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April 03, 2005

Unlucky rabbit foot

Thistle almost got out of his annual vet exam yesterday with the cleanest bill of health of any member of this household, until we asked the vet about the strange dead skin on one of his toes. It looked almost like dandruff, or a hangnail: a whitish, sebaceous-looking crust around the base of the nail.

The doc poked at it, clucked a low note of concern, and whisked Thistle into those mysterious veterinarians' back rooms for x-ray and skin scraping. When the pictures were ready to read, they showed some bad news: two of the toes on Thistle's right hind foot needed to come off ASAP.

It looks like a progressive osteomyelitis: the distal phalanges on the outer two toes are completely gone, and there is every likelihood that the infection - if it is an infection - could work its way up the bone and require amputation of the foot.

As it is now, Wednesday's surgery will essentially be a partial declawing - a procedure that some people (wrong-headedly) have done to their rabbits for convenience's sake, and which is thus as routine as any rabbit surgery save neutering. His pad is in good shape, and if he can make it through post-op without gnawing at the site he should be fine in no time.

This often happens, the vet says, when rabbits get a toe snagged on something. Where a dog or cat in such a situation will turn around to investigate whatever it is ensnaring them, a rabbit's first impulse is to flee, often dislocating the toe and setting a stage for infection.

Thistle doesn't seem to be in much pain, and he's cooperating with our little twice-daily oral administration of liquid antibiotic much more patiently than either of us could have hoped. And his foot should look basically the same post-surgery as it does now, I'm thinking. But yikes just the same.

I don't even want to think about how much time I've spent at vets in the last decade and a half. Between my rat Fraida (last name Katz) and her tumors; Zeke and his constellation of gastrointestinal complaints, pancreatitis, skin tags, and minor injuries; guinea pigs with bad teeth; frogs with eye infections; and - in one memorable case - a snake with a rat bite; I think I'm ready for that sad day in the not-too-distant future when we have an animal-free household for a while. I'm not in a hurry, you understand. The boys are the second brightest spot in my average day.

But I think Thistle is the last new pet for a while. I'm tired of fallling in love with things with much shorter life spans than mine. I can almost understand why the ignorant reject the notion of evolution: it would be oddly comforting to think that this parade of suffering that we call life had some purpose grander than making another litter of rabbits.

Posted by Chris Clarke at April 3, 2005 09:45 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Maybe you should get a parrot. Or a tortoise.

Poor little Thistle. Good of you and the vet to catch the problem; rabbit feet are such strange bony/fuzzy things it's sometimes hard to visualize them -- it's like they are nothing but toes.

Posted by: Rana at April 3, 2005 10:27 AM
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Ah, Chris, I empathize with you! I have lived with birds and other animals all of my life .. they have been the one constant in my personal life as a matter of fact, filling in brilliantly where people have failed miserably. But the loss of these precious lives is sometimes almost too much to bear! And, as if the individual loss is not bad enough, with each individual loss comes the remembrance of all previous losses until it seems that the world cannot be big enough to contain such sorrow. The only consolation I have is that I gave my bird and animal companions the best life they could have asked for and that really, is all that anyone, humans or non-human, can ask for.

Posted by: GrrlScientist at April 3, 2005 10:55 AM
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Taking Tito for walks these days, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the future. Tito will be 16 if he makes it until June, and he will be my last personal companion. I absolutely agree with GrrlScientist that the only consolation is I know I've given Tito as good a life as a dog could have.

Posted by: OGeorge at April 3, 2005 11:54 AM
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Sorry, Chris. And I'm sorry Thistle has to go through any surgery.

Having been pet-less for more than three years, I've got to say that, yes, you don't have the vet bills and the worries and the pain of loss, but the house just doesn't feel like, well, the same home it did when shared with non-human inhabitants -- and I don't feel like the same person as when I was responsible for a precious, annoying, wonderful creature. If we ever get settled in one place again, we'll be getting another pet.

Posted by: beth at April 3, 2005 12:15 PM
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I can almost understand why the ignorant reject the notion of evolution: it would be oddly comforting to think that this parade of suffering that we call life had some purpose grander than making another litter of rabbits.

One doesn't have to be ignorant to think that. One doesn't need to reject empirical science to think that. Cherishing life (which includes letting it go when it's time) is a fine purpose.

Posted by: Vicki at April 3, 2005 01:17 PM
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All the best to Thistle

Posted by: Roberta Nevares at April 3, 2005 06:32 PM
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As I lay in bed this morning with my wife, my newborn son and Cody, one of our golden retrievers (the other one, Ceilidh, just couldn't fit), it struck me that Cody, who's now past 8, wouldn't be around to watch my son grow up. Even if he lives another 6 or 7 years, which is unlikely for a dog of his size, Kian probably won't remember the beautiful animal that greeted his entry into our family with such grace and dignity. If only my wife and I can match Cody's natural warmth and love, our little boy will turn out just fine.

My sincere best wishes for your rabbit's speedy recovery.

One more thing. Vicki picked up on something important. I certainly believe in evolution, and science can offer a valuable yardstick for measuring and understanding the physical world. But that doesn't mean I agree when you imply that there's no grand purpose to our lives, or that pain and suffering are the best we can hope for before we die and cease to exist.

The world is as it is, and none of us have the power to change that. To my mind, an unverified (and unverifiable) argument that life functions solely within certain physical parameters is just as misplaced as a belief in the Great Pumpkin or the Tooth Fairy.

As for that Grander Purpose. Our species is uniquely suited to caretake and steward the Earth. The fact that we've lost our way and are close to destroying the very planet we should be protecting doesn't make this any less true.

Posted by: tost at April 3, 2005 08:15 PM
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Poor bunny. Perhaps you should buy him a good luck charm.

Posted by: Craig at April 3, 2005 08:17 PM
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OK, I thought my comment was just mildy unfunny, but that's because I didnt actually see the title of this post. Now I see its REALLY stupid looking. I vote for a delete feature for comment posters.

Posted by: Craig at April 3, 2005 08:19 PM
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Re: "falling in love with things with much shorter life spans."

But that's a GOOD thing, Chris.

Sure it hurts us to lose them, but on the other hand ...

They go through their whole lives and never have to be hungry, seldom have to be afraid, and live every minute enfolded in love. What wild critter ever gets more than a taste of that?

We get to be their sunshine, the one warm spot in an infinite winter.

That is no small thing.

Posted by: Hank Fox at April 3, 2005 09:28 PM
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Oh, my favorite kind of post! Animals and why we love them. I could go on for days!

Are you a rat person? I never knew I was until we got Boyd. I swore when we got him I'd remain aloof (he was my daughter's pet, supposedly); that lasted about 24 hours.

It broke my heart when he died. The sad thing is, no one can sympathize with you when you lose a small pet like that; they think you're nuts to care for them at all.

Posted by: KathyF at April 4, 2005 10:58 AM
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Yes, animals; why we love them and the tremendous
care and concern we will exert to make certian they're healthy and happy.
Last spring while dealing with a horrific mystery
disease with one young cat (he survived and VISA did very well, too) we found a very strange growth on the left front paw of an older cat in our household. Turned out to be neural sheath carcinoma...what the hell? She lost one toe (very skilled surgeon) and made a full recovery (VISA= Doubleplus happiness). Glad to hear Thistle had such an alert vet.

Posted by: The CultureGhost at April 4, 2005 12:27 PM
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Yeah, Kathy, rat man here. I wrote about Freda (she used both spellings) here a couple years ago.

And thanks all for your reminders about the things that mitigate this sorrow. ("Sorrow" being, today, a huge overstatement.)

Thistle, for his part, will likely suffer less than me over this surgery. So that's good. Hell, if I could take all his pain for myself, I'd do it gladly.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at April 4, 2005 12:52 PM
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Would that poppy be Platystemon californicus, cream cups?

Posted by: Steve Cochrane at April 4, 2005 01:17 PM
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Funny Freda! You reminded me afresh of all the funny stuff Boyd used to hide.

But, when it comes to telling pets from, well, prey, humans seems to be every bit as adept. Why can we kill mice and other rodents yet make pets of their kin?

Posted by: KathyF at April 4, 2005 02:00 PM
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Anyway, Thistle better not complain because his roommate Harley has had a lot rougher time.

Posted by: craig at April 4, 2005 11:06 PM
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