Category: At Home
As far as first pets go, they don’t get much better than rabbits.
Although they take up more space and time than the second-choice goldfish, their inherent cuteness and tactile nature make them a much more attractive prospect to a young child.
Relatively harmless (some older creatures are known to occasionally nip), they are cheap to feed and will usually live anywhere between 9 and 11 years – this ideal lifespan makes them ideal for toddlers or primary school-age children who will be of a relatively mature age by the time the creature dies of old age.
Although it might be tempting to cut down on expenses and just buy the one rabbit to start with, it’s best to keep them in groups or in pairs at the very least. Studies have shown that rabbits live happier lives when they have companions; left alone they can often drift into sombre catatonic states or, conversely, worrisome states of panic. There are no specific breeds of rabbits that are more at home in captivity, as the species has been domesticated for a long time. Buying a rare breed will inevitably cost more money with no specific behavioural benefit. Mixed breed creatures can be bought for a considerable discount, often from pet shops or rescue homes and will prove to be just as good pets.
Before you purchase your rabbits, it’s imperative that you have a safe, clean environment for them to spend the majority of their time in.
As a general rule, your rabbits’ hutch should be tall enough for them to stand on their hind legs, it’s imperative that they have enough space to fully stretch out and hop around. It might sound silly, but your rabbits will also need a private space, closed off from public view, where they can sleep or simply get some quiet time. A space of around 183cm x 90cm for the floor is the bare minimum – you’ll need a larger hutch if you’re keeping more than a couple of animals.
Make sure that you place your hutch in a shaded, sheltered part of your garden where direct sunlight doesn’t reach it for long periods of time. If you’re keeping your rabbits outside for the entirety of the year then you’ll need to invest in extra bedding and insulation, to make sure that they stay nice and warm throughout the year.
Ideally you’ll have enough space to keep your rabbits in a small Wendy house, with enough space for them to run and play freely. The more space that you allow them live in, the more natural their behaviour will be and the longer they will live for. If you’ve not got the money for one of these, then you can always create your own by nailing together a series of wooden crates for packing.
Bear in mind that, if your rabbit is kept in a confined space for too long, you’ll not only will you risk them developing musco-skeletal conditions, but their behaviour might also deteriorate to the point where they will no longer make good companions.
Just remember that rabbits kept outside are always going to be susceptible to infection, parasites and disease – this is why it’s imperative that you check on them at least twice a day!
When I was a child, I used to be fascinated by zoos.
The idea of all of these creatures – lizards, mammals, birds, insects – all being kept in the same place seemed too fantastical to exist in reality.
The fact that you could simply walk into these wonderful places (after paying a rather extortionate entrance fee) and gaze as long as you like at all these wonderful creatures seemed all too good to be true.
My parents were always happy to take me there, pleased that I would take such an active interest in animals and how they lived. They imagined that this fascination would turn into a genuine educational interest in Biology. I would, no doubt, grow up to become a Vet or some other kind of well paid Doctor or Scientist – I’m afraid I disappointed both of them in that respect.
The days spent there were full of awe and wonder. The scale and majesty of the elephants surprised and stunned me. I could spend hours studying the strange, yet familiar behaviour of the primates, trying to piece together the missing link between us and them. But, the creatures that interested me most were the reptiles. I still remember the first time I ventured into the reptile house. It was a warm and muggy day, it was even hotter in there.
Pushing through the thick plastic curtains that kept the building warm, a fug of stale air and odd new smells hit my nose.
Tropical foliage wound it’s way up the wall and down from the ceiling – a light mist, emitted from a humidifier, dropped like dew down upon me and hung in clouds at my feet. I felt like I’d entered another world. This wasn’t the primate enclosures and it didn’t feel like the aviary, this was something completely different.
There was a prickly sensation at the back of neck as I edged by way further in. The muggy heat and the new aromas had put me on edge, I was scared and excited all at the same time. With my hand trailing along the vines, I felt my way further through the gloom until I felt the smooth texture of glass and came face to face with a King Cobra. It was motionless, it’s eyes bored into mine, unchanging and unwavering. I stared back and was enthralled. Cold and calculated, I knew that this creature was going to have an enormous impact on my life.
It took time convincing them to invest in my new hobby.
Most parents like to start out with a goldfish to teach their children about the valuable lessons of mortality – without costing them a fortune. I was having none of that though. I read endless books on reptile care and environment management. They soon realised that my interest was not abating and that their only way of appeasing me was by giving in to my demands.
My first reptile was a corn snake, a common starter reptile. My parents asked me what I wanted to call him – and I was speechless.
15 years later he still doesn’t have a name, but he does have plenty more friends.
Being Intensely Allergic To Your Pets Is Hard Work
Owning and looking after 6 creatures that have the capability of setting off a huge allergic reaction at any point, is almost a job unto itself.
I don’t mind dealing with the stigma of being a ‘crazy cat lady’, it’s something that I’ve almost taken as a badge of honour. If anything, I’m the very limit of that term – many people have called me crazy to surround myself with animals that can physically cause me harm by simply being near me. They’d be right, if I didn’t love them as much as I do.
It’s important in life to surround yourself with people and things that make you happy.
A long time ago, I found out that I was most comfortable in the company of cats. I came from a family that did not hold with keeping pets. Both my parents were host to a number of severe allergens that could be set off at the slightest contact. These ranged from the every day (dairy and wheat) to the more bizarre (my Mother could not come into contact with water for the first 10 years of her life).
My parents dealt with these allergies well, however they did not have the time to raise myself and my two brothers (along with our range of allergies and conditions) as well as allow us to keep pets.
I first discovered that I was allergic to Cats when we visited a distant relative in the South of France.
Aunt Marygold was a strange old woman. Wrapped up in layers of blankets and covered in Cats, her villa in Bordeaux was cutesy, stiflingly hot and filled with the allergens that I soon discovered were toxic to my body. My parents assumed it was something we’d eaten at a restaurant on the way over. They’d seen allergic reactions before, experienced dozens more of them, and knew the symptoms weren’t life threatening.
As I rolled about on the floor with the half dozen cats that Aunt Marygold kept, the itchy tightness of my rashy skin, the wheezing breaths, all melted away in my mind – I was happy with the cats.
It was only after we left my Aunt’s that the symptoms began to subside and I parents successfully put two and two together. By then, however, it was too late. I was besotted by cats and wanted nothing more than to own 6, just like my lonely Aunt Marygold and live with them in an eternal happiness.
My close relationship with Allergy Control during my childhood, coupled with my own frustrating set of Allergens, led me to take close interest in Biology as well as Chemistry. I became obsessed with discovering the cure to my symptoms, so that I could one day own the precious half-dozen feline companions that would complete my life.
I’m still searching for the cure now, but I was far too impatient to wait to get the cats. Dusty, Jane, Horace, Bruce, Teddy and Jasper are the best friends that I have ever had. I understand that it makes me crazy to say that and I do have other human friends.
But, no other living beings have given so much joy as my furry, lethal cat-companions.
Dairy Cows Tread A Fine Line Every Day, Without Knowing It
If Dairy Cows, and other such creatures (whose yields are relied upon day after day), were granted an increased amount of consciousness or awareness – the pressure they would be under would surely be too much for them.
Although I’ve spent many years living on a Dairy Farm in both my home country of Bavaria in the 80s, as well as more recently with my wife in Dorset, I’ve always had mixed feelings about the relationship between a farmer and his cows. At an early age, I took a cue from my parents – as most children do.
From traditional Bavarian stock, my parents knew nothing but livestock management and dairy farming. They had both come from Dairy farming families, their marriage creating quite the local storm, as their union essentially ended a business rivalry that had existed for decades. Judit and Hal were two star-crossed lovers, who had seen each other from across a crowded showroom.
The first time I met my wife would later mirror that oddly charged scene.
Of course, when my parents met, in 1950s Bavaria, life was a little different. In a time before the popularisation of culture and the proliferation of television, a man’s job and farm were his life. By default then, the farm was emblematic of the entire family’s status and the source of their pride.
As such, when farmers came together for auctions or shows, the presentation of their livestock (and their respective families) represented everything that a man was. At these events, pride was at the forefront and tempers could run high, as sales and bids were decided based on surface traits. However, these events were also a rare chance to socialise and intermingle with people from around the area.
In the dusky corners of the cavernous sheds, where hundreds of cows calmly trundled in procession, Judit and Hal met and talked for hours, sharing their passions for animal care and the great outdoors.
The contradiction between my parents’ sincere love for their creatures and the ruthless view of each animal as a commodity was something that would often confuse me. It’s something that I’ve learnt to come to terms with in the last few years. Running a farm with my wife and relying on the animals for our income does change the nature of our relationship with them.
The 80 or odd animals we keep here in Dorset are relied upon to return on the value that we expended in purchasing them. As much as we can care and nurture their development, if they do not supply us with enough product to sell – then we have to make the hard decision to either sell or butcher them.
I’ve had moments of intense deja vu in the last year or so, as my three kids have started to grow up a little and begin to understand the nature of our business.
Trying to tell them why a certain cow is being led away from the rest is a challenge – but it’s a truth that all farmer’s children must learn in time.