Saturday, March 17, 2012

Helena and Hemingway's Story

contributed by Rich Whelan

In August of 2010, I read an article on 51 rabbits being surrendered from a hording situation to the MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen, Massachusetts.  My wife's family had a rabbit while she was growing up and she always spoke of the fond memories of that rabbit.  We had discussed getting a rabbit but had never progressed the conversation further.  I forwarded her the article and without hesitation, she wanted to go adopt one.

Here's the article I read...

From what we were told, she was "saving" the animals from breeders who were planning on either releasing them into the wild or killing them.  Also, she found some on craigslist that were listed as being "free" - she didn't want them to end up as snake food.  Her heart was in the right place but over crowding in cages - some had 5 or 6 buns in small cages - as well as lack of proper care was a major issue.  When they were surrendered, all the rabbits had pasturella - they think one rabbit came in with it and it spread to the rest of them.  The amazing part of the surrender is that even though some of the buns were quite sick, only 1 had to be put down.  They were able to save the rest.

My wife and I made the trip up to Nevins Farm to check out the rabbits and see if any of them would be good for us to bring home.  We walked in the rabbit room and saw so many many rabbits.  The first to catch our eye was Hemingway.  A white dwarf rabbit with very blue eyes, and a small patch of fur on top of his head that was about a year old - we think he was less than that.  When we picked him up, and held him, we could hear his wheezing, he would sneeze from time to time, and it melted our hearts.  We fell in love with him instantly.  My wife stood by his cage, holding him, and stroking his soft white fur.  We new regardless of how sick he was, we wanted to bring him home.


Hemingway and Helena

We walked around the room and my wife saw another bun that caught her eye - Helena.  A 1 1/2 - 2 year old shy bun that looked like your typical light brown rabbit.  But she had such big brown eyes and long eye lashes.  My wife wanted to hold her but Helena wanted nothing to do with that.  Helena was in a pen and this little rabbit was smart and quick.  "Just scoop her up" my wife suggested to me.  If Helena would let me, I would have.  A volunteer helped and she did hold her.  Helena was nervous and not too crazy about being held.  We put her back in the cage and the volunteer asked if we wanted to adopt any of the rabbits.  I told her we'd like to adopt Hemingway and my wife added, "and Helena too!".  I looked at my wife and she said, "we can't bring just one home...they'll be lonely when we're at work."  We filed the paper work and were told that we had to wait for the all clear from the vets but we would be able to bring them home soon.  (I should add that I had never had a pet before and was going by her past knowledge of taking care of a rabbit.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into but knew my wife did and from what she had described to me, I felt I could handle it.)

On the way home, we talked about why we picked the two we did...Hemingway grabbed us from the start...sweet...calm...and seemed so loveable.  Helena was a tough one.  That little rabbit wouldn't let me hold her and was completely shy, but my wife simply said, "Helena needs love, that's all."

A few days later, we were told we could bring Helena home but Hemingway was still too sick.  We traveled up, newly purchased carrier in hand, and brought Helena home.  We visited with Hemingway while there and we were told it would likely be at least a week or two before he could come home.  We were like goofy kids...took a bunch of pictures and acted like kids.  We found out that Helena LOVES to be petted - but on her terms.  She loves to have someone rub her ears and her head.  And she also is not a fan of hard wood floors, but that's ok as we had an area rug that she hops on when we would take her out of her cage.

Two weeks went by...and two weeks more....Hemingway still was too sick to bring home.  We'd call and talk to the staff at Nevins Farm and apologized for constantly bugging them, we just wanted to bring him home.  The day came and we were able to bring him home but because he was still sick, he was not neutered.  We'd have to wait for him to be better for that to happen so no bonding attempts until that was taken care of.  We brought Hemingway home with pretty much the same attitude as Helena.  He was still sneezing but not as much as before.  We had to give him Baytril twice a day, but that didn't matter to us.  He was "home" and it didn't take long for Hemingway to make our home his.  The first time we took him out of the cage, he hopped...EVERYWHERE!.  No fear of the hardwood in him, he jumped up on the couch and all over the apartment.  If we lost track of him, all we had to do was listen for a sneeze.

Then we had a scare...a few weeks later, I came home, took Hemingway out of his cage and something wasn't right.  He wasn't eating much and his head was drooping forward a bit.  My wife had worked form home that day and said he was active and didn't take his usual nap so we thought he was just tired.  But he wasn't hoping around the house and he didn't seem to have balance.  We had a vet appointment the next day and thought, we would wait until then to have him looked at.  The next morning, he was completely lethargic and his head droop was worse.  But what scared us was he was not eating and his typical healthy bunny poop looked no where near what it should.  We decided to bring him to the MSPCA for his vet appointment early.  We loaded him into his carrier and drove up to Methuen.  We noticed that his head was no longer drooping but was flat on the floor of the carrier.  That scared us a bit.

When we got up there and showed one of the vet techs the issue, her face said it all.  "I've never seen a rabbit do this" and she rushed him back to the vets.  The small animal specialist - Sheri - came out to talk to us.  (I had exchanged regular emails with her to let her know the status of our buns so we had talked before.)  We went into a room and she shut the door.  She was visibly shaken up.  Hemingway was in rough shape.  The vets weren't sure if he was suffering and that was the last thing anyone wanted.  They told us that it was doubtful he was going to make it.  Sheri asked us what we wanted to do and we quickly replied that we didn't want him to suffer but wanted to give him a chance.  They were going to give him some meds, some critical care, and hope for the best.  She actually started to cry a little while telling us this.  Sheri told us that Hem was one of her favorites of the group of 51 rabbits that came in.  She loved him and her actions proved that.  The next day, she went in - on her day off - to check on him.  When the phone rang, I jumped...the news we had hoped for we received.  Hem was doing much, much better.  The meds were working.  He still wasn't eating but was doing better.  Needless to say, we were so relieved.

I want to add in that Sheri was and is fantastic!  She always answered any questions I had and really took  the time to go above and beyond with Hemingway as you'll see.

The next day we went up to visit him and we saw his personality was back.  As he hopped around the office we were in, he jumped on my wife's lap and nose bumped her nose like he did when we had him out at home.  It was like he knew who she was and missed her.  He sat in her lap for a few minutes and then went off exploring in true Hemingway fashion.  That drive home, we were so happy.   We emailed Sheri to see how he was doing and went up to visit him.  Sheri put a sign on Hem's cage that read, "Sheri Only!  Special Care Required".  Sheri went in on her days off to check on Hem.  She was shocked by how much a 3lb dwarf rabbit could eat!

About 3 weeks later, Hemingway came home for the 2nd time.  He was now on Zythromax rather than Baytril and was responding and doing so much better.  Over the next few weeks we noticed that even though Hemingway and Helena were not bonded yet - Hem still hadn't been neutered - they were very curious about each other.  When Hemingway was out, he'd get up on his hind legs to look in her cage and Helena would do the same.  We decided that rather than keep them in the cages when we were at work, we would put them in rabbit proof areas of the house where they could see each other and we'd know they were safe.  Helena in one room and Hemingway in the hallway next to it.  We bought baby gates to block the doors.and enjoyed watching them "flirt" with each other.  On more than a few times, we'd see Helena on one side of the gate and Hemingway on the other side, sitting next to each other.

A few months later, we were given the green light to take him off the meds and see how it went.  After about 2 weeks, we scheduled the neuter.  We were thrilled! 

About a month later, we started the bonding process.  The first few "dates", Hemingway chased Helena endlessly, it wasn't going well.  We gave them a break and tried again.  Helena calmed down a bit but was still hopping away.  My wife decided to try and put Hemingway in Helena's cage while Helena was in it and see what would happen.  They looked at each other and very cautiously watched each other.  After about 10 minutes, she moved Hemingway back to his cage.  The next day, we did it again except this time for about 20 issues and she gave them some green pepper to eat together.  It was going well.  Then we took them out of their cages together and put them on the area rug.  They were fine...some issues.  After a few play dates like that as well as some time in each others cages together, we put them in the cage together for a day.  They got along completely.  The bond was a good one.

There isn't a day we aren't entertained by them.  Helena is a thumper who likes to let us know when she doesn't like something.  Who knew a little rabbit could thump so loudly.  Hemingway doesn't thump much, but he does look at you with very inquisitive expressions.  They're completely spoiled rabbits with plenty of toys and they receive lots of love.  My wife was right about Helena...she needed love.  She also likes to play catch.  She'll pick up a little ball and throw it and enjoys when you give it back to her to throw again.  Hemingway doesn't play much.  His play is exploring around the house.  If he's gone too long, Helena will hop to the edge of the area rug and look for him. 

The one surprise we had from Hemingway is that we found out he is a mix of dwarf and lionhead or wooley.  That cute little piece of fur on top of his head, developed into s full face of fur.
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  1. I pick this one! bias at all!

  2. great story, adorable bunnies!!!

  3. I vote for this story! I remember seeing Helena and Hemingway at Nevins and I'm so glad they found a wonderful home together! Also, Sheri is definitely awesome! I adopted my rabbit Barley from her and she goes above and beyond to help with whatever you need. Good luck to Hemingway and Helena!