By BR Chitwood
During the soothing touches of my massage by a good and lovely wife, we chatted about one of our small pets… I thought the story of how we met our little cottontail rabbit and our seven-year love affair with that cottontail might have some soft and tender moments to convey. The morning was bleak, gray, and looked like snow. The trees were stark and sad without their leaves against the gray backdrop. It was much like the day ‘Christmas’ came into our lives.
Julie and I lived in Cave Creek, Arizona with Toby, our beautiful and faithful golden retriever. It was Christmas night around 10:30 PM and Julie took Toby out into our front courtyard for a tinkle session and to turn off the holiday lights on the few small trees and bushes. Julie heard a quick rasping sound among the gravel and brush. Toby suddenly assumed his retriever pose near our courtyard wall of stucco.
Toby maintained his pose there in the courtyard looking somewhat dumbfounded with his head arching downward and trying to see why the squeaky-sounding creature might be quivering under his furry body. Julie saw that it was a small cottontail rabbit, obviously recently born, seeking refuge under Toby’s body. Julie picked the tiny rabbit up and put it in the palm of her hand. She could see from the holiday lights that some animal, perhaps a coyote, had caused some serious damage to the rabbit. It had one eye missing and its small head was bloody and appeared just recently attacked.
With Toby softly moaning at her side, Julie carefully carried the cottontail into the house and began her miracle nursing. She wrapped the one-eyed cottontail in a small blanket, found in our garage an old cage we had once kept our lop-eared rabbit, Gigi, and put her tiny wounded creature inside. Julie put the cage and rabbit in the room she used as an office, with Toby still softly moaning and keeping careful watch.
The next morning Julie went to see a Veterinarian friend nearby and was told that the most humane thing to do would be to put the rabbit out of its misery. What the Vet did not know was that my wife is a true animal lover and refused to take to heart her pronouncement. Julie persisted, and the Vet finally gave her a small doll’s bottle for feeding, some kitten formula, and recommended that Visine drops be put in the rabbit’s good eye, that Neosporin be used on the gashed head, and that the formula be fed every two hours..
Julie returned home to find Toby in a state of frenzy. The cottontail had somehow managed to get out of the cage. Julie finally found the rabbit under her desk near the cage. Then Julie began the steady nursing and rehabilitation of the tiny desert cottontail. Every two hours, Julie brought our new pet, ‘Christmas’, out to the great room, wrapped in its blanket, fed it and tended to the wounds. The incredible thing was that Toby played Dad and Mom to this little furry creature, nosing its little bottom up in the littler box to make it go potty.
For me, it was a remarkable period as I watched all of this play out over the following days and weeks. Julie is the most patient and caring person I know. She loves animals, family, and children more than anyone I have ever known. She even loves me, and I consider myself one of the luckiest men in the world.
‘Christmas’ moved with us to a lake community and thrived with her daily routines of treats, going to her guest bedroom hideout under the bed, returning to Julie’s office to be fed. Julie was the only person that ‘Christmas’ would allow lap time. And, after seven years with us, that is where ‘Christmas’ died, on Julie’s lap.
It was early morning and Julie had come to her office where ‘Christmas’ litter box and feeding took place. Julie would habitually hide little treats around the office for ‘Christmas’ to find. This particular morning, all ‘Christmas’ wanted was to be on Julie’s lap. With tears flowing, Julie softly stroked with her forefinger the fur on ‘Christmas’ back, her barely audible breathing fainter with each passing minute.
We all cried, even Toby, when ‘Christmas’ died. She had become part of our family. I found a shoe box, lined it with tissue and a treat, and placed ‘Christmas’ in it. Julie, Toby, and I drove some miles to the country, found an old gnarled oak tree near a farmer’s field and, after a few words of love, buried ‘Christmas’ there.
Even in writing this, in the remembrance, tears easily come.
Perhaps, that is the essence of love. Perhaps that is why God gave us enduring souls.
BR Chitwood – (From the Archives) – November 28, 2020
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