Thursday, 19 February 2015

Compassion and Courage

Compassion and Courage

Richard Adams wrote about it in his book, Watership Down. This is a book from my childhood that I would recommend to anyone wanting to understand compassion and courage in animals. It's a work of fiction of course but one of the more amazing things that I witnessed this past week was an act of compassion between our rabbits. Seems bizarre that I should mention them here when I could be writing about something related to humanity instead, but hold on, I think there is something that we can learn from a species that seemingly is only instinctual - what else would we expect from animals that are to all effects and purposes at the bottom of the food chain? 

Rabbit teeth grow permanently and must be worn down through gnawing and nibbling. The position of the teeth must line up so that they grind against each other. It is the way they are designed. One of our rabbits - Camembert has incisors that have previously required regular trimming because of the way they were misaligned. He started off not minding a routine trim (once every 6 weeks) but the frequency of the visits to the vet began to create a level of stress in him (every three weeks to a fortnight) and he went from being quite jovial before visits to very anxious when being put into a cage. Without his trim however, he struggled to eat and drink and this was potentially worse. After months of procrastination perhaps, we decided last April to make the decision to have his incisors removed permanently and he was put under general anaesthetic and operated on. Rabbits under anaesthesia have a higher failure/mortality rate that other small pets, so even that was a risk. The night he came back home from the vet, he looked weak and his eyes were either closed or weeping. I would never have thought I would be troubled so much to see an animal in such a state of discomfort and was genuinely unable to sleep until sitting with him late into the night, I witnessed him eating and taking a drink. Regular foraging/eating is essential for rabbit well-being. Camembert recovered and learned to adapt to eating using his molars and we adapted his feed in accordance. 

Fast forward to August and on our return from the middle-east, we acquired Yuki a new addition to the rabbit family in the form of a Himalayan dwarf, white with red-eyes and Siamese ear/nose and feet-tipped in grey. She is quite an adorable bunny especially with her gregarious character. Very happy to be handled, but requiring a claw clipping early on. At that point the vet examined Camembert again and suggested that his lower incisor was reemerging. It remained stub-like for months until this month it became obvious that both his lower incisors had fully emerged and that they were now beginning to curl back. Rather than a trim, we opted for a (hopefully final) op.  I feel strongly that the company that animals give to each other is important and Camembert's brother, Harrod went with him to the vets. He's the most reserved of the rabbits we have, but a brother, even when he gets grumpy at you, is still a brother. The first time around Harrod was instrumental in Camembert's recovery. Made sense to involved Harrod again this time round too.

We left Yuki at home - she's a playful rabbit, as already mentioned, but by mid-morning she sensed the absence of the other two. The day passed and when Camembert came home in the evening, he looked tired and again his eyes and movements suggested that he was in for a long night. Now I know that Harrod had nursed Camembert the first time he'd been operated on - licking him and keeping him close, but as brothers  they have been bonded since birth. To see Yuki lick and nibble Camembert when she saw him after the operation really blew me away. She must have sensed his illness and her compassion towards him was on a level that made me reflect on care amongst animals and what this means for us as people. 

I know we have people who care - who go out of their way to show that they care, but we are higher order beings, I expect us to care. However, we just as create and destroy equally and there are days when I feel that we do more of the latter than of the former. But to witness rabbits being compassionate and caring really made me think. We don't have the monopoly on compassion, on what it means to feel and care. There is much that we can learn just by observing these seemingly small things. 

Meet Yuki.
Photographed using a Samsung Galaxy S4 (Summer 2014)

Read also: Bright Eyes

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