How to Help Animals on a Budget

Animals are one of the best things about this little planet we live on. I'm fortunate enough to work in the pet insurance industry, and the company I work for donates pretty big chunks of money to animal charities on a regular basis. It also means we're allowed to bring pets to work, as you may have seen from my "Dogs in the Office" threads on Twitter. I'm also the proud caretaker of four rescue bunnies, who all come from pretty terrible backgrounds.

Working with animal charities, I've learned a lot about how they operate and what the average person can do to help wild animals and homeless pets. If you're on a budget, but still want to do something, here's a few things you can try to contribute to the wellbeing of animals for cheaps, or even for free.

1. Feed your garden visitors

We're heading into the cold part of the year, where wild-growing food is in slightly shorter supply and wild birds and animals start to struggle. Nuts, seeds, dried fruit and mealworms left on the ground or on bird tables can stave off hunger for birds and squirrels. If you have spare dog or cat food going, then foxes and hedgehogs would enjoy it, though meaty types are better than fishy types. If they aren't eaten within a few days, you should make sure to throw them away before they go rancid. Leaving out water dishes is also a good idea, especially when ponds, lakes and rivers start to freeze.

2. Leave your leaf litter and log piles

If you have piles of sticks or logs lying about in your garden, consider leaving them where they are over winter, and tidying them up next summer. These piles may look a little untidy, but they provide great shelters for little creatures. Throw some leaf litter over them to attract bugs which'll help feed the residents. And, if you're having a bonfire, be really, really careful and make sure there are no chilly animals hiding in your log piles before you set them on fire!

3. But DON'T leave any other litter

Making sure to get rid of your rubbish appropriately costs nothing, but can quite literally be a matter of life or death for an animal. It's scary how even a paper cup in the wrong place can be a deathtrap for an unsuspecting fox or rabbit, and discarded plastic inevitably ends up in the ocean, destroying ecosystems. I'm making an effort to generate less waste, but I make sure to recycle what I can. If you want to go above and beyond, you could go litter picking in your local area and take care of other people's careless rubbish. It's not a particularly fun job, but you'll feel good knowing you could have saved an animal's life with every piece of rubbish you collect.

4. Get educated, and educate others

I am a bit of a liability in pet shops... I'm surprised I'm not banned. Call me a killjoy, but I take pride in deterring people from buying rabbits. Having owned rabbits for three years, all rescued from homes who abused them or just got bored of them, I feel very strongly that rabbits shouldn't be housed in or sold from pet stores, especially while there are an estimated 76,000 rabbits in rescue centres, looking for homes. If I see people shopping for a bunny in a pet shop, I tell them this. I also tell them that they are terrible pets for children. They don't really like being held, they live 8-12 years, should be kept in neutered, opposite-sex pairs, need daily attention and can cost around £11,000 each to care for over their lifetime. If there is an animal you care about, you'll also feel like you need to protect them. Knowing about their needs and sharing the info with others can only help, and with the popularity of social media it's easier than ever to help inform people. Even just sharing videos from animal welfare content creators like The Dodo can help spread awareness.

5. Maybe try not eating them

I'm not suggesting that everyone must immediately go vegan. As much as I think that would be a good thing for the planet and for the animals, I also know it's just not possible for everyone. However, if you do eat meat/animal products, if it's possible to cut down even a little then you will make an impact. Similarly if you currently use products tested on animals or made of animal products then you could consider switching them out for cruelty-free alternatives. It's a small change for you, but a huge change for the lives of animals.

There are plenty of other ways to take care of animals without just donating to a charity (though, of course, you could do that too!) If you'd like to see more posts like this, let me know!

I'm a Bad Person - But I'm Trying to Be Better

I wrote a while back about how I used to be racist, and how I grew up and, through my life experiences and because of wonderful people I have met, my worldview drastically changed. Living with white privilege (or any privilege) means constantly adjusting to be the best ally you can be, and I don't always get it right.

I'm a bad person, and this cup of coffee is part of the reason

What does coffee have to do with being a bad person, you ask? Read on!

Taking a hard look at your own behaviour can be really difficult. Facing up to your own bad habits and mistakes isn't an easy task, but sometimes it's the first step to making improvements to your lifestyle and the way you treat the world around you. I know I don't tread as lightly or live as nobly as I can, or should. So, in the interests of becoming a (slightly) better person, here is a list of reasons that I'm a bad person, and how I plan to better myself.

(Ok, maybe "bad person" is a bit strong, though maybe it isn't. But whether you think these things make me objectively a "bad person" or subjectively "morally wobbly" that's your call.)

1. Using non-cruelty-free makeup

If you asked me how I felt about non-CF makeup I'd say "There's no real excuse for using makeup tested on animals, especially if you call yourself an animal-lover. There are so many options and awesome CF brands, there's no reason to support brands that are complicit in animal abuse." Yet, if you looked in my makeup box or even my handbag you'd find a ton of lipsticks from Rimmel and Maybelline and Urban Decay, which either sell in China (and therefore their products are tested on animals) or are owned by parent companies which do the same. If I think about someone forcing my animals through the torture of cosmetics testing I fill with rage and sadness, so the fact that I've knowingly supported companies that pay for animals to be used in this way actually makes me feel a bit sick.

BUT I've fully committed to only replacing my used makeup/cosmetics/bath and beauty products with cruelty-free, vegan alternatives. I haven't totally settled on whether I'll continue to use CF brands owned by non-CF parent companies, but what I can say is that I won't be buying from brands that sell in China and therefore allow mandatory animal testing of their products. I've already ordered some stuff from Tarte! What's more, when I've finally moved into my own house, I also plan to use CF and vegan cleaning products in my home.

2. Using an ad blocker

This might not sound like a "bad" thing on the surface, but using an ad blocker means that the producers of online media you consume, from news sites to blogs and YouTube videos don't get their ad revenue. Some creators rely on these paychecks to survive, particularly YouTubers. If I think about it, it seems unfair that I'd undercut the earnings of people whose work I enjoy and admire for the sake of saving 30 seconds, or avoiding a banner here and there.

BUT when I can afford it I do contribute to content creators whose work I regularly watch/read via Patreon or other similar schemes, and I plan to get organised so I can whitelist certain sites to allow their ads. I also buy merch that my favourite musicians/YouTubers bring out, and retweet/share sponsored posts that my friends do. In fact, my beautiful new header was done by my blogging friend, Kelly. Check out her work and hire her, she's awesome.

3. Contributing to "fast fashion"

I think it's fair to say I'm not very "trendy". I mean, I'm secure in my sense of style, but my style isn't exactly stylish, if you catch my meaning.

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me rant recently about how modern life prizes convenience over ethics, and this is very true of the fashion industry. Most of us know that in order to produce large volumes of clothing very cheaply, companies rely on exploitative working environments for their factory labourers. In short, this means sweatshops, pitifully low wages, dangerous working conditions and, in some cases, slave labour and the forced employment of children. If this is something you care about on any level, I highly recommend you do some research - it really is eye-opening. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I put my disgust at the abuse of vulnerable, impoverished workers aside for a cute, cheap item of clothing.

BUT I'm trying really hard not to let consumer culture get the better of me, and to only buy clothes from charity shops or ethical companies. I also want to try my hand at making my own clothes and I want to focus on being more inventive with clothes I already own instead of feeling a constant need to buy new things.

Yes, my beloved car is also part of the problem...

4. Speeding

In all fairness, this is not on purpose. I am a fairly new driver, and a generally absent-minded person. Now and again if I'm driving alone, or it's night time, or there are no other cars on the road, I just don't pay as much attention to my speed as I should. This may sound like pretty average behaviour, but really there's no excuse for it, especially when you bear in mind that excessive speed is the 2nd most common cause of car accidents. Every time I get in the car I think to myself "remember your speed" and yet on most journeys I find myself at least a couple of miles over the speed limit.

BUT fixing this bad behaviour is simply a case of paying more attention. Apple's new update even means that the Maps app shows the speed limit of whatever road you're on, which will be a help. Considering how anxious I used to be about driving, careful motoring should be in my nature.

5. Wasting resources

Laziness isn't an excuse, but it is the reason. I leave things plugged in, I leave the tap running while I brush my teeth, I leave the shower running while I condition my hair, I drive when I could feasibly walk or take public transport, I don't use food in my fridge and have to throw it away, I use plastic straws... the list is, to my shame, somewhat endless.

BUT, first things first, I've ordered these reusable straws so I can stop using plastic ones, and plan to take my reuseable coffee cup with me when I go to coffee shops. I will start turning the tap off while I'm actually brushing my teeth or conditioning my hair, and I'll try and be more organised about making food, using food scraps and turning appliances off at the wall when they're not actually in use.

Ok, so maybe doing all of these things just means I'm a fallible, lazy product of consumer culture. But I don't have to be a fallible, lazy product of consumer culture. I hope that writing all this down and owning up to it is the first step to making myself accountable and doing a better job.

Saying Goodbye to my Dexter

This weekend I lost two of my rabbits. It's never easy to have a pet die, and I love, and have loved, all of my pets. I've cried when my goldfish and shrimps died, and just thinking about the fact that my dog is getting old cuts me up. Losing two rabbits in one weekend has been horrible enough, but one of the two was my boy Dexter.


All of my adult rabbits have been rescues, and I feel very strongly about the ethics surrounding animal adoption. But, part of the problem behind adopting is that you can't guarantee that the animal had been raised in a wholesome, healthy environment. I know for a fact that Dexter (along with Teddy and Oliver, who I rescued from the same woman) were all kept in terrible conditions and given an appalling diet of white bread and breakfast cereals. Oliver died from kidney problems associated with this upbringing last year, and Dexter had ongoing digestive issues. That said, Teddy is in the peak of health, despite some initial behavioural issues that look a good nine months to resolve.


I love all my animals, from the littlest minnow to my big soppy labrador. But Dexter really was my baby. He was the first rabbit to ever actively seek contact and affection from me. He was the first bunny to fall asleep on my lap, or snuggle into my neck for security.


He needed me for more than just food, water and shelter; Dexter made it clear that he needed my love in a way no other rabbit ever has. Losing him has left a weird hollow feeling in my chest, and I've been crying so hard over the last few days I've actually made myself ill.


I know part of the grieving process is trying to make some sense and meaning out of the lost life, especially when the death was so sudden and unexpected. This is definitely the case here. I want to do something to remember my tiny boy, something good and important. And, after a little thought, I think I know what it is.


I've been toying with going cruelty free with my choice of hair/beauty products and cosmetics for a long time. I've been vegan and vegetarian previously, though I'm currently omnivorous, and I plan to spend this year re-aligning my life to a fully vegetarian diet, if not completely vegan.



While Dexter was never a lab-rabbit, he did experience a lot of suffering in his early life, and if my actions can go even a small way to help prevent animals going through unnecessary pain then it's something I have to do. So, I'm going to start eliminating all non cruelty-free products from my life. So, if anyone had a dupe for MAC's "Men Love Mystery" I'm all ears.


So, in a few months' time if someone asks why I only shop cruelty-free, I'll tell them I'm doing it for Dexter.


If you're thinking of getting a pet, please consider animal adoption first. Contact your local shelter for more information.



10 Things to Consider Before Getting a Rabbit

You only need to take a quick look at my Instagram to see that I’m a big fan of animals in general. I love fish (and I have a small tank), I love both local and exotic wildlife, and I even have a soft spot bugs and insects. I’m not keen on arachnids, sloths or horseflies, but for the most part I have a huge emotional investment in animals. In fact, my day job largely involves writing pet care guides. In addition to my small tropical fish tank, I have a dog named Buffy, and I have bunnies. Seven of them. 

I often get comments on my rabbit photos from people saying how much they want one, or questions from people thinking about buying their first rabbit. I love my rabbits and I wouldn’t give them up for the world, but I feel like it’s important for any aspiring bunny owner to know a few things before they head off in search of a new pet.

1) One is not enough



If you’re home a lot and you are planning to keep your rabbit as a house bunny, then you can just about get away with having just one rabbit. However, if your rabbit is going to live outside, or if it’ll be home alone all day they need a friend. Rabbits get lonely, just like people do, and just as you need human friends as well as animal ones, your rabbit needs buddies of the same species. Bunny bonding can be a tricky process, which usually works better with two neutered (i.e. castrated/spayed) rabbits of opposite genders.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule; I’ve successfully bonded a neutered male with an “entire” one, and they’re the best of mates. I’ve also got a group of five, comprised of three unspayed females and two neutered males, and they get on very well. However, you are making more work for yourself this way, and the bond could be harder.

2) Rabbits need rescuing


When you walk into a pet shop, often the first thing you’re greeted with is a pen full of baby rabbits of different breeds, colours and sizes, so it’s little wonder that lots of people see the pet store as their first stop to finding a bunny. However, buying animals from pet shops can actually be a bit of an ethical nightmare. First and foremost, I recommend against buying animals from pet shops when you can rescue instead.

I never aspired to rabbit ownership and I took on my first rabbit (Thomas) because I got into conversation with his previous owner, who was desperate to rehome him. Since then I’ve rescued or fostered nine more rabbits from people who were giving them up for various reasons, and this was just in my local area. Ok, so rescuing means you probably won’t get a baby rabbit (called a kit or kitten) but adult rabbits can be just as affectionate, funny and adorable as a baby can.

3) Check your sources


As much as I advocate rescuing over buying, I would strongly recommend that first-time or inexperienced owners rescue from a shelter, not from individuals. Shelters will generally vaccinate, neuter and assess the rabbits they care for, so you know what you’re getting in terms of temperament. They may even bond two appropriate bunnies together, so you can adopt a friendly pair right from day one.

If you do decide to rescue a “pre-loved” rabbit from another owner, then you have to be prepared for potential health and behavioural problems. I ended up having an accidental litter of babies after adopting a pair I was assured were both female, only to find for myself that “Alice” was in fact a boy. He’s still called Alice though. I also lost one of my rescue boys to a kidney problem brought on by a very poor diet and care routine with his previous owner. Bottom line, if you adopt from another person, prepare yourself for heartbreak and/or hefty vet bills. Speaking of which…

4) Bunnies aren’t cheap


Having seven rabbits means I’ve got pretty savvy when it comes to buying things in bulk and grabbing things when they’re on sale. I have to be a smart shopper, or else the costs become completely crazy. To be honest, if I wasn’t currently living at home I’m fairly certain I’d be almost unmanageably tight for cash, and rabbits (depending on their breed and overall health) can live 8-12 years. This means, all going well, I’m going to be a rabbit owner into my 30s. A rabbit should be eating its own bodyweight in hay every day, as well as a small regular mix of veggies and pellets. As well as the basics like food and bedding, I also put money aside every month in case of unexpected vet bills. Which leads me on to…

5) Find a good vet


Not every vet you’ll meet will be particularly rabbit-savvy. Your local surgery might be great with dogs and cats, but that’s no guarantee they have much experience or expertise dealing with bunnies. You need to make sure there’s both a regular and emergency vet that you can get to easily for routine check-ups and in case of a sudden injury or illness. If, like me, you are relatively friendly with your vet you might be able to negotiate a package deal on your regular vaccinations (if your rabbit lives outside then you want to vaccinate them against myxomatosis and RVHD, both of which are deadly and highly contagious.) Unless you’re planning to breed (and you probably shouldn’t breed anyway) you should get your rabbits neutered if they aren’t already. This prevents pregnancy, but there a host of other benefits, like eliminating the risk of reproductive cancers or other illnesses.

6) Breeding is generally a bad idea


I have very strong and mixed opinions about pet breeding. I understand preserving breeds through sparing and responsible breeding is important, but that isn’t always what happens. I have had two accidental litters of rabbit babies, once due to a confusion over genders and once because of an opportunistic mating by two who were let loose by a neighbour’s child. My experience both times was pretty heartbreaking, and though I did everything I could and took my vet’s advice with both litters, I only have one surviving baby out of 17. It cast a bit of a dark cloud over my summer and while baby rabbits are very cute once they start growing fur and hopping about, many don’t make it that far. If you really, really want to breed I can’t stop you, but please think really hard about whether it’s the right thing to do. If you decide you want to then please get the advice of an expert and prepare for a very rough ride.

7) Winter is hard work


One of my favourite things to do in the summer is laze in the sun, in the garden, and just hang out with my rabbits. I love watching them play, munch on fresh grass and just generally do the kind of stuff that bunnies do. I don’t even mind cleaning out hutches when it’s nice outside. But I live in England. In England we get nice weather for maybe a month and a half of the year. This means that, for the rest of the year, I’m scrubbing grubby hutches in the rain, hail, frost and even snow. It also means that throughout the winter, I’m getting up 45 minutes earlier to defrost water bottles in the dark, change out extra bedding and make sure everyone has extra food. It’s cold, it’s gloomy and I have to do it in a sort of zombified auto-pilot. It’s not fun. If you would rather have the extra sleep then I don’t blame you, but it probably means you’re not ready for a rabbit.

8) Prepare to be dirty – a lot


If the idea of dealing with pee, poop and mud on a daily basis is an unimaginable horror to you, then you really shouldn’t get a pet. Other things I have to deal with daily are: getting hay stuck in my clothes, fingers and hair; spiders; slugs; snails; grubby shoes; and checking all seven rabbits have clean butts so they don’t get fly strike (where flies lay eggs in your rabbit’s fur, and your rabbit gets eaten alive by maggots – it’s revolting, painful, deadly, and very real). If you can’t picture a life where you have to deal with any and all of these things, then you may not be a rabbit person.

9) Your rabbit might not like you

Rabbits may look like passive little furballs, but they have personalities and opinions. You need to make peace with the idea that their opinion of you might not be too great. Most rabbits can be won over in time, especially when they come to realise that you are the Food Person. However, at least at the beginning, you can’t expect them to want cuddles and attention, and the majority of rabbits don’t like to be picked up. If you want a furry creature that will tolerate poking, prodding and posing for photos then get a teddy bear. Just like any inter-human friendship, you have to put some work in.

10) You’ll become a crazy bunny person


There’s a joke that goes: “How do you know there’s a rabbit-owner in the room? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” This has absolutely been the case in my experience. I’m bad enough, but any rabbit-owning friends and acquaintances I have made are just the same. Personally, I don’t care. They’re a part of my life as much as my band, my job and my other hobbies, so of course I’m going to talk about them. But just try not to be one of those people who uses even the vaguest tangent to show of photos of their rabbits. Nobody likes that person. Except on twitter, then it’s totally allowed.


I promise I’m not trying to put you off having a pet. Rabbits are awesome little weirdos and I love mine to death. It’s just incredibly important to think long and hard before you take responsibility for another life.


Six Little Things That Bring Me Joy

Life is quite scary. It's very easy to make a never-ending list of big negative spectres looming large over all of our lives. Just watching the news or looking at a paper can be enough to induce anxiety, and it's sometimes really hard to find something to smile about. When this happens, I have a few things I like to fall back on to create a little bit of happiness, however temporary.

Hugs
I went to Build-a-Bear and made a bunny. A Star Wars bunny. I'm so on-brand.
I'm not an overly tactile person. I don't go out of my way to touch people, I don't like physical contact when I'm not actively seeking it and I can get a bit prickly if someone invades my personal space. But, correctly timed, a good hug can have immensely healing properties. There's a lot of science that says that you get lots of lovely hormone floods when you hug people, and I know it can make me feel better when I need it.

Bunnies

My fluffbag family never fails to make me happy. Ok, maybe I'm not so thrilled when I'm scrubbing hutches in the rain, or when one of them costs me lots of money at the vet, but spending time with rabbits is time well-spent. They are wonderful clowns, and they all have such varied personalities and quirks. 2015 was a slightly rough year for the bunny family, which makes them all the more precious to me.

Red Lipstick

When life gets you down, there's nothing like a kick-ass shade of red to make you feel a bit more pulled-together.

Star Wars

 Yep, I'm a consumer whore and I have no shame.

Drawing


Doodling has long been one of my coping mechanisms, and I have a few recurring characters, like Derek the Merbear. I'd really love to finish a children's book one day using these characters and my sketches. 

Aquariums

I love going to aquariums so much. I also love the sea, but I don't go too often, so I make do by visiting aquariums as often as I can. I love finding a quiet tank, sitting by it and resting my head at just the right angle, so I can imagine I'm actually in the water with the fish.

What makes you all glowy with joy? Let me know in the comments!


5 Things About Me!

Well, isn't this just a shiny, brand new post on a shiny, brand new blog? Hello, blogosphere. How are you this morning?

Some of you might remember me from Wild Bear, and while I'm still proud of everything I did with that site, it's sort of deviated from who I am as a writer and a human, so when the domain expired recently I took the cue to reinvent my web presence to reflect my life a little better. For this, my very first post as Elena the Mermaid, I figured I'd reintroduce myself for those of you who've never "met" me, and anyone who wants to know more.

I found him!

1. I love aquariums and the sea

This fact cannot be overstated. I am at my absolute happiest when I am in the presence of animals, and marine life is way, way up there with my favourites. When I was little I used to spend a lot of summers at my aunt's house. She had a swimming pool in her garden, and I spent hours swimming underwater, floating about and imagining I was a mermaid. This was partially inspired by Ariel from the Little Mermaid (I'm a child of the 90s, of course I'm a Disney fan) but there was also a Pokémon book I owned where Misty goes back to her sisters' gym and performs in a mermaid display with a load of water Pokémon which sounded like my dream job.



2. I have blue hair (usually)

This year I finally took the plunge and bleached the hell out of my naturally dark brown hair and started the arduous task of dyeing it blue. There have been some teething problems, from initially having to wear a wig to work, to accidentally splattering most of my bathroom in Directions Midnight Blue, but most of these are resolved now. I love having blue hair, and it makes me feel more myself than I ever did as a brunette, despite the multiple chemical processes it takes to make it this colour.



3. I'm in a band called Trash Panda.

Earlier this year I met up with these boys and we formed a band called Trash Panda. We're sort of alt-rock, a little bit goth punk and we're in the process of polishing out 10-song set of original music. Hopefully 2016 will be the year of the Panda, but honestly playing and writing music with these boys is usually the best part of my week.


4. My brain isn't always on my side

I have bipolar disorder, which can make normal life a little bit difficult at times. I suffer from anxiety-induced hallucinations and take medication called Quetiapine, both of which prevent me from doing certain things, like driving a car or going out and partying every weekend. If my sleep patterns are disturbed I can get a lot worse very quickly, and my bad days can be very, very bad. Between medication, therapy and the support network of brilliant humans in my life, I'm usually doing ok though. 



5. I am a feminist and I am queer

Those things might sound unrelated, but actually I feel like my sexuality has informed my feminism, to an extent. Just over a year ago I got involved in a little bit of a media storm over something called The Ugly Girls Club. To cut a long story short, my old uni's feminism society launched something of a joint clapback and acceptance movement via selfies which went global, and as a result the face I'm pulling above was on the Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, the Guardian, Huffpost and apparently a couple of news channels. What can I say, my ability to take a truly horrendous photograph is pretty much unparalleled.

These five points just scratch the surface, but they give a bit of an insight to some of the lego bricks I'm built from. Why not tell me a few facts about yourselves in the comments?