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Eastern Cottontail

By Elaine Irvine
Illustration by Olivia Peters

 

Last week I watched a bunny die in my backyard.

Philly let Charlotte and I know that when we got home we might see a bunny dying in the backyard. In the video she sent, it looked like it was just trying to get back up on its feet but couldn’t. When it wasn’t trying to get up, it was lying still. Its belly still moved slowly, up and down.

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We got home, and, indeed, there was the bunny. Dying in our backyard.

I called an animal center instead of animal control because animal control would send the police. We thought the cops would be less likely to save its life. Maybe there was a chance if someone who knew how to rehabilitate a bunny could come and save it.

Charlotte and I sit on the concrete stoop next to the dying bunny while we wait for rescue to arrive. Charlotte picks up some blades of grass and tries to feed them to the bunny. It of course doesn’t eat them. She picks some cornflowers nearby and sets them next to its face. It doesn’t eat them either. It doesn’t look at them or at anything else. As the wind blows, it can’t seem to help its head from moving with it.

The dying bunny looks like animals do when they are in shock. There are some small movements, slow shallow breathing. Attempts to remain living are scattered throughout. Slowly, as the wind blows faster and more often, its legs kick its body around in a small semi-circle. The dying bunny’s head moves further away from the cornflowers left for it to eat.

I sit there, just looking. Charlotte picks up a small branch of dry leaves and begins to pet the dying bunny’s body with them, attempting to comfort it. I am trying to make eye contact with it and keep track of its breathing at the same time.

“What do animals think when they know they’re dying?” I ask, not to Charlotte or to myself. “There aren’t words they can think, are there? I can’t imagine...” I trail off. What was I trying to say that hadn’t been written in books for years? Broken and overdone. They probably just feel it in their bodies. It’s a helpless instinct for them, I’m sure, living within themselves and dying.

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A police van pulls into our driveway. I hadn’t expected it, but can’t imagine trying to send him away. What comes next should have been clear the whole time. Ineffective dry leaves and blades of grass and all.

The officer comes out of the driver's seat, one glove already on and another one in his grasp. He says nothing to us, but looks at the dying bunny. He returns to his van, moves it up closer to where we are sitting, and stands next to us again.

“You ladies don't want to see this,” the officer says, with no infliction to indicate his sadness or glee.

“What do you mean?”

“I am going to end its life.”

“Are you going to do it right here?”

“I’ll see if it reacts to my touch here,” he says. “Then I’ll relocate to my van. If you hear any strange sounds, don’t be alarmed.”

After seeing our dismay, he adds “I have a bunny at home. I don’t like doing this either.”

We begin to slowly walk away, but with urgency. “Do you think he actually has a bunny at home?”

“No way in hell he does.” I turn around and see the bunny. It is still alive, but moving slowly in the officers ungloved hand.

We go inside. I go to my room and lock my door, both the chain and doorknob locks. I try to hold my cat Juniper close to me. I hear no sounds.

I don’t step on the spot the bunny laid as I walk to my car anymore. The stems of the cornflowers still sit on the patch of land where the bunny was trying to live. The bright blue petals are gone though. Something must have eaten them.