A man walks into the shelter, holding a rabbit with that old-fashioned "farm grip". Just the rabbit, no carrier. He wants to surrender her because his family is moving back to Europe - Latvia, I think.
The rabbit is passed to me as the workers ask him questions, trying to find out more about her. I appraise her quickly, coldly - a large lop, cute markings, friendly if a little shy, too skinny, rough coat probably due to poor nutrition. Lops go fast, but skinniness is not a good quality to have in a shelter.
The workers ask how old she is, the answer is 3 years. Has she been spayed? "Um, I don't think so." AKA No.
Her name is Andrea.
"She's very nice," The man says affectionately. "I think some very nice people will like her and she'll get a great home."
The workers warn him, as they have to, that a home is not guaranteed for any animal. He asks what would happen to her if she didn't get a home. The answer is, of course, euthanasia.
He sounds shocked, and sad, but he still pays the fee and fills out the form. I start up the stairs, taking Andrea to the Room so she can try her chances at getting someone to care about her once again.
He stares after us, then calls out, "Bye, Andrea."
He sounds like he wants to say goodbye. Like this has all happened faster than he expected and he isn't sure if he should follow us or stay at the desk, if he should say goodbye properly or hold her one more time or if he is even doing the right thing. I glance back and turned slightly, feeling a moment of empathy.
Then I realize all I'm doing is giving Andrea one last glimpse at her family, allowing her to see them let her go. I wonder if she understands. The man looks sad.
I turn away and go up the stairs, taking his skinny, scared rabbit with me. Once her nails are clipped and her fur is brushed, she is placed in a cage, thrown into the Room with thirteen other animals, suddenly in a competition that has no rules and no logic.
Andrea arrived at the shelter yesterday afternoon.
What do I know? Maybe it's nigh impossible to take rabbits to Latvia or Lithuania or wherever. The rabbit had not been mistreated, she's very affectionate and clearly was treated kindly. She's had a bad diet, but I doubt that's out of cruelty, just a lack of knowledge. Those people weren't evil or cruel or even particularly neglectful.
But I always get stuck on that "Oh". Knowing that your pet could be put down, how could you do anything except take her back and find her a home yourself? How could you possibly leave her there?
Do I know that man's exact circumstances? No. Do I care? Not particularly. Even if Andrea gets adopted (which she probably will, she's very cute and lops have a magical ability to get adopted quickly), that was a home that could have gone to one of our other rabbits. Rabbits like red-eyed Lewis or shy little Benji, who will have a harder time because it's easier to pick the cute and friendly one.
There's a popular phrase in rescue, that says when you adopt, you save two lives - the one you adopted and the one who will fill their cage.
Well, it works the other way too. When you surrender, it's not just your animal's life you're putting at risk.