Easter came a day early at our house. It all started in the afternoon when I went into the garden bed to clean it out in preparation for tilling and composting. In the process of pulling up hosing and stakes, I heard a rustling in the corner. I figured it was a mouse, but I kept hearing it, so I took a closer look. There, hidden in the tall grass, was the smallest baby bunny I had ever seen.
I subscribe to the philosophy that it’s best to leave nature be if at all possible, so I called the Boulder County Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for advice. They suggested leaving him alone for no more than one hour. If he was still there, I was to gently catch him, put him in a shoebox with holes poked in the lid, put something in the box to keep him warm and take him to the emergency vet clinic where they could care for him until wildlife officials could collect him.
When I went back, I found the poor guy still there. I put uncooked rice in a sock, heated it in the microwave, wrapped it in one of my T-shirts and put that, and the bunny, in the shoebox. Off we went. The nurse told me they had special food to give him and that they would keep him in an incubator overnight. Whew! I drove home feeling like quite the Good Samaritan.
As soon as I stepped out of the car, my son ran up to me and said, “We found another one in the garden, but he ran behind the shed!” My heart sank. Now, instead of thinking I’d rescued a lone bunny that had gotten lost or abandoned, I had to face the likelihood that there was a nest in the garden that I’d disturbed. I went behind the shed looking for the little one, but no luck.
We decided to rake all the debris out of the garden before tilling, figuring we’d find any others that might still be hiding. Another two turned up, not alive. I thought perhaps the mother had not survived, orphaning the babies. The garden now bare, my husband fired up the tiller and got to work. All was well until he reached the center of the garden. I was in the garden with him, with my son and our dog Rocky. All of a sudden I saw a little one shoot out of nowhere, inches in front of the tiller. I screamed my fool head off and ran after him, catching him just before Rocky did. Here he is.
So – another shoe box, another sock of rice, another T-shirt. In a moment of inspiration, I decided we should check behind the shed one more time before heading out. Sure enough, this time we found the little guy hiding in a clump of grass. We tucked him in the box, and the two of them burrowed under the warm sock together.
This time I let the kids come with me to deliver them. They were SO good about not trying to handle the bunnies. I explained to them that baby bunnies are highly stressed animals, and that they can actually die from too much stress (boy can I relate to that!). For the entire drive to the clinic, the kids spoke in whispers to each other and held the box absolutely still.
I snuck in some good lessons for the kids – what happens to animals when their habitat is disrupted, why you shouldn’t handle or feed wild animals (or keep them as pets!!!), and what to do in the case of a wildlife emergency.
So, was the mother still alive? Would she have returned to the nest that evening if I hadn’t come in and started digging up the garden? Had I truly saved them or endangered them first and rescued them after? I’ll never know for sure, but I do know that once they were exposed, their chances of survival were next to nothing without protection from the elements and predators, so I did the best I could under the circumstances.
After the kids went to bed, I poured myself a rather large glass of wine and took a hot bath. It turns out spending six hours either rescuing, worrying about or shuttling baby bunnies to the vet is exhausting. But I went to bed feeling good about the fact that the three of them were safe, warm, fed and together. The wildlife officials were set to pick them up on Easter Sunday, of all days, and they will care for the bunnies until they can be released back into the wild.
I slept soundly until I had to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to be ….. The Easter Bunny. 🙂