Thursday, January 24, 2013

Peaches at the Bridge

Last Monday I had to say goodbye to my beautiful Flemish Giant girl Peaches.  She didn't want to go, and I didn't want her to leave me, but her body said it was time.  Reluctantly, she crossed over to the Rainbow Bridge.  I was holding her in my arms and am confident she knew I was there, helping her make the transition to the next world.

Peaches came into my life in 2005, after a hoarding situation in the Show Low area of Arizona sent a number of Flemish Giant rabbits to our shelter.  She got her name from the bright orange-tan color of her fur.  Flemish Giants, or "Flemmies" as they are affectionately called, are one of the largest breeds of rabbits.  The purebred males can sometimes get to be 20 or 22 pounds in size, and can measure nearly three feet in length when stretched out.  Peaches wasn't a purebred, but in her prime she tipped the scales at 15 pounds, a very respectable weight for a bunny.  By the way, the internet stories you sometimes come across where someone claims to have a 50-lb. rabbit are most likely bogus.  A rabbit's skeleton and physiology could not support that kind of weight, and the rabbit would be unable to move around.

Peaches in 2005

I didn't adopt Peaches right away.  For a while she was up for adoption, along with the other Flemmies she came with.  Flemish Giants are very popular rabbits, due to their large size and sweet, loving, gentle personalities.  We don't get them very often at the shelter and when we do, they usually get adopted quickly.  I was fostering Peaches for a while and took notice of her sweet disposition and excellent litterbox habits, a winning combination in the eyes of any prospective bunny adopter.

It wasn't long before a woman came forward to adopt Peaches, and Peaches went to live in her new home.  Not long thereafter, the woman contacted me and reported that Peaches is acting very strangely - urinating all over the place except her litter box, hiding behind a stairwell whenever she was let out of her pen for playtime, and generally behaving badly.  The woman had a male roommate and Peaches loved him, but she would have nothing to do with the woman who adopted her.  I tried to give her advice on how to counteract Peaches' recalcitrant behavior, and even went over to the woman's house to work with them, but Peaches just dug in her bunny heels and would not change her antisocial behavior for anything.  Eventually the woman could not deal with the constant urination and reluctantly returned Peaches to the rescue.  I went to her home, picked up Peaches and brought her back to foster care in my house.  The minute Peaches got to my house, the bad behavior vanished, her perfect litter box habits returned, and I realized that Peaches was finally back to where she really wanted to be.  I officially adopted her soon after, and she had not left my care since.

Peaches snuggling with mini-Rex Marty in 2011

Peaches loved to go out in the back yard for playtime when the weather permitted.  I have memories of her joyfully bounding across the back yard, kicking up her heels and leaping into the air in what bunny people call the Rabbit Dance of Joy, otherwise known as a "binky."  She would launch her 15-pound bulk straight up and catch some really good air, kicking up a cloud of dust as she did.  Once she was outside, she never wanted to go back inside the house, and not even the darkening skies of evening would change her mind.  She quickly learned that if she hid under some shrubbery in the yard, it was hard for me to force her back inside.  In particular, a large bougainvillea bush next to the cement block wall was her favorite hangout, because she could observe the whole yard without being seen, and the hundreds of sharp thorns would make it a difficult and painful proposition for me to drag her out of her very comfortable spot to go back indoors.

In the 8 years I had her, Peaches was never anything other than extremely sweet, docile and affectionate.  Her health was really good throughout her life, although once she had a case of urine sludge that was very severe.  Her urine got really thick with excess calcium and minerals in her diet, and came out of her body with the consistency of toothpaste.  She was very sick and at times her body was completely limp, but luckily I pulled her through that and made changes to her diet, and she was fine from then on.  About 6 months ago she had trouble walking around, and was losing the use of her back legs.  Eventually her back legs did go out on her and I had to move her from the exercise pen where she had lived her whole life to a cage lined with soft, fleece padding.

I could tell she got really depressed when this happened, because she had always been so active and vital.  She was sad that she couldn't move on her own, and I helped as much as I could by keeping her clean, holding her over her water dish so she could drink and changing her position several times a day.  She still loved to eat her vegetables and treats, and she would yank a treat out of your hand with as much gusto as she always did (ask my friend Julia).  Last weekend things started to get really bad for her, and she began losing her appetite, a sure sign of her decline.  By Monday morning, she was virtually paralyzed, her food left untouched.  I knew the end was near for my dear girl.

I was able to spend a lot of time with her on Monday - holding her, brushing her beautiful fur, and letting her know I was nearby.  Monday evening she started crying and moaning, and I knew the end was imminent.  She did not want to go, and fought very hard to stay with me, even though I told her over and over it was okay if she needed to move on.  Tears started to form in her eyes, and in mine, too.  Eventually she realized it was time and when she surrendered her spirit, a palpable wave of relief crossed over her face.  She relaxed a final time, and she was gone.

I am still dealing with the loss of my dear girl, and I don't think it's fully hit me yet.  I keep walking by the bunny room expecting to see her there, her big, dark eyes sparkling under her long, long eyelashes and her huge ears pointed directly at me in anticipation of a treat I might have for her.  I will think of her every time I'm sitting on the back patio, gazing out into the back yard at her favorite bougainvillea bush on the side, expecting to see her stretched out underneath it like Cleopatra on her barge.

When an animal touches your life and your heart as much as she had, she never really leaves you.  One of the amazing things about having animals in your life is that they change you.  They bring such goodness of spirit into your life, that you can't help but be a different (read: better) person from the experience.  I've always maintained that animals make us better human beings, and show us by example how to live our lives.  Animals can teach us so much, if we only open our hearts and minds to them, and I know my life was made immeasurably richer by the presence of a big, beautiful tan-colored Flemmie named Peaches.


The day after Peaches passed, I got a call from the local humane society.  They had received a young, injured bunny and needed to know if our shelter could take it from them.  Of course I immediately went down there to pick the bunny up.

I was not quite prepared to find a tiny, incredibly soft ball of the purest, whitest fur imaginable, barely weighing a pound and probably no more than 5 weeks of age, with an eye injury.  The doctors there said the eye itself was intact, just the conjunctive tissues surrounding it were damaged.  Her thin, fragile body was covered with numerous scabs, indicating that her life had been a difficult one so far.  That was bad enough, but unfortunately I came to realize that the poor little soul had suffered some critical internal trauma, because she was passing blood out her anus.  I gave her as much supportive care as I could, but knew that only time would tell if she was going to survive her injuries.  I keep telling myself that having hope in situations like this is important for both me and the bunny being treated.

The next morning she was even more listless and lethargic, refusing food and water, and I became increasingly pessimistic about her chances.  Sadly her injuries overwhelmed her and she passed away quietly in the afternoon, less than 24 hours after I brought her to my home.

She was not going to die alone and unnamed, an anonymous victim of the ignorance and cruelty for which the human race is so infamous.  Droplet was a tiny, sweet angel who deserved so much better than the extremely short, brutal, pain-filled life she had to endure.  I like to think that for the last day of her life, Droplet knew she was safe and maybe for the first time, experienced the caring touch of a human who held her close and whispered into her ear that she was loved, she was valued, and her life indeed meant something.

Friday, January 11, 2013

I Am OZ, the Great and Powerful

There are some movies which are called "classic" and really deserve that title; one of them is the 1939 film, "The Wizard of Oz."  Starring Judy Garland in her timeless role as Dorothy Gale, the flick is an absolute feast for the eyes and the imagination of people of every age.

There is amazing stuff from start to finish.  Initially the film is in black and white, and it shows the quintessentially American life of Dorothy and her Auntie Em and a couple of hangers-on living on an idyllic farm in Kansas.  Then wealthy, elitist Bitch-From-Hell Ann Romney, I mean Elvira Gulch, shows up with an order from the sheriff to confiscate vicious hell-hound Toto.  Dorothy finds herself having the Worst Day Ever, and just when she thinks things can't get any worse, a tornado blows in and really screws everything up.  This is the part that used to completely terrify me as a child; I remember being unable to breathe, paralyzed in fear, watching the thrashing, writhing tornado funnel bearing down on the Kansas farm like some huge dinosaur marching across the flat Kansas plains under a black sky.

Dorothy is not amused when she finds herself locked out of the storm cellar and runs inside the house for shelter.  She gets knocked on her butt by a flying window frame and hallucinates this extremely intricate dream about the whole farmhouse getting sucked up into the tornado vortex and transported to a place called Oz.  Still in black-and-white, there is a neat cinematic trick after she crash-lands La Maison Gale on top of an innocent pedestrian who turns out to the Wicked Witch of the East: when Dorothy opens the door onto Oz the screen explodes into mind-blowing Technicolor, an effect which is considerably muted when you only have a black-and-white television.

After being flash-mobbed by weirdly-dressed midgets called the Munchkins and getting her marching orders - not to mention a fabulous pair of red-sequined Espadrilles - from Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, Dorothy starts out for the fabled Emerald City to find the all-powerful Wizard of Oz, who reportedly has an awesome GPS system and can get her back to her bland, boring, black-and-white life as a hopeless farm slave in Kansas.  She picks up some friends along the way, all with their own issues, including another wicked witch with anger-management problems and a whole squadron of flying monkeys.  If you think pigeons are messy, you should try to clean up after a bunch of airborne chimpanzees.

Eventually they do find themselves in the stunning art-deco audience hall of the Wizard of Oz, who proceeds to scare the bejeezus out of them with a lot of hollering and bellowing, and special-effects like blasts of flame and clouds of acrid smoke.  Dorothy and her crew completely buy into the all-powerful-wizard scam, but not Toto, who pulls a back curtain open to show a dumpy old man working all the bells and whistles that make the Wizard so gawd-awful scary and Wizard-y.  It turns out the Wizard relies a lot on reputation and overblown bluster and is not nearly as powerful as he would like you to believe.

What's the point of all this, you probably asked yourself three paragraphs ago?  Anyone who reads Careless Whispers knows that "making a valid point" in any blog post is entirely optional and when it does happen, should be considered unexpected good fortune, like finding a $20 bill on the street.  But oddly enough this post does have a point, which is we are seeing a variation of this Wizard story playing out in the raging gun control debate following the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Playing the role of Dorothy we have the American public, thoroughly traumatized by gun violence, and seeking a way back to a world where 20 grade-school kids are not mowed down by a psycho with an assault weapon.  Obama is the Good Witch of the North, pointing the way to a sensible, middle-road solution like banning those weapons and high-capacity ammo clips.  Congress is there too, playing the role of the Munchkins, a role they play so very well - a bunch of annoying, helium-voiced douchebags that you just want to slap the crap out of.

The choice role of Wizard is played by the National Rifle Association, which for many years has relied on its reputation as the most powerful lobbying machine ever, and who uses gross intimidation, threats and blatant coercion to maintain its iron-clad stranglehold on members of Congress.  The NRA would have us believe they are all-powerful and anyone who dares to speak up to them and challenge their authority will surely get slapped down and ground into dust like some disgusting bothersome insect.  You mess with the Great and Powerful at your own risk, and punishment will be sure and swift: you will find yourself thrown out of office faster than you can say, "There's no place like home."

All the cross-dressing midgets in Congress tremble and cower in fear of the Wizard/NRA and consider it a privilege to grovel in the Wizard's presence and do whatever they're told.  But the Wizard just might have finally met his match in the shock, anger and disgust that have swept the nation as it awakens to the horrific, awful things that gun violence causes in the life of this country.  People are beginning to feel that this problem is getting progressively worse, and that the answer is not what the Wizard wants - which is more guns everywhere in the United States, especially in the schools themselves.  The answer, which will by no means eliminate all gun violence, seems to be to take these automated weapons of mass killing and huge ammo clips and make them much more difficult to fall into the hands of the mentally deranged, while leaving responsible gun owners access to the firearms which make sense for level-headed people to own.

Bottom line is, what we have been doing up to this point when it comes to guns in this, the most heavily-armed nation in the world, is not working.  The answer, in spite of the horrendous screaming and yelling of the Wizard, is not more guns for everyone.  The public seems to be figuring out that the Wizard is all bluster and bombast, and there has never been a better opportunity to pull the curtain away from the Wizard, and see that his power is just an overblown illusion.

The Power of Nine

As far back as I can remember, my favorite number has always been the number 9.  There's something about it that is so complete, self-contained and satisfying.  The number nine always looks like it's smiling - you can't be in a bad mood when you're looking at a number nine.

1's were always so plain and uninteresting.  2's resembled a question mark and looked confused.  3's looked like they were running away from something.  4's seemed dour and humorless.  5's were always smiling, but more like the crazy people on the bus who talk to themselves and laugh at their own jokes.  6's looked apprehensive and fearful.  7's looked stern and unforgiving.  8's appeared smug and self-satisfied.  But with 9's, the best was saved for last, and it was always a great way to end a counting lesson.

But wait, there's a lot more to nines.  Nine is ten minus one-tenth of ten:

9 = 10 - (0.1 x 10) = 10 - 1 = 9

This little numeric twist gives nine all sorts of mathematical powers.  For instance,

One ninth = 1 / 9 = 0.111111....
Two ninths = 2 / 9 = 0.222222...
Three ninths = 3 / 9 = 1 / 3 = 0.3333333....
Four ninths = 4 / 9 = 0.4444444....

and so on.  Also, if you add the digits of multiples of 9, they will add up to nine.  As in:

9 x 1 = 09 ...  0 + 9 = 9
9 x 2 = 18 ...  1 + 8 = 9
9 x 3 = 27 ...  2 + 7 = 9
9 x 4 = 36 ...  3 + 6 = 9
9 x 5 = 45 ...  4 + 5 = 9

From this point, the digits in the product reverse themselves:

9 x 6 = 54 ...  5 + 4 = 9
9 x 7 = 63 ...  6 + 3 = 9
9 x 8 = 72 ...  7 + 2 = 9
9 x 9 = 81 ...  8 + 1 = 9
9 x 10 = 90 ...  9 + 0 = 9

The cautious reader will note that the left digits count up from 0 to 9, while the right digits count down from 9 to 0.

Things even go further, if you skip the strange anomaly of eleven:

9 x 11 = 99 ...  9 + 9 = 18 (wtf?)
9 x 12 = 108 ... 1 + 0 + 8 = 9
9 x 13 = 117 ... 1 + 1 + 7 = 9
9 x 14 = 126 ... 1 + 2 + 6 = 9 ....

Eleven is kind of a mirror-image, bizarro-world version of nine.  It's like the antimatter version of nine.  All manner of ungodliness ensues when you divide by 11:

1 / 11 = 0.09090909...
2 / 11 = 0.18181818...
3 / 11 = 0.27272727...
4 / 11 = 0.36363636...
All the way up to:
10 / 11 = 0.90909090...

If that stuff doesn't give you a headache, nothing will.

Right after the start of the new year, another indication of how awesome nine is came to the rabbit rescue in a litter of NINE baby bunnies!  Just feast your eyes on these pictures, and tell me nine is not an amazing, awesome number!