Education, Heartache and Love

Kohl’s Story

Rabbit rescue can be a very rewarding experience. To help an abandoned or injured rabbit feel love and receive the care they have been denied in life is truly an amazing and emotional adventure. This can also be educational for the rescuer as I discovered each rabbit presents their own story to be told. The downside of all of this is that rabbit rescue can also be very heartbreaking.

Being in animal rescue, it is always worrisome when you see rabbits posted as “free” on Craigslist. On February 3, 2021, one of our volunteers from Rabbit Track Trail Rescue picked up two 8-week-old bunnies for me to foster until they were old enough to be neutered and adopted. They came from some mountain town in Colorado where someone’s rabbit had an unexpected litter. The bunnies were not allowed in the house and were living in a bucket on the front porch! Ambrose—as we named him—was an outgoing cinnamon-colored baby and Kohl was his more reserved gray brother. He absolutely adored Kohl and was constantly at his side. I have never seen two bunnies more attached to each other than these two.

What would become one of the most educational and yet heartbreaking parts of my career in rescue happened on a Sunday afternoon. Colorado was hit with a very unexpected blizzard that shut down most of the town and all of the roads. Kohl was having a difficult time breathing in the midst of all of this weather and there was no possible way I could get him to a vet—even if any of them were open. It was on this day that I heard a rabbit scream for the first time—a sound none of us ever want to hear. I had no idea what was happening to him and feared he wasn’t going to make it. I felt utterly helpless and all I could do was comfort him and hold him and tell him how much he was loved.

Ambrose dutifully watching over Kohl.

Miraculously, Kohl’s breathing began to slow down and become normal over the next couple of hours. But this would soon become an ongoing event with regular episodes. Each time I rushed him to the vet, his x-rays showed his lungs filled with fluid. We tried various medications. He spent several nights at the veterinary hospital for monitoring and testing and was finally released with “no diagnosis but several possible causes.” His only true relief seemed to be spending time in an oxygen chamber.

Many people suggested euthanasia but my vet and I both believed Kohl wasn’t ready to give up and we weren’t either. I told him many times I would fight for him for as long as he wanted to keep up the battle. And I also asked him to let me know when he felt the battle should end and I promised I would honor his wishes.

I am blessed to be a part of this amazing rescue, Rabbit Track Trail Rescue in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that believes every bunny matters and we should do anything for any and all of the bunnies. So our faith in Kohl continued as testing for him was limited. He wasn’t strong enough to undergo anaesthesia, so we searched to find a vet who would do an echocardiogram. Sadly, the results came back showing he had hypertension—a truly rare and almost undocumented health problem in not just rabbits but even in cats and dogs. He was prescribed Sildenafil, a drug for hypertension to ease his symptoms. Another echocardiogram was scheduled in a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, his health continued to decline. I was afraid to leave him alone so I took him to the vet hospital where he could be constantly monitored. They would facilitate oxygen as needed. Ambrose continued to be an amazing brother and remained by Kohl’s side throughout all of this. He groomed him and was always eager to accompany him to his vet visits.

Brothers, constantly at each other’s side. 

The following Wednesday I got a call telling me Kohl had developed a fever. This was the first time he had ever had a rising temperature. He was now no longer able to breathe well outside the oxygen kennel. Even with the COVID-19 restrictions, I was still allowed to visit him in person. When I saw him, I placed my hand inside the chamber, and he began to kiss my hand. I believed he was telling me he was ready. As I held him close, he went over the rainbow bridge. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, but I was so thankful that I was able to be with him and help him through all his ordeals. He was only 4 months old when he left us.

Reflecting on all of this, it is hard for me to believe that the entire experience lasted only a few months. Kohl—the tiny grey rabbit rescued from a bucket on someone’s cold front porch—taught me so many things in his short time here. He taught me not to accept “no diagnosis” as an answer. I also learned from him in this time that there is a great lack of medical research and documentation devoted to rabbits. But most importantly, this amazing little bunny showed me how strong love can be, even though the time we spent together on earth was so brief.

Of course, I have officially adopted Ambrose and we have a unique and wonderful bond. I believe we share each others’ grief not only in the loss of Kohl but also in the happiness we had in knowing and loving him. Kohl had a purpose. He mattered. Even with the heartache I had, I feel very lucky to have been a part of his short life on earth.

It is our job as rescuers to advocate for the voiceless and helpless creatures and to seek answers to the most difficult of questions. Wherever you are now little Kohl, thank you for making our lives more meaningful. We always know there will be another bunny who needs our love and help, but we want you to know that you mattered to us and will always remain special in our hearts.

Reviewed by HRS staff

Author: Erin Himelright
Photo Credit: Erin Himelright
Journal Issue: House Rabbit Journal, Winter 2021

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