A topsy-turvy life

Written by Jessica Price

Polo was dropped off at the Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital on Onderstepoort vet campus by a good Samaritan; he’d been picked up off the road after being hit by a car. At first glance, the prognosis was very poor. Two other veterinary students and I were told to examine him and report back to the vet with our treatment options – keeping in mind that he appeared to be a wild bunny with no owners and, therefore, no one to pay for medical treatment. The white-and-black rabbit was clearly in shock and he had a fractured tail, but the worst was that he had no proprioception (the body’s unconscious ability to perceive position, movement, and spacial orientation) or peripheral pain response in his hind legs and his deep pain response was very poor. Simply put, his hind legs seemed almost paralysed. It wasn’t looking good for Polo. My fellow students and the vet all suggested putting the injured rabbit to sleep. 

Polo gets a second chance

A lump grew in my throat and I felt the tears welling up. Up until this point I’d stayed silent, but then I asked the vet, “What are his chances of surviving?” He said they were poor to fair... Yet, something about that bunny made me feel like I couldn’t give up on him just yet, even though logic told me it was an unlikely fight to win. But there was the question of who would take him and rehome him; he was filthy, covered in fleas and ticks, skinny and middle-aged – not as easy to home as a cute baby bunny.

I said I would foster him. The vet agreed to give him a chance – but the responsibility was placed on the students to treat him. My peers were very skeptical, so I took the lead. In order to keep costs down, we had to use whatever leftover medication we could find from other patients – and convince the radiology students to do practice radiographs for us. For four days I hand-fed him with a syringe. His improvement was very slow but, after just a week, his neurological response had improved...

Although he still couldn’t hop around properly and would wobble and fall over, everyone was amazed at how this old bunny had fought so hard to survive. Polo had made me so proud and soon my two peers were just as excited about him as I was. 

I took him home after a week, bathed him, and got him looking like a bunny again. Then the bonding process began. He was terrified and very wild but, after a couple of weeks, I’d gained his trust enough to put a harness on him and walk him in the garden. We exercised together, I encouraged him to play, and soon his legs were getting stronger and he wasn’t falling as often. It took a few months but now Polo can run and bounce and, although his back legs are skew and look a little odd, he is full of life. He now has free run of my house and garden and comes when he is called. His condition is called Neuropraxia – it’s temporary nerve damage that can improve over time. 

If there was one thing I learnt from Polo it was to have faith and be patient because miracles don’t happen in a day. I think it’s easy to see why I couldn’t rehome him: I had fallen in love with this old boy who had so much strength and perseverance and such an enormous amount of love to give. If people were as grateful and kind as animals our world would be so much happier!

Stella tumbles into our lives

And then little caramel-coloured Stella entered our lives… Stella had developed snuffles, a fairly common upper respiratory infection. Stella’s infection unfortunately spread to her middle ear, damaging her vestibulocochlear nerve (responsible for maintaining balance) and, as a result, she developed a head tilt. It’s not uncommon for vets and owners to choose euthanasia as some believe the head tilt reduces the animal’s standard of living. In some cases this is true, but I believe they at least deserve a chance. Young rabbits like Stella can learn to adapt and, as in her case, continue to eat, groom, and play normally. Sadly, Stella’s owners did not want to keep her because they didn’t want to expose their child to a disabled bunny.

Lucky for Stella, Dr Koba Grobler was not giving up on her; she continued treating her while hunting for a forever home. That’s where I came in… Highlighted by Little Critters Rescue Club on Facebook, Stella’s story had touched me and I felt that she would be the perfect friend for my somewhat wobbly Polo. I joked with my mom that I would have ‘one bunny who’s skew in the back and one that’s skew in the front’ – and what a perfect pair they would be. I knew I could give Stella a good home where she was mostly indoors but had access to a bunny-friendly garden, plus I could provide the medical attention that she’d need. When I received a call from Dr Koba to say that she felt I was the best choice for Stella, I was overjoyed! We met up the following week, had Polo neutered, and then Stella joined us.

Stella has settled in very well and Polo truly adores her. He is head over heels for her, and Stella, well, she’s just head over heels in general. Stella is a truly beautiful bunny with a loving, gentle nature and she adores being cuddled. Her favourite spot outside is in my now overgrown veggie garden where she bounces around and plays amongst the mint.

I am so grateful for people like Dr Koba who are willing to go the extra mile to make a difference in the lives of animals. If not for her, my Stella would not have been here today. From Dr Koba and me, we would like to make people aware that these bunnies can improve and they can live a happy, healthy existence, despite a disability. Yes, they do require more work and support from their owners but they will reward you with never-ending unconditional love.