Just one look was all it took…I don’t know whether it was my activist friend’s warning, “Whatever you do, don’t look at Craigslist,” which unconsciously provoked me to do so, but I did and who appeared almost instantly were two Rabbits, one white, the other black, their backs pressed up against the farthest reaches of a tiny outdoor cage. The white one was staring directly at the camera, and therefore, directly into my eyes. His eyes spoke intelligent apprehension. There was no hesitation. Within hours, they had come home here, away from the brutality of backyard farming.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but Coco Puff, the white Rabbit, and his brother Rafael, the black Rabbit, started our formal sanctuary. The Puff became the cornerstone, but not because he and his brother were first. Many refugees were already living here. It was because of his presence, dignity, grace, and perspicacity. He made clear the stark unholiness of Animal abuse. Like people on the Moon I see, are things not meant to be.
Puff and Rafe lived in the bedroom where sliding doors looked out over green to the creek below. The spring after they arrived, we built the Habitat by enclosing a large area just off the sliding doors. Here, the Rabbits could bounce out in the morning to cavort under the grace of an ancient Black Oak and grove of Maples. The area was screened with tough meshing on all sides and top and girded by an eighteen-inch-deep hardware cloth to ensure no ingress or egress.
By that time, fizzMarie had joined the family. She was a quintessential loving mother and took the two young Rabbits under her apron of love and nurturance. When the Habitat structure was finally secure, we opened the door. fizzMarie immediately jumped down, explored a few minutes, then called to Rafe and Puff to come out. After much coaching and coaxing from fizzMarie, Rafe finally took the leap. Puff, however, was circumspect. Even after fizzMarie jumped back inside to convince Puff that all was fine, he remained obdurate. At last, with fizzMarie’s loving patience and persistence, Puff took the plunge and joined the others. Within moments, we were gifted with the most elegant and exquisite binky performed by The Puff.
Puff was ever the carer, not only for his partners but for everyone. The empath that he was brought him to those in need. He was meticulous with his own self-care, always spotless, every hair in place and applied the same refined attention to the grooming of others. No matter the situation, he accompanied those when and where they needed. Then he fell in love with roseMarie, a black and silvered, very determined and protective female Rabbit.
It was love at first sight. Their time together was one long honeymoon. The Je t’Atttendrai (I will wait for you) Chalet was remodeled by then and so they moved in together spending many long hours outside eating clover and inside snuggling, loving life.
As she aged, roseMarie lost use of her back legs. The Puff never let her out of his sight. In the morning, after I carried her out to the clover and digging mountains, The Puff would run around a bit, checking things, but return to his lover every few minutes to nuzzle and see how she was feeling, what did she needed and so on. When roseMarie finally passed, Puff was devastated. He stayed inside for days, just staring into space.
In a few weeks, he made friends with Amelia, another black, compact, and feisty partner—a very much in-charge kind of person. She made it clear that no one gets away with messing with The Puff. They were good together and very happy, although Puff never forgot roseMarie. All this took place over eleven years. Last year, things drastically changed.
Almost overnight, The Puff became blind. In two short weeks, his sight was limited to blurry shadows. We sought surgery but it was considered ill-advised given his age. Puff slowed down. Up until then, he was an avid athlete and extremely fit, but the blindness undermined his natural confidence. He no longer ran and binked with abandon. Amelia, of course, became his eyes which allowed him to roam, albeit in a constricted way. Puff followed the fence lines and waited at the lintel for Amelia to signal to come in. Although there was no threat, Puff was now always on guard even with Amelia’s watchful eyes. The welcoming world he loved so much had become an ominous gray. A few months later, he suffered an even more shocking experience.
The sustained, intense drought in southern Oregon has caused the soil to harden and contract. Unbeknownst to me, imperceptible cracks had formed under the Chalet. One August morning, as I went in to serve breakfast to everyone and open the doors to the Habitat, I saw Puff sitting with a blank stare. Amelia was lying flat next to him, limp, barely breathing. I ran upstairs for fluids, grabbing whatever medications I could not knowing what I was trying to treat when, as I stepped back into the Chalet, I heard a sickening sound- a rattling tail.
Rattlesnakes are common here, but not inside the dwellings (although a few years back there was one who wriggled into our 150-year-old cabin). Sensing me, the Snake slid under the refrigerator. The Rabbits were hastily packed in carriers and taken out to safety while I ministered to Amelia. She passed very soon. Puff and the others Rabbits were in shock for nearly a month.
As my senses and head cleared, I started to reconstruct what had happened. Both Rabbits had been loose in the Chalet during the night. Because of an incident the year before, I no longer let the Rabbits free in the Habitat at night. A Puma, wounded by a truck, had torn through the fencing in desperate search for food. Thankfully, the Rabbits were not out that night. But thereafter, outdoor time was restricted to daylight hours. To make up for their limited night ranging – Rabbits are quite nocturnal – I let Puff and Amelia loose in the Chalet to visit others. Obviously, the Snake had entered and Amelia, knowing her beloved partner was threatened, had defended Puff from the Snake and, as a result, was bitten.
Blind without his partner, Puff came to live in the upstairs studio with four other Rabbits who also have significant health issues. pierre Michel, having been rescued from a torture ring, suffered from multiple breaks in his back. Looking at the x-ray and shaking his head, the doctor said he had never seen damage as severe as pierre Michel’s. The doctor marveled that pierre Michel could even walk let alone hop. But he did and for many years ran around the Habitat enjoying life and even digging burrows. But when his partner, Calais, had a stroke, the two were moved into the studio where another pair of Rabbits, Antoine and Etienne, lived. After sustaining two strokes, Antoine was not ambulatory. Etienne, his brother, had periodic seizures which left him slightly paralyzed in an arm and a leg. True to form, The Puff immediately stepped in and became chief carer. He was ever so loving, gentle, and thoughtful, talking, nuzzling and grooming each one. The change brought on by his blindness, however, started a rapid decline.
His poor sight and loss of Amelia induced a change. Puff was no longer interested in exploring or going outside. This, combined with aging, took a toll. Puff developed very painful arthritis. Massage and medication helped, but life was much more challenging and the losses of the past began to weigh. Then, over two days, he grew withdrawn and despite supportive care, died in my arms.
This eulogy is nether sufficient nor eloquent enough to honor The Puff. When someone asked how I planned to celebrate my birthday, I told them that I was in mourning for my thirteen-year-old son. Puff was my son in every way even as he aged and despite his exquisitely refined and evolved consciousness and sensibilities to which I can never dream to attain. I am so humbled to have been able to live at the feet of this giant of a presence. No kinder soul ever lived.
Puff was a great man, one of those rare extraordinary souls whose earthly form can barely contain the expansive vastness within. Now that he has passed, his spirit moved on, I sit, wonder, and weep asking: when and where we will meet again.
~ Dedicated to Tommy ~
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