Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rabbit model for ALS

When I was seven, my father got me a pet rabbit, obtained from a rabbit breeding farm. I named him Simon. We kept him in a hutch in the basement. He rarely got outside, but when he did, he was ecstatic. He would bounce happily around on the grass, and kick up his hind legs. We had him on a leash once when he suddenly tried to run away, but the leash caught him up. He panicked, and started doing some fierce, high-pitched shrieking. He seemed afraid of something overhead. We looked up. It was a red-tailed hawk.

Lesson: Fear of predatory birds is instinctual in rabbits.

The years went by, and each morning I would take some lettuce or spinach down to him, or pull up a weed from the back yard to feed him. I considered the tall milkweeds in the yard an asset, and once tried to cultivate them by transplanting a couple. Those died. It did not occur to me to plant the seeds.

One day I went out in the back yard and all my goodly milkweeds were gone. My middle sister, the neurotic, whiny one, explained serenely that she had done some weeding. She never had before. I told her that she knew I needed the weeds to feed Simon, and she should have asked me. She was happy.

It's like the time when she picked and discarded every single plum on the plum tree, just before they came ripe. She said it was so that the others could grow bigger. What others?

Anyway, I was 20 years old and in college by the time Simon passed from this mortal coil. My father had to cut off his head to kill him. He'd gotten to the point where he could no longer move his limbs, not even lift his head up onto the food bowl to eat the pellets.

And I wonder: Did Simon have ALS?
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