t know where they were but suspected a survival of the fittest match had occurred while we slept.
Out of the original six, we were now left with four. The next morning, we were down to two. It was pretty obvious what happened to the other two. Sadly the last two living were looking dehydrated and clearly abandoned by their mother.
Before we were to lose the entire litter, I said we’d take care of the last ones until they were old enough to eat grass. My daughters promised they would be OK with this. They wanted to save the bunnies.
After reading up on how to take care of them, we went to the pet store to get the proper milk to feed them with an eyedropper. I felt confident, since I used to be a pediatric nurse and had successfully raised my own two girls, “Spirit” and “Butthead” would be in good hands.
I would like to admit I was wrong.
Newborn bunnies are not baby humans, even though they’re so cute suckling with their cute pink tongues and white tooth nubs. We kept them alive another day and a half with frequent feedings, which included me getting up before the sun to provide nourishment. I was pretty sure we could do the near impossible task of rehabilitating and releasing the bunny kittens.
My eldest daughter returned from middle school to discover them lifeless. I heard her scream out for me, but I knew they were just sleepy and difficult to rouse with their night feedings. Alas, our kittens did not make it. My girls were devastated, as most girls would be at their age. It’s one thing to find a dead baby animal in the yard, but when you have fed it with an eyedropper, the relationship changes dramatically.
This terribly sad event was a good life lesson for my kids. As hard as it was, they began to appreciate how nature works; and learn death is painful for the survivors, but a part of life. Also, it was a painful lesson that their mother could make stupid choices occasionally.
We will mourn for now but every time we see a bunny nibbling grass in the yard, we will be reminded of our sweet time together.
Of course for Mother’s Day, I received a thoughtful gift of Tropical Milkweed and attached to the leaves was a fully-grown Monarch caterpillar. This year, we’re not getting attached to this “bug” who will remain nameless and barely be watched.
We shall call her experiment #87 unless she turns into a butterfly. Then we will release her to the world and probably call her Alice.
Stacey Hatton is warily raising caterpillars in her suburban home, and can be reached at www.laughingwithkids.com.