Sam, born January 17, 2007. And passed September 21, 2013, three days after his best buddy Max. While for a small bunny, 6.5 years isn’t a long life, for Flemish it’s long enough for arthritis pain to cripple. Sam lived every day larger. Sam taught me so much about rabbits, Flemish in particular. But most of all, he exemplified “Carpe Diem” — Seize the Day! Live each day with enthusiasm, excitement, and vigor; make the most of your opportunities to love, laugh and give.
You wonder about the nickname “Un-underlined”. In his early years, Sam showed at the big Flemish shows in the East. Not knowing that breeders usually used a coding system for each rabbit’s tattoo, when I learned Sam required a tattoo to appear in his first show, Sam received a tattoo of his own name, SAM. About a year later, another Senior buck, also named Sam, also with eartag SAM, appeared on the table. The judge looked confused, ready to disqualify both of them, but the other experienced owner, swiftly swept his Sam off the table, his partner, with tattoo pen in hand, added an underline to the other Sam’s tattoo, SAM.While now the rabbits complied with the rules, the judges still got confused: Sam became known as Sam, Un-underlined.
Finding Sam required significant online research: Flemish breeders in the US do not generally like to sell to individuals they don’t know. While our first Flemish had been pet- quality, we had an old ante-bellum yard and wanted to breed and show Flemish, which made it that much more difficult. Flemish breeders are even more hesitant to sell show-quality to inexperienced breeders.
Finally, I found a breeder in a mountainous region of Pennsylvania, and there we drove one late night in February, to select Sam from a group of three sandy bucks gathered in a three-hole show carrier displayed under the halo of a porchlight in the depths of cold winter. Sam and his brothers already all had thick coats: they were raised in an outdoor shed. Sadly, none had been handled much– all were anxious when handled. But there was something about Sam, a winning, timid curiosity.
Sam clung to my chest as the breeder explained he had “Bomia blood” so we could expect a broad forehead from him and champion quality. Excited, I had no idea that all Flemish buck foreheads increase in size throughout life. Sam, the breeder told us, was so massive because he ate 33% horse feed. She explained how her blend gave optimum protein (17%-18% desired generally for developing Flemish) while saving money. Little did we understand that rabbits adore horse feed because it contains molasses, a sugar rabbits can best do without.
Baby Sam grew up the entirely adored, spoiled baby of the household. Sam was there for our marriage, discovering beer in a mini-keg at the post-reception at our house. Sam played proud Easter Bunny 2008, but tackled the Easter basket, got it caught on his teeth, inadvertently tossing all jelly beans on the bed. Eagerly disengaging from the basket, he readily discovered their consummate sugar-high! On hearing our delighted laughter, however, Sam darted confused and embarrassed onto a closet shelf.
Sam lived in the Rabbit Room with the Unholy Trinity — Dutch sisters Dorcas and Jemimah and rescue Californian Mary Magdalene — aka Maddipan, aka Maddi. Sam was, as a young’un, an inveterate slob! The Unholy Trinity adored Sam, doing his grooming for him. Together they had a grand olde time climbing furniture and patnry shelves, ripping labels off canned goods (nothing like mystery dinners!) and consuming uncooked pasta when the opportunity presented itself.
Shortly before Sam’s showing debut, we obtained beautiful sandy Flemish doe Suzette, who even outclassed Sam. Both lived indoors, in separate rooms. One after the other evenings, each ran toured the living room, chinning the furniture leaving gentle love scent-notes.
Sam and Suzette attended their first show together at age eight months, both were disqualified as underweight for a Senior Doe and Buck. I was mortified. And that’s when I learned that the traditional 6-class designations did not match Flemish development at all well: bucks don’t reach their full potential until between 18 and 24 months, yet they must show as “seniors” at eight months. Sam was only 8 months. He soon sized up.
Suzette and Sam joyously made babies on Obama’s Election night, 2008. Kindled in December, they octuplets soon found themselves orphaned: Suzette suffered calcium shock with kindling. Stunned with grief, we laid the new Dam out on the loveseat, frantically phoning about for a wet doe. Bless Sam, unlike any other rabbit, he understood Suzette had passed when he found her laid out: he leapt up and gently groomed her forehead, then gazed curiously at the cheesebox of eight kits that we unwisely had left unguarded, but he had only wondering curiosity.
Fortunately, Suzette’s kind, kind breede in Lockhaven, PA, offered us a wet doe. We rushed the kits to Lockhaven that weekend. Ma Doe, as we affectionately named her, welcomed the kits immediately and raised all till fully weaned.
At three weeks, Ma Doe and the kits came back to live with us. Barack, the bunny with the longest ears, posed for photos and sent his Congratulations to President Obama, who sent a hand-signed card in return.
Part II: The Life & Loves of Sam (Un-Underlined) continues soon with the story of his children’s success at showing.