Normal is a relative term. I think we (my family and me) are fairly normal people. I think most (but not all) of our friends are fairly normal people. And then there are days like today. There are days when you have to mind your tongue, not because you're afraid of offending, but because you will literally freak somebody out if you respond in your usual fashion. Not only do you have to mind your tongue, you have to change your vocabulary, just to help others feel comfortable. And... I'm not good at it.
This afternoon one of my new 4-H members brought his rabbits over for me to look at. He just enrolled at our last meeting and is totally new to the whole 4-H thing. He's had rabbits for a little while but really doesn't know much about them. Most of the resources you find that aren't published by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (A.R.B.A.) or through a university press are not worth the paper they're printed on. There is a tremendous amount of garbage being advocated by "pet" rabbit people who have neither the experience or education to back up their recommendations. Unfortunately, my willing young 4-Her did not find information from the good reference sources.
He's had a very educational year. His doe died this summer due to heat stroke. She had three week old babies at the time. The boy and his family bottle fed them. They did have a friend who knew enough to sex the babies and they got the doe in the litter seperated from the bucks. Then they left the buck in the same cage. Bucks are territorial. They fight once they reach maturity. One day the boy went out and found a testicle laying on the cage wire. When they examined all the bucks they had very swollen testicles (sorry about the graphic nature of the post, but the 1 reader I have probably skipped back to the puppy pictures by now anyway).
They took the rabbits to the vet. He diagnosed vent disease (without really examining them or running any cultures). The vet prescribed three doses of penicillin one week apart. This is a good way of eradicating vent disease. If your rabbits have vent disease and didn't just castrate each other. The same vet has been charging the family around eighty dollars a month to clip teeth on one of the bucks. His angle of bite is incorrect and rabbit teeth grow forever. A rabbit with malocclusion will die of malnutrition if the teeth aren't trimmed regularly. It takes about two weeks for the teeth to be overgrown after you clip them off at the gumline. It's not a condition that's really compatible with good quality of life for the rabbit.
The mom asked me for advice. I'm afraid that my first response (inside my head) was... kill them. Oops, I mean cull them (which means... kill them). At that point, just as I was opening my mouth, it occured to me that maybe this family (with four kids) needed a more tactful approach than an out and out recommendation to do away with their rabbits. So, I told them I'd do some research and get back to them.
And here is where I begin to really understand that to some people I may seem a little weird (Amy, don't even think about it). I spent a couple hours the next Saturday morning on the phone to my mother and another rabbit breeder/microbiologist in Moscow. I'd already done some research on my own. Really, I wanted them to confirm that we should cull the rabbits before I told the family. I truly, truly enjoyed the conversation I had with the Moscow rabbit breeder. We spent over an hour and a half debating whether treponema cuniculi could survive in a wood cage over a period of months. It's anaerobic so I would guess that if it dries out and doesn't have a host it can't survive in the environment. Then we discussed that if there were a disease organism present it was most likely to be pasturella multocida. You can treat and cure an infection caused by treponema cuniculi but pasturella multocida always comes back when an animal is stressed. Both are highly contagious. Pasturella multocida is the big bad of bacterial infections in rabbits. I can cause everything from a respiratory infection that easily turns into pnemonia, to abscesses, to hemorrhagic septicimia, to genital infections. It's nasty, has 98% morbidity and isn't truly curable (although you can send it into remission). Of course it's also endemic (meaning you could pick it up anywhere and many, many rabbits without symptoms are carriers.
The gist of my thought is... I had a pleasurable time researching and talking diseases and bacteria with my friends while putting off the time I needed to tell this poor boy he should really see about introducing his bunnies to their place in the food chain.
Today, they brought the bunnies to see me. I very tactfully asked the boy (after noting the malocclusion problem) how much money he made every month (he's eleven). Then I asked him if he wanted to learn how to clip rabbit teeth using wire cutters. Then I suggested that maybe the rabbits quality of life wasn't so very good that he shouldn't join the food chain (think Birds of Prey Raptor Breeding Program in Kuna, ID). Wasn't that tactful of me? I thought it was quite good considering my skills in tactfullness compare to a bulls gracefullness while trampling through a china shop.
While examining his other bucks I found that the one who was missing some of his dangly bits had some serious nasty stuff going on with his other male parts. His life was never going to be the same (I'm not sure how he could pee). The last of the bucks looked pretty good until I noticed he had drool marks under his chin. It doesn't seem like much, but drool's the first sign that a molar (in the back where human eyes can't see) has broken. The mom told me she noticed the drool shortly after she separted the bucks (after the castration incident). A broken molar usually occurs after someone drops a rabbit on the cement or they bang themselves around in their cage (usually during a thunderstorm or dog attack). So... Dave had to "cull" all three bucks.
Now I'm wondering how long I need to wait before I can bring out the skulls with malocclusion at a 4-H meeting. Really, how could I pass up the opportunity to use these wonderful specimens as educational aids? I'm just not sure if an eleven year old boy would think they were cool... or if his little heart would hurt. Knowing that my own son would think it's cool to see the teeth and the structure of the jaw reminds me that "normal is a relative term."