Wednesday, 9 June 2010


Having the courage of your convictions can be really hard sometimes, especially when people around you don't always agree with your way of thinking.

Today was a case in point and I am still deeply troubled by it all but clinging on to the hope and belief that we made the right call.

Sophie came into our care last Summer. Tatton Park were the lucky recipients of 6 abandoned pet rabbits. They had been dumped in a box and confined altogether and as result fighting had ensued and they all had varying degrees of wounding. They were, of course, all unneutered and so you can imagine what the heady mix of male and female hormones had resulted in.

All the bunnies were stunning, some very timid and nervy and others not so bad. All but Sophie were rehomed quite quickly, in bunny terms that is, i.e. within 4 months or so. But Sophie remained.

Sophie had been introduced to other rabbits but she was so clearly traumatised by her ordeal that she simply couldn't tolerate a companion. Sophie settled for a life alone and seemed content at the boarding place we use (cos we don't have our own sanctuary) so long as she was left to her own devices and had minimal interaction with humans. She had been with us for nearly a year but in no way the longest stay rabbit that we have.

On Monday, when my colleague Mel was health checking the bunnies, she found Sophie to be unusually placid and her tummy swollen. She checked on her an hour later and found her belly had inflated even further - she had serious gas bloating and the onset of gut stasis.

We got Sophie to the vets by which time she was in gut stasis. This is probably the most serious condition a rabbit can get and when they are full of gas like Sophie was it is extremely painful too. She was admitted immediately and started on all the meds and pain relief and sub cutaneous fluids and syringe feeding she needed. But she was so swollen she looked like a beach ball, and you cannot underestimate just how painful that is for them.

The next day we found she had not urinated; it was seemingly too painful for her to do so. Xrays did not reveal the cause of the gut stasis but the sedation had relaxed her muscles enough to allow her bladder to be manipulated and emptied. Her teeth were absolutely fine, which led to the really big worry as to what was causing the gut stasis, as there is almost always an underlying cause. Sophie stayed at the vets and continued on high doses of pain relief and all the rest of the treatment as before.

When this morning has come round there had been little improvement, although she had urinated independently and she had done a few poos. It still all added up to a rabbit in a very bad way with an unknown cause fr the gut stasis. The vet said the kidneys and liver felt fine on examination so it didn't seem much point to run bloods and so the only the option would be to open her up but as with Jessica I would not allow such invasive surgery to take place.

So, Gilly and I talked at length about what to do with the poor girl as it had become apparent that we were unlikely to find the cause of the gut stasis and she was continuing to suffer. Let's face it, if she wasn't suffering as much she would have made greater improvement over two days of intensive care.

Both of us have a lot of experience with bunnies (over two decades between us in animal rehoming and fostering) and Gilly especially knew first hand how difficult it is to manage a rabbit prone to going into gut stasis without any obvious underlying cause. And the problem is, of course, is that if we we don't know what the triggers are then it becomes very hard to put a 'care strategy' in place. Moreover, because we do not care for the bunnies ourselves on a daily basis (they boarded in the equivalent of a private cattery or kennel) we did not want to risk her going through this again and causing her a whole lot of pain and even the possibility of a very miserable death, as gut stais can kill within 12-24 hours of onset.

After weighing everything up in terms of future care we could provide, her long term health and rehoming prospects we decided that the kindest thing was to let her go.
As I apologised to the vet for asking her to euthanize Sophie she told me she would give her extra cuddles first. At that point I told her how much Sophie hated human contact and the vet told me that Sophie had had lots of cuddles the day before without protest. I knew then that this really was the right decision because the Sophie we knew would never have tolerated such attention. It cemented for me just how deeply unhappy she must be because normal Sophie would have seriously protested and the fact that she was so compliant just showed how ill she really was.

I know not everyone will agree with this decision but ultimately our desire to save her the enduring pain and possibility of recurring attacks was the motivating factor. Keeping a rabbit going under these conditions is incredibly stressful for them and not something that can be maintained for long. I'm here to alleviate animal suffering and that's why I believe in what we did for Sophie today. If others do not agree with this decision then I will live with that doubt but I make no apologies for doing the best we can under very difficult circumstances.