Pounce, chomp, gulp. The bunny was gone. Right down the windpipe. Whole.
My dog Birch — an adolescent Lab rescued from the South — turned out to be a carnivore. He saw a rabbit, stalked it, and got it.
It was nasty to watch. I hate to see nature at its most honest and thoughtless. And now I can’t help feeling like Birch is mean Mr. McGregor from the Peter Rabbit stories. But I guess he was just doing what dogs sometimes do.
The day that Birch ate the bunny, he seemed proud. He kept going back to the scene of the crime and sniffing around.
The next day, he just sat on his bed and stared at the wall.
If he did go outside, he ate a little grass, which is a sign of gastric distress, unless it isn’t.
(I googled myself into confusion on that one. The American Kennel Club’s website says there’s no “solid evidence” that dogs nibble the lawn to relieve distress. Petmd.com says dogs might scarf grass to make themselves gack, because the blades “tickle the throat and stomach lining,” inducing vomit.)
Grass didn’t work for Birch.
At that point, I didn’t think there was much I could do but watch and wait for the bolus of bunny to go one way or the other.
Birch slurped up water, but turned away from food with evident dismay, with a look that said: “On any given day, I’d love to dig in, but right now I have a fur-covered oven mitt in my stomach.”
His entire consumption of food for the day consisted of two halfhearted licks at a spoon laden with peanut butter.
He was no better the day after that. I decided it was time to make a trip to the vet.
Being in the middle of the pandemic, this meant protocols: I arrived at the vet in mask and gloves. Masked-and-gloved vet techs met me in the parking lot and took Birch inside.
After a while the veterinarian came out to show me the X-rays, which showed what I guess was compacted bunny and unreleased bunny gas.
The vet explained that they’d seen this before, especially in the spring, when young, fur-covered mammals abound in backyards. The fur is like a hairball for cats — it could pass on through, or it could get stuck and have to be removed. There’s always the possibility of bones puncturing the GI tract, the vet cautioned.
Birch was given various chemicals and injections. Total bill? Let’s just say not even the French would pay that much for a rabbit dinner, even if the café had four stars.
That evening, back at home, Birch began to shiver and I started to worry.
I texted the vet, who recommended that I take Birch’s temperature. If there’s a fever, the vet said, it could mean peritonitis.
That’s when I discovered we didn’t have a thermometer.
On my way to the drugstore at 9 o’clock on a Saturday night, I kept thinking: “They won’t have a thermometer because of COVID-19. That’ll mean a trip to the other drugstore and they won’t have one, either. No one will have one.”
They had one. It had just come in that day, the clerk said. I was feeling guilty about buying it. I must have made a face, because the clerk looked at me with concern. That made it even worse.
Should I reassure him by saying it wasn’t for me, that I wasn’t sick? That it was for my dog. But that would be an admission that I was taking valuable medical supplies. On the other hand, we did need a thermometer because, well, you know.
I bought the darn thing and took Birch’s temp, which turned out to be normal. I stayed with him until he fell asleep. Then, I put some cooked rice in his bowl, just in case he decided to live again.
At some point in the middle of the night, Birch awoke, realized he was hungry, and ate the rice.
To me — and probably to Birch — it was a harrowing episode. I understand that in the scope of things, my dog’s illness is a footnote the size of an atom. But when it’s your dog, and he’s down for the count, it matters. A lot.
I’m grateful to the people who helped my dog, to all the people who care about and care for animals. Veterinarians and vet techs may not be front-line workers, they won’t get any jet flyovers. But if I flew a Cessna, I’d buzz their office a couple times and dip the wings in a sign of thanks.