Here goes ladies and gentlemen, my first ever featured blogger, Kelly Rivard. I was so excited when she sent me an email saying she wanted to share about her favorite pet, Gus. Gus was no ordinary Flemish Giant; he changed lives. Even though I haven’t met Kelly in person I am sure we would be very good friends. She is a digital communicator in agriculture and is currently a proud mama to a long-haired Dachshund, Rory Rue and a ginger cat, Ferocious Fred. Here is her story:
I feel like I’ve had an interesting menagerie of animals throughout my life. Dogs, about eleventy-trillion cats (both farm cats and indoor), cattle, sheep, gerbils, fish, hamsters, frogs, toads, and a slew of rabbits…they were all a part of the whirlwind that was my upbringing as the youngest of four. While most of the animals were pets, the cattle were strictly livestock, and most of the rabbits confusingly straddled that line between livestock and lovable pal.
I mean, good does (females) were used for breeding, and the best bucks. The best animals went to shows, some were sold to 4-H and FFA kids who wanted to raise rabbits, and others went to pet shops. A decent-sized portion, however, were raised for meat. My then-boyfriend-slash-business-partner and I both had some sort of farm background, and both knew about the complicated dynamic of animals raised for a purpose. Don’t get attached to the ones you’ll eat; you can’t save every baby that is abandoned by its mother. Not every animal will be good enough to show or breed and the ones that aren’t will need to become someone’s pet or someone’s meal.
That’s just the way our world worked. So, when I told my then-boyfriend-slash-business-partner that I wanted a rabbit that was out of the ordinary, he wasn’t thrilled. In fact, he kept saying no to my requests. Finally, around Christmas, he agreed.You see, we raised Mini Rex, Havana, and New Zealand rabbits — three breeds. The rabbit I wanted was a Flemish Giant. I had no intention of breeding these behemoth bunnies, either. I wanted a pet Flemish Giant.
After an hour-long one-way trip, I had him. My 9-pound “baby”, jet black with comically oversized ears and feet as long as my forearms. I called him Gus, penned his registration name onto his pedigree as Hopalong’s Gussied Up, and we went home.
Over time, Gus became a character, and a small-time local celebrity. He learned to walk on a leash. He grew, and grew, and grew. He went to shows and won a few awards, but his real potential was in touching people. Gus was a softie for me, and would let me do just about anything to him (which is rare for such a timid prey animal as rabbits). When I realized how calm he could be with me, we began doing outreach work. At the county fair, Gus and I walked the fairgrounds near the rabbit barn and taught kids and their mothers about 4-H. Gus helped me teach around 3,000 4th graders in my home county about animal husbandry and livestock care. Gus appeared in newspapers. He visited me at college once, where he participated in a class project with me (a speech) and then charmed the socks off the girls that lived in my hallway in the dorms. He even made a few appearances at local nursing homes.
There are very few rabbits that I’ve crossed that had obviously-outstanding personalities. As prey animals, they tend to be pretty timid until given proper handling. Gus was never like that; he had my heart as soon as he was in my arms, and was showing what a quirky, endearing, fearless fur ball he was from day one. In fact, Gus wasn’t just a special rabbit. He was a special animal, and a very good friend. (He even went out of his way to pee on my then-boyfriend when I was upset with him. It was a great source of laughter!)
Gus was with me for two years. I still remember the moment I found out Gus had died. I was standing on the sidewalk outside of the music hall theatre on my college campus. I was taking a break from working the makeup crew for our college’s production of Cats. My then-boyfriend’s dad, who was taking care of the rabbits while I was at school, left a voicemail saying he needed to talk to me. I knew it was coming. Gus had developed an autoimmune disease that made him lose his hair and develop sores. While his healthy weight should have been around 22 pounds, the last time I saw him, he was a meager 14 pounds. Losing Gus broke my heart, but I also knew it was for the best. If he hadn’t died naturally, we would have eventually have had to put him down, and I think that would have been even harder. He was such a pistol, it wouldn’t have felt right to make that judgment call for him. I’m glad he went in his own time.
Gus taught me a lot of unexpected lessons. He defied many of the stereotypes I had come to think about rabbits — after all, I’d owned and dealt with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of them; I was sure I’d seen it all. Gus trusted me, a trust I didn’t think I deserved. His trust in me, though, led me to understand him better and let our relationship grow. He also had my back, even if that meant making my boyfriend soggy, smelly, and mad. And, he really taught me the value of making someone’s day. Gussy could make anyone smile, and I think he played a big role in me getting addicted to helping others. Now, I’m a chronic volunteer, a helper of people and causes. Let’s face it; once you get used to making people smile, it’s a hard habit to break.
Someday, I might get another Flemish Giant. And, if I ever have kids, they will probably raise rabbits for showing, meat, and sale. But, I don’t think there will ever be another rabbit like Gus.
To read more of Kelly’s adventures, hop on over to her blog, kellymrivard.com. She shares stories about Rory Rue and Ferocious Fred as well as being an advocate for agriculture. You won’t regret it! If you would like to be featured as the next Pet Escapade Blogger, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. I’d love to share your story!