Category Archives: Animals

The Rabbit Conundrum

More than 20 years ago, I cared for a baby bird who fell from a nest at the Saturn dealership. I named it Fred, (pronounced “Fwed”), and cared for it from helpless infant to independent adult. Once it became clear that the bird was ready for freedom, I released it at my Dad’s house, harboring the fantasy that I could visit anytime in the future, gently call out “Where Fwed?” like I had done constantly for weeks, and it would land on my shoulder in the same way it had in my house. I pictured being involved with Fred for the rest of his life, making sure he always had food, and demonstrating a bond that defied nature.

Full Story of Fred the rescued bird

As you can imagine, my hopes were dashed on release day, when Dad and I opened Fred’s cage and it flew away, never to be seen again. Despite many calls of “Where Fwed?” into the void of Dad’s lovely garden, my shoulder remained as empty as my broken heart. I knew I did right by Fred but also missed him greatly. I still think about Fred anytime I see a small brown wren sitting on a branch, wondering whatever became of the bird that consumed my life during those weeks in the late 90s.

Because of my experience with Fred, I knew not to expect a lifelong bond when I assumed responsibility for an injured rabbit at our dealership last week. I accepted that I would become enamored of the bunny, who would likely only tolerate me during our short time together. I pushed the thought out of my mind and focused on the present, promising to do right by the animal and not be selfish, understanding that I would want to keep it and that it would want to be free.

Kevin had texted me a picture of the rabbit they captured in the shop, and I went right up to them and bossily snatched the box from the hands of the technician who caught it, assuming that I would be the person to care for the frightened critter, despite the fact that there are over 100 other employees in the dealership who could have easily done just as well.

Perhaps my bossiness could be overlooked, given the circumstances. In addition to my Fred experience long ago, I had been seriously embracing my inner Dr. Doolittle lately. In the past month alone, I had cared for an injured bird and rescued kitten, both discovered at the dealership in similarly dire circumstances. This young rabbit, the latest addition to the Lexus animal menagerie, made a magical appearance by bounding out from the engine compartment of a customer’s car and onto the back of a surprised technician.

I knew right away that the small brown bunny was injured: I could see a large gaping red patch of flesh between the shoulder blades. I suspected that something in the engine scraped the rabbit’s back, which was completely devoid of any skin in that spot. My immediate commitment to the animal was to care for the injury and provide safekeeping for now; there would be plenty of time later for decisions regarding final outcomes.

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After many attempts to find the right veterinary partner for my patient, it was determined that surgery was in order, followed by a week of recovery, including the dispensing of meds. Dr. Boucher was the perfect professional to advise me. Rabbits are high stress animals, she explained, and wild rabbits cannot be domesticated. Too much stress can easily give a rabbit a heart attack, so calm nurturing followed by a release to nature was the ideal path. She had a financial estimate prepared for me, and I had a budget in mind which would determine the rabbit’s fate. If the quote for surgery exceeded my funds, some painful decisions would have to be made.

Fortunately, her quote came in slightly under my pocketbook threshold, so we proceeded with the surgery. I left the unnamed orphan in her care, whom they labeled as “stray rabbit Maskey”, and went to the pet store to purchase supplies. At this point the budget pretty much went out the window. I purchased the vet-recommended Timothy hay and rabbit pellets, as well as the largest rabbit cage I could manage (some assembly required). By the time the rabbit came to my home, it had a large condo filled with food, water, treats, bedding and a cubby area to hide during stressful moments.

“Stray rabbit Maskey” was the name I gave to the pharmacy tech when I went to pick up her meds. Upon realizing my quest, the tech graciously discounted the final expenses for blown-open budget. I offered to name the rabbit after her in appreciation. She giggled, and said, my name is Amanda. From that moment on, so was the rabbit’s.

My week with Amanda was delightful for me and, I imagine, torture for her. I got to care for an adorable creature, she was forced to endure gentle pets on the head in exchange for free food and pain medicine spurted gracelessly into her mouth. Kevin hooked me up with a camera so that I could watch her every move, and “Rabbit cam” was born. Cute video updates to Facebook and Instagram kept Amanda’s fans informed on her progress. In the span of one quick week, we all watched her chew, groom, stretch, and rearrange her condo. In addition to the clips already posted on my Facebook and Instagram pages, I offer this snippet captured by #rabbitcam. I call it “I Meant That”, showing her falling off her ledge but acting all cool about it.

One moment which was not caught on camera throughout this ordeal was an episode entitled “The Great Escape”. I must have let my guard down one morning, or perhaps Amanda found a momentary surge of bravery. During my usual food refilling and cage cleaning, she bound out the condo door with the same zeal she used to escape the engine compartment. In that moment, she turned into a pinball. She was zinging from wall to ceiling to wall to window with a velocity that belied the calm days she had just spent lollygagging in the condo. I was acutely aware in this moment that I could name the animal and spend all the money and time I didn’t have to give, but nothing would change the fact that THIS RABBIT IS WILD.

I was able to catch Amanda and place her back in the condo, but I knew that the time had come for the sutures to be removed and the rabbit to be released. I carried the entire condo to Dr. Boucher’s office (thankfully it was on wheels), and Doc proclaimed Amanda healed and ready for new life. I returned home, forlorn. Despite my mental preparations warning myself otherwise, I was fully in love with this adorable critter. I used the rainstorms as an excuse and postponed the release for another day, not wanting the trauma of bad weather to make it harder for both of us.

This Sunday morning at 645am, I knew the time had come. It was quiet and I was ready. I wheeled the condo to the screened in porch, placed the rabbit cam strategically, and opened the porch door. Amanda was hiding in her cubby as I quietly opened her condo door and let it rest in the position that creates a down-ramp for easy exit. I silently let myself back in the house, not wanting my presence to add to her stress. I watched from inside the house, knowing that I was in for a wait.

At 6:55am she poked her head out of the cubby hole and froze. She sat motionless, looking out into the expanse of her potential freedom, but doing nothing. I watched her, imagining the decision-making or courage-summoning going on in her mind. A constant source of food, medical care, love and safety surrounded her. A world of birds, fresh air, grass, other rabbits, spacious land, unpredictable weather and predators offered an alternative future. It’s not unlike the conundrum we all face, essentially. There are the safe restraints of the familiar versus the dangers of unknown adventures. For Fred, it was no decision at all. He was born to fly, and he flew right away. Rabbits, however, are high-stress creatures. Amanda was immobile in her moment of trepidation, and I was watching in sadness from the other side of a pane-glass window.

 

At 8:01 she tentatively crossed the threshold, stepped down the ramp and ran into the porch area. After brief exploration of the porch, she bounded out the open door and into the yard. At 8:03 she was gone from our sight, and despite the condo which remains in place in case she wishes to return, the Rabbit cam is quiet. All that is left is me knowing I will be looking for her in every bunny in our rabbit-centric neighborhood, every small movement in our backyard. I will be asking “Where Amanda?”, knowing there will be no reply, and hoping, as always, that I did right for the animal I was trying to help.

Pet Matchmakers

I have claimed for years that my BFF Crystal has a superpower: she is the perfect matchmaker between animals and their forever human caretaker. It has happened enough times for me to be convinced that she possesses some special sixth sense for it. I learn of someone in search of a pet, give Crystal the particulars, and she miraculously finds a cat or dog which sparks with that individual. One couple I know, friends of mine, have adopted two separate rescue dogs from Crystal. The dogs not only bonded with my friends but with one another. These connections are instantaneous and a powerfully touching thing to witness.

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In recent months, it seems as though I have become ensnared into the matchmaking business.  Today my co-workers saved a kitten by removing the grill from a car and extracting the tiny feline from a dangerous hiding place. It was a beautiful team effort-three guys got the tiny critter, one took pictures and found a home for it, and another brought it to me to safeguard until her new family could come to the dealership. All of this on the same day my in-laws left to go home to Missouri with their new rescue dog-an adorable fluffball named Bella, for whom they drove two days across the country to meet and adopt.

One lucky Kitten!

Rescued from the inner workings of a car.

It’s also the same day that one of our esteemed Lexus customers won an award for her ongoing passion for rescuing homeless animals, especially those who tend to slip under the radar. It’s easy to find a home for a kitten like the one we saved today-it is tiny, adorable and likes people. It has a cute story that accompanies it. Pairing dogs and cats who are older, or have special medical needs, or timid personalities, is a tougher challenge, and our customer Martha Ann Tudor has the superpower for that. She has a gift as matchmaker for homeless animals with more complex stories but equal amounts of love potential, and the Augusta Chapter of the American Red Cross rightly honored her for this work.

Martha Ann explains her gift for helping animals

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There are bumps in the road, to be sure. Matchmaking with animals, much like with people, comes with a fair amount of blind dates gone wrong. Pets can be shy or traumatized and not show their full personality for a week or more, which is challenging for those of us who believe that a commitment to a pet is a promise for life. Having a rescue matchmaker increases the chance for success, a blessing for both sides. Martha Ann and Crystal get the backstory on the potential pet pairing and offer transparency regarding what to expect.

When it clicks, it sure is a sweet thing to witness. Watching Bella leave for Missouri, knowing the mutual happiness which is imminent in her new home, was incredibly heartwarming. Seeing rescue kitty snuggling up to her new person, I could breathe a sigh of relief and feel a surge of vicarious joy. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing reports from people who have fallen in love with their new furry family member, gushing about what a perfect fit they found, and expressing appreciation for a pet who has enriched their lives.

Martha Ann and Crystal know this joy well; they live it every day, working to match each dog and cat with the ideal person, but we all can play a small role in this process. We can help rescue the needy or injured animals we find. We can like or share the social media post which could connect a pet with a new home. We can volunteer at shelters or offer to be a foster home for cuties in transition. Ultimately, we can all be matchmakers, helping one another to find the perfect pairings for the pets who deserve our love. Thanks Martha Ann and Crystal, for your superpowers and for inspiring us to be heroes like you.

 

Where Fwed?

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It was Christy Pennington’s fault, the big softy. She ran into my office and said “Angie, we have to do something! What do we do? We can’t let him die!” I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I didn’t know what to do, and that he was most certainly going to die. So I did the only thing I could, the only thing one can do when a situation is hopeless: act as if it is not.

She had just discovered a baby bird that couldn’t have been more than a few days old.   It had fallen out of a nest which was perched precariously along a ledge of the canopy covering the entrance to the dealership where we worked. Small, almost naked, frail, and looking like it was dead already, the bird was Christy’s crisis, and therefore became mine, as well.

A quick call to one of my animal-rescue friends would help me realize my predicament. Once a baby bird is out of the nest, mama bird doesn’t want it any more, but in order for the infant avian to survive, it has to remain warm at all times. “Seriously, Ang, you have got to keep that bird close to you.” My friend warned. “Hold it always. If something happens and you have to set it down, a heating pad on low can buy you a little time, but your best hope is close contact.”

Armed with this advice, I wrapped the little guy in a small cloth and kept him in my hand all the way to the pet store, where I purchased baby bird formula, syringes for feeding, and a small cage with stuffing for warmth. Christy and I got through his first feeding in the dealership ladies room, mixing the powder with warm water and offering it to the creature through the small syringe.

I don’t know why I decided the bird was a boy, but after we got past the first hour, it was definitely clear that he was a fighter. I called him Fred, as I called everything back then, and immediately went to work falling in love. I was enamored with his adorable ugliness, his vulnerable neediness and his voracious appetite. In addition to his temperature requirements, his meal needs were frequent, every few hours.

Christy helped with Fred, holding him when I had to talk to a customer or cover the switchboard, but it was clear from the start that I was committed to seeing this bird crisis to the end. When he made it through the first day, I knew that Fred was going to be with me until he could sprout some feathers and learn to make it on his own.

Driving home, I remembered that I had 4 pet cats in my apartment which might pose a threat to Fred’s safety.  After securing them in the living room, Fred and I nestled in for the night, and I alternated between feeding him and watching him be adorable. Fred slept in my hand, which was jammed into the opening of the cage, and I snuck in short bursts of sleep between his meals. We made it through the first night with me and Fred on the bed, and several cat paws trying to reach under the door as my felines sensed something was of interest in the other room. I talked to Fred, asking him where he was. “Where Fred?” I asked in a high-pitched voice normally reserved for asking toddlers what kind of cookie they want. I tried to reassure him that he was going to be ok, and that I was going to do all I could to help him.

My days at work were a blur of trying to get things done with one hand as I refused to set Fred down. I walked around the dealership with him, talked to co-workers with him and typed on my computer with him. My boss, a normally notorious hard-nosed tough guy, never said a word. I think he knew I was on this path as far as I had to go. Christy still helped during the work day, but once I left the dealership, that bird was in my hand through everything. I didn’t care about walking through the grocery store with him, and he was so small that the clerks didn’t seem to mind, either. Until you looked closely, you would have thought I just had an injured arm or something. I talked to Fred constantly, asking him where he was. It began sounding like I was saying, “Where Fwed?”

Soon “Fwed”  was sprouting more feathery fuzz and becoming stronger. It became clear that the little guy might just make it. It was not clear if I would, though. I was completely attached, and began envisioning my life with a pet bird. When Fred started losing interest in the formula feedings, the pet shop people informed me that I needed to start giving him bugs and worms. I bought live baby crickets and fed them to Fred with a pair of tweezers. Our arrangement was starting to become more and more impractical, but I refused to change course. Fred in hand, I continued my daily routine for 2 weeks, with Fred looking more and more like a real bird.

One night in my apartment Fred took flight! He flew to the window ledge, to the light fixture, and then came back to me and rested on my shoulder. I realized he couldn’t come to work with me the next day, as I might lose him when he took flight at the dealership. I left him securely locked in the living room with food and water. All day long, I thought about him, wondering how he was doing at home. I worried that something might happen.

Finally, the long day ended and I rushed home. I entered the living room; it was warm and silent. My heart beat as I feared the worst. I didn’t see him anywhere. His usual spots were vacant- the windowsill, the light fixture. He was such a small creature, I imagined he could very easily hide or escape. Finally I asked out, “where Fwed?” immediately Fred flew out of the hidden corners of the room, and landed right on my shoulder. I was elated and sad at the same time. In that moment, I knew he loved me back, but I also knew it was time to set him free.

The next day, I bought him a bird house and took him to my Dad’s yard, where there were many bushes and trees and birds and feeders. It was the sort of neighborhood I would choose for myself, if I were a bird. Dad was with me when I put him on the ledge of the birdhouse, which was safely nestled in a quiet patch of bushes near his house. Fred immediately flew off. He was gone.

The next day I went back to the birdhouse in the bush at Dad’s and asked loudly, “Where Fwed?” , fully expecting him to emerge from nature and land on my shoulder. He did not. I would go back a few more times, always asking where he was, and saddened by the fact that he was gone. I felt in my heart that I did right by Fred, getting him strong enough to take off on his own. Even though I only had him a few weeks, I never forgot my little fighter, and have always been grateful to Christy for being such a big softy.