It was getting to the end of my shift and the other interns and I were working on making sure all of the animals in the rehabilitation room were well fed and had clean cages. I was tasked with feeding the 5 baby cottontail rabbits that lived in the back room, which was where all of the animals that needed a quieter environment lived. I was picked to feed the bunnies because everyone knew that it was one of my favorite things to do. Don’t get me wrong, feeding the bunnies was no easy task. It required a lot of time, patience, and effort to get a rabbit who didn’t want to latch onto a nipple to drink the proper amount of formula they needed for the day. Even if the bunny did latch, I had to to keep warming the formula back up in the microwave, since the bunnies only drink hot formula, as well as constantly wipe any excess formula that got on their face off as quickly as possible so that it didn’t go up their nose and aspirate them. All the while the baby is squirming and trying to jump out of your hands even though you are quite literally saving their lives. Needless to say, it was very stressful. However, I loved watching the babies grow. I loved going to the back room every day and feeding the same bunnies, seeing their progress, and finally watching get them released back into the wild to live happy and healthy lives. I soon figured out that night, however, that one of the bunnies that I was feeding would not live to see the next day let alone live long enough to be released.
After I went to the back room with all of my bunny feeding equipment (a 3 cc syringe, a nipple, a soft towel to wrap the babies in, and a cup of hot-to-the-touch formula) I began my feedings. Everything went as smoothly as it could: all of the bunnies latched and were eating, none of them jumped out of my hand, and they all ate as much or as more than they needed to. I was overjoyed that all of my babies seemed healthy. Those feeling quickly diminished, however, when I went to feed the last bunny. I had picked it up and made it into a “bunny burrito” with the towel I had brought with me so that it could not jump away and so that it felt safe, and then tried to get it to latch on and drink like the others did. The bunny did not latch at all and was not swallowing any formula. Not latching was not unusual, but I until that night I had never seen a bunny not even make an effort to swallow formula that was manually put into their mouths. Then, after countless attempts to make the baby swallow some food, I noticed that it was breathing very heavily. So, I held it up to my ear to get a better listen to what the breathing sounded like. When I did that, I noticed that the bunny was making a weird clicking noise that I had never learned before, which made me very concerned, so I took the baby to my supervisor so that she could have a look at it. What she told me next made my heart shatter. The bunny had been aspirated the night before, and it most likely would die before the next morning. After learning the bunny’s fate, I quietly walked it back to the back room and set it gently down into its cage while holding back tears.
That night was the first night of many in which I held a dying animal. The only difference between the night with the bunny and the night with the other animals was that I, or other staff members, were able to save almost all of the other animals.