No amount of mascara could camouflage my swollen eyes. One moment I was going outside to clean the coop and the next moment I was culling my rabbit, declaring through my sobs that I would eat meat no longer. Ward made his transition this weekend and at my hands. I had to end his suffering and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
After a day of procrastination, I finally bundled up and resolved to go outside and get my chores done. Beans trotted out in front of me on our way outside when I heard crashing against the cage and Ward screaming. Ward had clearly been startled. In telling people that I was going to raise meat rabbits, several people, unaware of how swift and quiet the actual slaughtering process is, have spooked me about never wanting to hear a rabbit scream. I understand why. Within seconds, I was crouched down in front of his cage to see him lying on his back, screaming and scared at his inability to roll himself over. Instead of stubbornly tucking himself into the corner to avoid my affectionate petting like he usually does, he lie on his back like a helpless beetle. My hands were shaking and my heart was racing as fast as his as I gently rolled him over. That’s when I realized that he had broken his back, something rabbits have the capacity to do when startled. I had read about it, something I had hoped to avoid. They can kick out their back legs hard enough to break their own backs and Ward did just that. I gently pushed in the side of the wire cage that he had pushed out with the explosive force of his surprise. His hind legs were completely limp and sprawled out behind him.
I called a friend who also raises rabbits for her counsel, but knew what I had to do. Yes, this is the downside of urban farming. I didn’t break his back, but I was responsible for hisÂ welfareÂ and comfort and it took all the strength I had to give it to him. I cried like a little girl as I dug a hole for his grave. I placed a tuft of straw and hay at the bottom of the hole for my own piece of mind.
That is the moment I realized I have a choice and I’m turning around and going the other way. I will no longer be raising my own meat and may not be eating meat anymore in general. I slaughtered a rabbit this summer to make sure I had what it takes, but I don’t think I’m strong enough to slaughter my own. I know my urban farm friends will remind me that no, I never intended to slaughter Ward. He was for breeding and I let myself get painfully attached to him. The others would be different. But I don’t think they would. I vowed when I first brought chickens into my yard that I would eat them…eventually. And that if I couldn’t, I would be a vegetarian. My sister reminded me though that I don’t have to make such rigid rules for myself, that I don’t have to put myself into a box, into a label, and stay there.Â Maybe I can make peace with the hypocrisy. Maybe I can take from this experience instead greater strength in my convictions, to buy meat, if I’m going to eat it, from a source that I can trust. To spend the money it takes to buy meat from someone who respected the animal and treated it with care, for I now understand that price better than I ever did.
On the bright and sunny Sunday that followed one of the darkest afternoons, I poured my love into caring for June. She would now be my pet. I moved her into one of the larger grow-out cages and made her a comfortable home. And with swollen eyes and a tender heart, I cried for Ward.
Rest in peace, little one.