Squirrel Appreciation Day

21 January marks Squirrel Appreciation Day!

This day was introduced by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator to encourage people to learn more about the UK’s most common wildlife. It is to help promote the welfare and care for our red and grey squirrels. Now I have only ever seen grey squirrels – outside our house we have a number of very large trees which are always being climbed by a group of the little grey guys. It’s quite funny seeing them around this time of year because they are so chubby I am always amazed they manage to make it up the tree in the first place!

But it turns out that grey squirrels are not our native squirrel. The red squirrel is actually our native breed, and the grey squirrels were introduced to the UK by the North Americans in around 1800. Unfortunately the grey and red breeds do not get along, and the grey squirrels forced the red ones to have to move to more remote and uninhabited areas of the UK. Today, there are estimated to only be around 140,000 red squirrels left and they are mainly located around Scotland and very northern parts of the England. There are multiple campaigns currently ongoing by the Wildlife Trust and the RSPCA to help promote squirrel welfare and to help bring the red squirrel populations up.

Threats to squirrel populations

The main issue squirrels face is that, namely, grey and red squirrels cannot live together long term. Due to their sheer numbers, grey squirrels have taken over most of England and the UK and as such red squirrel populations are dwindling. Grey squirrels also carry (but are unaffected by) squirrelpox which is fatal to red squirrels. Hence the main reason why the two species cannot live together long term. There are a number of organisations though that are currently working to help create red squirrel protection zones which would stop their habitats from being lost to deforestation or to grey squirrel populations. I shall leave links to a number of these campaigns at the end of this blog if you want more information on the work and conservation efforts done.

Unfortunately, squirrelpox is still relatively unknown although a vaccine is currently being developed. This vaccine however will not be ready for some time still (mainly due to the issue of how to actually administer the vaccine to red squirrel populations), and so the main way to protect red squirrel populations is to simply keep them away from grey squirrel populations. As it stands, there is very little chance that squirrelpox can be transmitted to humans (and even if it did, there is very little evidence to suggest that it would even be harmful to us) however it is always encouraged to not handle wildlife unless absolutely necessary (due to safety or welfare concerns for example) and if so to always wash your hands thoroughly to avoid any sort of contamination. It probably goes without saying, but this applies to every type of wildlife and not just squirrels – if in doubt, leave them be and call the RSPCA or other wildlife organisation who can advise on how much contact (if any at all) is needed in a situation.

The other issue is the reputation that squirrels have and the lack of knowledge around them. In the winter especially, people always assume that squirrels hibernate like many of the UK’s mammals. But that is not true. Physically a squirrel is just not able to store the amount of fat that would be needed to sustain them throughout the cold winter months and so hibernation is not an option. It also explains why they are known for being bird-feeder thieves, taking all of the best nuts and seeds and leaving very little for the bird populations in your garden. Squirrels are also crepuscular (i.e are most active during dawn and dusk) and so are usually active when most birds are still asleep.

How can you help?

The main way to help look after your local squirrels is to have squirrel feeders in your garden. These should be placed away from your bird feeders, preferably near to trees and higher up than a normal bird table would be. Wildlife World have a specially created collection of squirrel feeders that will help keep them fed and hydrated (as well as entertained) during the winter and colder months. You can find a link to those here.

Another way to help them is to simply enjoy them. Where I live, I have a little gang of squirrels that live in the trees nearby and they are honestly such characters. If anyone has ever visited St James’ Park in London, you will no doubt have seen the incredibly confident and borderline tame squirrels that harass people for some of their lunch, picnic or coffee. As mentioned before, always avoid handling wildlife unless it is an absolute emergency but many may still let you get quite close to them to watch them eat, play and scurry around in the ground looking for their buried nuts. As with all animals, squirrels are complex and adorable animals to see in their day to day routines, and even on my most hectic and crazy days, the little nutters outside my house never fail to make me smile.

For more information see the links below

If any of you do have squirrels, share some pictures on here of your own little neighbourhood clan! Also, if anyone has red squirrels please send as many pictures as you can – I can’t believe I didn’t even know about these little guys until researching for this post! I will definitely be looking out for these guys next time I am up north.

T xxx

Whats plants are poisonous to cats?

With the Winter Solstice now passed, it is the time of the year where we start to look towards the spring and the summer. For many people, this may include planting new seeds, both figuratively speaking and literally speaking. January through to March is normally the best time to plant many flowers and vegetables so that by summer they are ready to bloom, turning your currently drab and lifeless garden into an oasis of colour and fragrance.

But what if you have a cat? Aside from the concern that they may try and dig up your seedlings or trample over the shoots as they begin to rise, there are a number of common household flowers and plants that are actually very dangerous for your pet to even be around, let alone eat. In many cases the pollen from some of these plants can cause a wide array of respiratory, skin and eye issues that may be quite hard to treat. I have therefore made a list of the most common plants that are poisonous to our feline friends, in the hope that moving forward you will either omit these plants from your gardens this year, or at least move them to an area where your cat cannot get to.

As with all things to do with pets, if you think your cat may have ingested something they shouldn’t have ALWAYS take them to the vet as soon as you can to ensure that they get immediate attention.

Outside flowers

Now I feel this is the most important issue, as with a garden you do not know what wildlife will be coming and going on a daily basis. Not only do you have your own cats to worry about, you also have neighbourhood cats, strays, feral cats and natural wildlife such as foxes, badgers and hedgehogs (in the UK anyway).

The most common types of flowers/plants that are poisonous to cats include:

  • lilies of any kind – the majority of lilies are poisonous to almost every type of animal and people too. As pretty as they are, I would again advocate that you do not have any type of lily in your home or garden just to be on the safe side.
  • foxglove
  • dogbane
  • water hemlock
upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Plu...
Dogbane flowers

There are also a number of flowers and plants that you should be cautious about putting into your garden, unless they can be planted somewhere where you know your cat (or any other wildlife) could get to easily. These include:

  • bluebells
  • clematis
  • daffodils
  • wisteria
  • tomato plants
  • Rhododendron
  • dahlias
  • hyacinths
  • peonies
Paeoniaceae | Description, Taxonomy, & Examples | Britannica
Peonies

There are however a wide variety of flowers and plants that are completely safe for your cat to be around, and the Cats Protection have a full list which I shall leave here.

Inside plants

According to Cats Protection, there is only one family of indoor plants that is toxic to cats and those are cycads. This family of plants look similar to ferns and are often confused with types of palm trees. From looking at these types of plants they appear to grow quite tall, so the chance of you having one inside your house are quite low.

There are also a number of plants that can be dangerous for cats to ingest, although they are not necessarily toxic to them. If ingested, it is likely that your cat will experience nausea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems, but they will not be poisoned. The most common of these include:

  • Aloe vera
  • Poinsettia
  • English Ivy
  • Peace lily
  • snake plant
Indoor Peace Lily Plants: Growing A Peace Lily Plant
Peace lily

Please see the list here from Cats Protection for a full list.

Cut flowers in the home

Aside from the ones outside, you must also be cautious of the flowers that you bring into the home. Again the pollen alone can be enough to cause serious skin irritations or respiratory issues to your feline companion so it is best to double check any flowers in your home to make sure that they have not been nibbled on, or that no pollen has fallen onto the ground where your cat may be able to sniff/lick/touch it.

This list also applies to any flowers that you may grow in your own garden (as above) and so if you do wish to bring those flowers inside, you must make sure that they do not come into contact with your cat in any way. I for one will always advocate that if there is even a slight risk to the well-being of your pet, then simply remove it entirely from your home and garden and simply go for cat friendly options.

The most common toxic type of flower are lilies as discussed above, so again I would say to just completely avoid lilies in your home or garden.

Other types of flowers that you should be careful with are:

  • Hydrangeas
  • Chrysanthemum
  • lavender (quite a surprising one)
  • peonies
  • poppies
  • Tulips
  • sweet pea flowers

Some of these are quite surprising as they are probably some of the most popular flowers for people to have in their home. I for one am surprised that peonies are toxic, as they are my favourite flower! But now I know that they are potentially bad for my cat’s health, I now make sure to only ever have fake flowers. Again a full list of flowers can be found here from Cats Protection.

Final thoughts

As I have mentioned above, I always air on the side of caution. I will always put the welfare of my pets above the aesthetic nature of my house and/or garden. If you are ever worried, consult your vet or the Cats Protection website for full details on what plants and flowers should be avoided.

The other alternative is to do what I do: buy fake flowers! Not only do many fake flowers look IDENTICAL to the real thing, there is ZERO chance that I can kill it, meaning i don’t feel bad about any flower or plant dying as soon as I bring it home. As someone who has never had (nor is ever likely to develop) a green thumb, this option works perfectly for me to fill my house with beautiful flowers while ensuring that they cause no harm to my pets.

I hope you have found this article informative and I hope that it will inspire you to try new and varying flowers and plants for this coming year. If there are any others that you think should be added to the list, then please do let me know in the comments. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing pictures of all your wonderfully colourful – and now cat friendly! – gardens come summer!

T xxx

‘The reality of…’ series

When I was thinking about ways to improve this little blog, I thought about some of the things I wish I had known more about before I started on my vegan journey. There is so much information out there that it can be very overwhelming to really know what the reality of a situation is: I knew that eating meat felt immoral to me, but why did i think this? I knew that most vegans don’t wear wool or silk, but what was this based on?

Veganism can tend to be viewed in a very black and white mind frame, in that you are either 100% perfect or you are a bad vegan. Even when I have looked into some of the issues for my own interest and for my own information, the amount of information was still too overwhelming to really wade through, and the information was at both ends of a spectrum: Either 100% good or 100% bad. There was very little middle ground, and I think that this middle ground is where many people sit when deciding whether or not to begin a vegan lifestyle.

I therefore thought it would be helpful to see both sides of the arguments on a number of different topics and issues. Hence, ‘The reality of…’ series was born! I really want to be able to not only deepen my own knowledge of a topic, but also to share that information with others and open up a chance for discourse and discussion. I do not believe that anything in life is as a simple and good and bad, and this is always something that has really interested me. It will also be interesting to see what new things we learn along the way and see if that in turn affects our views on other subjects.

I truly believe that a person can never be too informed about a situation and as someone who loves learning and reading up on different viewpoints and arguments, I am really looking forward to seeing where this series goes. I cannot guarantee when I will post them, as I already think some topics may be WAY more complicated than others and therefore will have way more information to read through. But I will be aiming for at least once a month to begin with and see how I get on with that!

If any of you guys have any topics or issues that you would like to discuss or wish me to research, then please do let me know in the comments, or even send me an email and I shall do my best to get through them!

T xxx

NaNaWriMo 2021

It is the 1st November which means one thing…

It’s National Novel Writing Month!!!

NaNoWrimo 2021 - Facebook Banner - Design by Andrea Floren

I was first introduced to NaNoWriMo about 5 years ago and since then every November there has been an attempt for me to write 50,000 in the month. This works out to roughly 1700 words a day – which may not sound like a lot but actually is quite challenging when your brain just can’t write words that day.

If you enjoy writing then I find that NaNo is a wonderful opportunity to really push yourself creatively, and it also allows you to create a writing habit. I have worked out over the years what my writing style is like, and also how I best focus when it comes to writing.

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organisation and honestly everyone I have spoken to and interacted with regarding NaNo have been absolutely lovely. They have so many resources to help you write, so that even if you have never written anything before you would feel completely prepared to take on a 50,000 word challenge. They have some really useless prep tips and writing exercises to use if you ever find yourself in a writing slump, and the forums allow you to connect with other people who are also attempting to write 50,000 words.

Before Covid struck, regional and local groups would hold face to face ‘write ins’ where you would meet up with a load of people and help encourage each other with the writing. I only managed to go to one of these write ins and thanks o their support and guidance – plus just the really lovely atmosphere of creativity and expression – I was able to write about 10,000 words in just one sitting! Unfortunately Covid has put an end to all of these, however local groups will still be running virtual write ins and social events throughout November so you can still take part in the social aspect of it all.

Personally, I absolutely love NaNoWriMo. Every year I am always so inspired by the talks they bring out, and to see so many others talk so passionately about their stories, that I am always super keen to take part. Last year though, 2020 really did a number on me mentally so while I still stayed informed about everything happening with NaNo, I didn’t take part in it. And I really did miss it. It feels really nice to have a challenge again that is so creative.

If you want more information and want to take part, their website is www.nanowrimo.org. As they are a charity they do ask for donations, but it is not mandatory. You can sign up and access all of their resources completely free of charge. The people who take part (and run it) are all super supportive, and just seem to be passionate about people writing and – most importantly – having fun while writing. Yes this is a challenge, but it is meant to be fun above all else. Who cares if you end up writing 50,000 words of absolute carnage story, so long as you had heaps of fun writing it!?

I hope I can see some of you guys there, but I also apologise if my posts get super sporadic! I shall do my best but…we shall see!

T xxx

Can vegans support zoos?

I want to have a discussion with you all, because it is something that I have been very interested in for some time. When I was at university I actually did a whole dissertation on whether zoos were good or bad for animal welfare. I went in thinking that there was no way that zoos could be a good thing, however through my research it actually turned out to be a very grey area of animal welfare. I am therefore very keen to see what all of your thoughts are on this subject.

Now this is by no means a comprehensive essay: My dissertation was 10,000 words and even that required a lot of editing down! But I wanted to bring to light some of the main arguments for and against zoos, and the issues that come with them. I have tried to include as many links as I can to articles and research, but as I say I cannot include every single piece of research that I have ever done on this subject. If you have any other interesting or useful reads, please do leave them in the comments below!

Animal welfare

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, any animal in captivity is covered by this act. Zoos and aquariums are also covered by the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 although this act was amended in 2002 to create more obligations on Local Councils when deciding whether or not to license a new zoo, as well as to ensure that animal welfare practices were more in line with the EU directives. In summary, the animals are to have a suitable environment, prevention and protection from harm, suitable food supplies and their living must be as close to the wild as reasonably possible to achieve.

The issue with legislation though is that it is a blanket. It has to cover so many different species, situations and objectives that it can fail when it comes to practically applying the rules contained within it. A study carried out in 2002 by Clubb and Mason found that elephants die far younger in captivity than they do in the wild. One suggestion is that these animals especially have very complex social structures, one that can be hard to recreate in a captive environment. Their social structures are also constantly changed by the zoo, either to keep groups small or to trade members for a new member to either increase chances of mating or to bring in new visitors to the zoo. Elephants are known to create lifelong bonds with the children and other members of their group, and to constantly have your social group changed undoubtedly has a negative impact on the animal’s emotional and mental well being. They are also huge creatures that are used to walking miles everyday – roughly the same distance from London to Oxford! There is no way any zoo are able to create an environment that really allows for this amount of exercise, and when they do not have the adequate amount of exercise, they can develop a number of physical conditions which they would not have had they been in the wild.

There is also the common knowledge that highly intelligent animals struggle to cope mentally within captivity: If you have not yet watched the 2013 movie Blackfish, I would highly recommend it. It shows very graphically what can happen when a highly intelligent animal is stuck in an stimulating and unrewarding environment. The film highlights very clearly that not only is animal welfare needed for the safety of the animals, but also for the safety of the staff, handlers and keepers who look after these animals. There are countless articles about zoochosis, whereby animals in captivity begin to show symptoms of mental and physical illness: This can include pacing, biting and headbutting the environment around them, heightened aggression towards keepers and other animals in the enclosure, swaying and over grooming to name a few. Some animals, such as great white sharks most infamously, do not even survive a year in captivity: The longets a great white was ever held in captivity was for 198 days.

However this tends to be most common in the larger (usually hunting) animals: bears, killer whales, elephants, big cats and primates. Prey animals, such as meerkats, giraffes and gazelle, tend to do quite well in captivity and are less documented in exhibiting signs of zoochosis. The logical conclusion to this information is that prey animals undoubtedly live longer in captivity because they are not being constantly hunted by bigger animals: they do not need to run and hide at every noise, they do not need to be on alert while eating. For many captive prey animals, the ones born in captivity have probably never even seen a predator. Granted some of this nature will be innately woven into their DNA – to be skittish and scared and on edge at all times – however if you have never seen a lion before, would you know to run? Are these animals still suffering? Of course there is a lack of research surrounding this area and the affect it can have on every animal, but it does make you wonder and is something to be contemplated.

Conservation

A paper by William Conway suggested that while conservation efforts were needed, regulation still is not universal enough to ensure that every single zoo does the same level of work and to the same standard. Every country has their own legislation in place to ensure that zoos carry out a degree of conservation work, however this varied largely across the world. Conway suggests that work needs to be done to create a more cohesive world wide plan, since zoos rely so heavily on other zoos for their animals.

London Zoo, for example, spend a large amount of their profits carrying out conservation efforts, with Woburn Safari Park carrying out multiple conservation projects at their own zoo as well as fundraising to support the efforts of conservation charities abroad. A large part of conservation though is understanding the animals and their natural behaviour and this may not always be possible to monitor in the wild. Zoos allow scientists to observe animals around the clock, to check on their psychical and mental characteristics so that this information can be published to other zoos and experts, and better conservation efforts can be made to suit the needs of the animal in question. Conservation methods can be made to be specific and measurable for that exact animal species in question, rather than trying to use a blanket method for a number of different species.

Education and awareness

This is probably the biggest reason why zoos exist, especially nowadays. I remember going on many a school trip to London Zoo and getting to spend all day hearing about the animals and their different characteristics. As a massive animal lover, there is something truly magical about seeing these amazing creatures in real life. I imagine for some people, it gives a real life animal to put to the horrible stories of deforestation, poaching and climate change that we see on the news. It is one thing to see images of a poacher standing proudly over their kill of a wild lion, but quite another to see that same lion standing before you in a zoo. You see the animals that we as humans are affecting and impacting with our actions and it can really drill home to you the changes that need to be made worldwide to protect them.

A large part of zoos (and I know in some of them they do this anyway) should be to show the impact that we humans are having on these animals. Yes these animals should be in the wild, however these are why animals cannot survive in the wild anymore: orangutans are losing their habitats to deforestation and rhinos are being poached to extinction for the belief that their horns hold medicinal remedies. More awareness needs to be raised around these issues, and it is up to zoos to not only educate the general public to take action, but to also step up and demand better protections are granted to these animals so that they do not end up in zoos as the only means for these animals to actually survive. In 2020 alone, roughly 50 species of animals went extinct (not including the 100s of species of plant life which also went extinct), and the number of animals classed as endangered rose by 16,000 in the last year alone. There are now around 40,000 endangered species around the world, and for many people the only time to ever see these endangered species in the flesh will be at a zoo.

Animal trade

This links very closely to conservation and animal welfare, because unfortunately the trading of animals amongst zoos is necessary for conservation efforts: The European Endangered Species Programme is made up of a number of zoos across Europe, who all work together to increase managed breeding within their endangered species. It is quite obvious therefore that animals are constantly being traded between each zoo, especially when you think that without trade between these zoos, the risk of inbreeding heightens with every new generation born – and this is clearly not going to be helpful for conservation plans.

Now I think we all know that the animals are not transported in first class accommodation: of course there are laws in place to say what an animal must be transported in, but I doubt they are in a luxurious plane all to themselves with entertainment and food available whenever they wish. They’re not on Qatar Air right? Unfortunately that is just a reality of the industry, and way more work needs to be done to ensure that these practises are improved and sustained for the future. But as with all of these things it is a work in progress and it will take more than this blog to kick the whole world into implementing change.

Is the trade industry necessary? For conservation plans, yes, undoubtedly it is. Without these trades, managed breeding programmes would not be able to exist past the first new generation as the risk of inbreeding becomes far greater and harder to manage in one zoo on their own. However, would the entire EEP even exist if better measures were put in place world wide to stop the unsustainable killing, deforestation and poaching of these animals in the wild? Another debate for another time but it is something that needs to b e weighed up when discussing this issue.

Economic/tourism implications

Something that also needs to be considered is the economic impact that zoos have on a city. London Zoo alone have roughly 1.25 million visitors every year and with a day ticket costing around £35.00, that is an obscene amount of money being raised. That doesn’t even include the amount of revenue brought in for the food and drink, plus donations from supporters. The taxes that they pay must be in figures that the likes of us may never even imagine. Zoos are also a massive tourist draw, with people travelling all over the world to see different animals. San Diego zoo on its own is an entire day out – look at the size of this place! Every country in the world relies heavily on tourism to bring people into their country and to show off their what their country has to offer, and a massive part of that may be their world renowned zoos.

This also doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of people it takes to run a zoo and the amount of jobs that a zoo creates: Aside from the actual keepers and handlers, you also need to account for chefs, waiting staff, retail assistants, security, account teams, corporate managers, HR staff, garment makers for the clothes on sale and the toys which can be bought, the graphic designers for the zoo signs and information boards and the architects and labourers who build the exhibits and the enclosures. Millions of people world wide are employed by zoos, so to get rid of them completely would mean millions of people lose their livelihood. Even I worked at a zoo while I was studying at uni, as a part time waitress, and I was just one of a team of 50 people. Zoos are a massive industry and for many keepers, I imagine their entire life has been in training to work at a zoo, to care for these exotic animals that very few people ever have the chance to see let alone care for.

My thoughts?

Personally, I am still so conflicted. I know that zoos are important and I think it would be incredibly damaging to abruptly close down an entire industry. I also believe that zoos are beneficial for some animals and actually provide a better quality of life than they would have had in the wild. But that does not mean I am happy that these animals can’t live in the wild. In an ideal world, these animals would all be left to live, thrive and enjoy their environment without us humans barging in to take from them. I try my best to always advocate for animal welfare, but it would be naive of me to ignore the impact that zoos have on this work. The donations they provide to other charities that carry out real groundwork in other countries is fundamental in helping create change.

Now would I chose to go to the zoo if I had a day off and nothing to do? Probably not. But if my nephew or my family wanted us to take a trip to the zoo as part of a family day out? I would go, not only so that I could spend time with my loved ones and see these beautiful and majestic creatures up close, but also because again it is the education and awareness that zoos can create that can inspire new people to take a stand to protect an animal they have just fallen in love with. I hope one day every animal can be at peace and at home in the wild, but until then I want to support conservation and education efforts.

As I said, this is by no means meant to be comprehensive, and it is only meant to provide you with a basic overview of some to the main issues surrounding zoos and the work that they do. But I hope it has at least inspired a thought in you, and has inspired you to do more research into what you as an animal lover can do to help protect them – both in captivity and in the wild.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, and if you guys have any other interesting articles to read, then please do leave those in the comments as well!

T xxx

Couch to 5k programme

I used to run all the time and I used to really enjoy it. But about 3 years ago it started to be more of a habit than an actual hobby. I was going to the gym to run for 25 minutes, purely so I could say that I had been for a run. My thoughts started to get quite disordered with it too, where I started to think that if I went for a run, I was then allowed to have that chocolate biscuit for dessert. If I didn’t run, I was only allowed x amount of calories, or I was only allowed a ‘healthy’ meal rather than what I actually wanted. My runs started to become a bargaining move, rather than something I did for my health and overall well-being. As someone who has previously struggled with an eating disorder, it started to feel like a very thin line I was walking.

I started running because I wanted something that would improve my health, but also allow me to get out of the house and to just have some me time. I have never really tracked how fast I am, or how far I could run. I would have my routes that I would run, and I would usually decide on the day where I felt like going. When I joined the gym, it was nice to have a constant speed, so I could zone out on everything and just enjoy the movement. I would put my music on and in a way it felt like dancing. It was nice to have a proper break from my racing thoughts and everyday stresses of life, and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

Lockdown then hit and any chance of me going to the gym was squashed. I did a few runs during our allocated one hour of outside time, but other than that I tried out some different workouts: HIIT, yoga, barre, dance. It was nice to try movements that were actually fun, and made it seem more like a game than an actual challenge.

But a year later I missed the routine. I missed having that little hour that was just for me to focus on me and what I was doing. So once gyms were allowed to reopen, I signed up and decided to truly commit to an actual training programme. Before, I had always just sort of winged it, making it up as I went along. I have done so many workouts in my lifetime, and know enough about fitness that I know the basics of what you do to work each muscle group. I could make up little routines that would do what I needed them to. But I have never really followed a proper workout plan, so I decided that I shall commit to one and just see how it goes.

Enter Couch to 5k. I used the official app created by the BBC to encourage people to become more active, and I have heard so many say that it was a really good introduction to running. Now I knew that I could run for 30 minutes without stopping (if i really put my mind to it), but I thought I might as well just start as an absolute beginner and see if I can just enjoy the process. The app is really simple, but it does exactly what you need it to. You can also chose from a group of celebrities to be your voice guide as you run – I chose Sarah Millican (an comedian here in England) who has the thickest Geordie accent so was automatically way more entertaining. She also had the cutest little pep talks (I may even calling people flower and pet more often!) and being naturally funny means the runs were a lot more relaxed and more enjoyable.

You start really small – 60 seconds of running, 90 second walking – on repeat for about 20 minutes. Each run also starts with 5 minutes of walking, and ends with 5 minutes of walking to give you a proper warm up and cool down. As you progress each week, these intervals go up until you can run for 30 minutes solidly without any walking breaks. The programme is 9 weeks long, but you are able (and sometimes encouraged) to repeat weeks if you feel you need a bit more practice or are not ready to step it up just yet. Personally, I think I may have been better to repeat weeks 7 or 8 before I finished week 9, as the jump from 60 second walking breaks to none at all for 25 minutes was actually a bit jarring on some days. It is also designed to only be 3 runs a week, and it states that you should try to leave one day of rest between each run. Which is actually really good advice. In most plans I have seen before, they seem to want you to run 4-5 days a week with ‘active rest days’ (a day where you maybe go for a long bike ride or walk, rather than actually resting) which I have always found to be unsustainable in the long run.

If you have ever wondered about running and whether it is for you, I would definitely recommend this app. It starts off very easy, as it is designed for people who have never ran before in their life. It builds slowly, yet allows you to see real progress as you go through. There is also no leader board or competitive aspect to it: you can’t add friends so they see your progress, or compares your times to those of other app users. It is purely for you to run for you. To allow you to see your progress and no one else unless you wish to show them. I found this refreshing, as I have never been a competitive person so being forced to compete just makes me feel inadequate and uncomfortable.

This app also allowed me to enjoy running again. It built up in such a way that even after a 25 minute run, I didn’t feel too gassed and would actually have been happy to run for a bit longer. In the later weeks as well, you do start to recognise what your comfortable pace is and also when you hit that rhythm, you fully understand the elusive ‘runners high’. I did a 5k run as my penultimate run in week 9 and actually beat my goal! I had wanted to see if I could run 5k in under 40 minutes (as I say, I have never been a fast runner so was not expecting anything ground breaking) and I managed it in 39 minutes! It may seem small, but when you start running you realise what a massive difference a few seconds can make to your entire mood. Also for someone who hasn’t run properly in about 2 years, it felt so good to enjoy running again.

That being said, there were definitely days where running felt like death: my legs felt like rubber, my feet felt like cement, I was tired and stressed and couldn’t think of anything worse than going for a run. But I found I genuinely felt 10 times better after I forced myself to go for a run. I felt lighter, and more awake, and I also felt like I had accomplished something that day. Some days I was clearly faster than other days, and some days I definitely needed longer to recover my breath at the end, but I never regretted going for a run. It was also a good kick of extra endorphins to see myself completing a new run, and actually progressing through the programme. Once I hit my rhythm, and fell into the flow of my run, I could actually let my mind wander: sometimes I would plan what I was going to buy with my next paycheck, other days I would plan out whole new story ideas. But sometimes I couldn’t think about anything at all. I would just listen to the music, and let my body move as if on auto pilot, and just watch the people around me whether in the gym or on a run outside.

I know this is a bit of a different post to what I normally do, but I am so bloomin’ proud of myself for completing not only this programme but also my first proper 5k in 2 years! I feel I got myself out of my little funk and I am now actually quite inspired to keep it up. Maybe I will try now to work on my time, to see if I can complete a 5k in under 30 minutes. Maybe I might also sign up to do a charity fun run, where I can push myself that little bit further while also raising money for an important cause.

I thought I would therefore share my experience because I know I can’t be the only one who has found this last year and a half a bit challenging. Here in the UK, we are still not really able to go on holiday (well we are but it comes with so many conditions it feels like it’s more stress than simply staying at home) and many places are still restricting how many people can come in at one time. Making plans is also quite stressful, as everything now comes with the added stress of a potential ‘pinging’, meaning you have to self-isolate and potentially cancel more plans moving forward. Everything is still very uncertain, and while you try to do your best, sometimes you do just wish things could go back to normal. Perhaps I am just feeling a bit emotional (endorphins are so great omg) but this little app genuinely gave me a goal to work towards that depended purely on me: I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to make it all happen, I just had to go outside and run.

There are also a number of Couch to 5k apps available, so it may be worth trying one that suits your goals. I have seen there are a few that actually track your run, so you can see each week what your time and pace is like if that is something you may want. I went with the BBC version purely because it is the most popular here in the UK. Moving forward, I may even repeat some of the weeks as part of an interval training programme. But have a little search around to find one that works best for you.

Overall: 50/10. Even if it running ends up not being for you, this is such a great programme to give a try. You will most likely surprise yourself.

T xxx

Taking a break

Yesterday, on Saturday 13 March 2021, we made the heartbreaking decision to put our lovely Sasha Bunny to sleep.

We had her for 2 years, and in that time we spent 16 months dealing with her health issues. This started out as the odd evening where she would stop eating, and this eventually would turn into monthly vet visits, week long stasis bouts, and many a sleepless and stressful night for all of us at home. We had a medical kit in our kitchen which included pain relief medication, gut stimulants, Critical Care and a large stock of syringes to hand feed her everything whenever she stopped eating.

We would spend some evenings setting multiple alarms throughout the night so that we could get up and force feed her Critical Care so that her gut didn’t go into complete stasis. An activity that no one enjoyed but she would have died a painful and slow death if not for this type of intervention.

We were on a first name basis with our local vets and almost every single month we were having to carry her down there to get them to check her over. We took her in a car journey (a 2 hour round trip) to see a specialist vet in London and have more tests done on her to find out why she was so sick.

And everything came up blank. The specialists weren’t sure what was wrong with her and our local vets had no idea. We were told that we could arrange to have a CT scan and MRI scan done of her, but that these would most likely come back blank as well and there was also a heightened risk that she wouldn’t wake up from the anaesthetic.

We discussed re-homing her, to give her to a family that could dedicate the time, energy and money needed to look after her complex but unknown needs. But the reality was that such a person would never come along. That it would take a very special kind of angel to take her on and for her to be ok. And the thought of her being in one of those cages, watching people walk past her day in and day out with not one person stopping to rub her head or play with her, would be the cruellest fate imaginable. That we would never know where she was or if she was even still alive. If she ended up in a hutch in someone’s back garden and would never again be able to flop or binky and be her true playful self.

We decided that the best thing we could do for her, the kindest and most loving thing we could do for her, was to put her to sleep. And it was the hardest decision we have ever had to make. For the whole week beforehand, we had watched her hunched over and in pain, and just watching her knowing that we couldn’t do anymore for her. All we could do was sit with her and make her as comfortable as possible and hope that this episode would move on quickly. The worst thing was that on that Saturday morning, while we came into the room expecting to find a dead bunny, we found our silly Sasha back in action. Binkies galore, zoomies around the room, and we were both nearly mauled when we gave her pellets. Pellets which – for the first time in 5 days – she happily ate without any issues.

But we couldn’t keep putting her through it. Our vets and even the specialist vets were completely out of ideas as to what it could be and the only way we could have found out would have been to put her through very invasive, highly risky surgeries and procedures that would more than likely not even lead us any closer to answers. We went back and forth with both sets of vets multiple times discussing the outcomes, and for 5 days I don’t think either of us slept or ate or drank anything as we tried to care for Sasha and do what was best for her.

It was a horrible day. At least for us. For her though, she got to have one final day where we played with her, chased her around the room and cuddled her as she napped. She got to binky like a mad bunny all morning and eat banana with no limitations. She was her wonderful, silly, happy bunny once more and I will forever be thankful that we got to spend one more day with her as that silly bunny that we loved more than anything.

We started March 2020 as a family of 6, and yet a year later we are now just a family of 3. Merry and Pippin hurt, but they were old and it was their time. Sasha was only 2, and by rabbit standards still a young bunny with a long life ahead of her. But whatever was wrong with her was something that we believe she had been born with. It was something that we could never have anticipated and it was something that we could very likely never have found out the truth about without putting her through hell. But I also know that in her two years, she never went a single day without binkies, without a warm rug to sleep on and a huge living room to play in. She never had to fear for predators or the elements because every night she was snuggled up with us and Lola in front of the TV. She could flop wherever she pleased and pellets and fresh greens were never in short supply. She had us wrapped around her little paws and she never knew a day where she wasn’t loved or safe. She never had to question if she mattered. Because she was, and always will be, our darling Sasha.

I did not know it was possible to cry so much. I love her. I will always love her and I will always miss her. But I also know that now, finally, she is at peace and will never have to experience that pain ever again. She will be our happy binky bunny forever. Even if this mean that I am miserable for the rest of my life, it would have been worth it to know that she never had to experience pain ever again.

I am sorry for the somewhat depressing note. If any of you have ever lost a pet then you know how heart wrenching it can be and just how big a hole they leave in your life when they go. I am so honoured to have been Sasha’s mom and I am so thankful that we got to spend even 2 years with her. She taught me to never take anything too seriously. To always appreciate a soft rug and good banana. To always be willing to play. She also taught me just what I am capable of withstanding and I am very proud of me and my partner for making this decision in her best interest and not ignoring the issues just so we could keep her with us. It was not fair on her and it would have been unkind to keep her living in pain just so we didn’t have to say goodbye.

I am going to take a week off from posting now to just…be. I am going to celebrate the life of a truly special little bunbun and spend some extra time with Lola and my partner. Just us three. I’m going to give Lola so many cuddles that she will probably end up hating me! Our family may have gotten smaller this year, but I truly believe that we have managed to give all of our fur babies the best lives possible, and that is something that I will never doubt.

Sweet dreams Sasha Bunny. I will love you endlessly and your brothers will be there to meet you at the end of the rainbow bridge.

Stay safe everyone, and give all of your pets extra treats and snuggles in honour of our silly bean. I’ll see you all next week.

T xxx

Why perfection is a myth

Following on my previous post, I wanted to take another little opportunity to reiterate that veganism is not an all or nothing lifestyle. That just because you are vegan does not mean that you also have to try and right every other wrong in the world. The idea of the ‘perfect person’ is a myth and it is not something I would ever tell people to try and aspire to be.

I have met so many vegans who burn themselves out because they try to do too much. The reality is, the world is a very messed up place and there will always be someone in need of help. I have nothing but admiration for those people who do try to help everyone they meet and to fight for every cause under the sun, but I also see these people burn out so quickly and get so bogged down in the badness that they don’t ever stop to just enjoy even the smallest things.

I try to help the homeless as much as possible, but I also do not earn that much money and at the end of the day I still have my own bills to pay, my own pets to support and my own roof to support. I give food when I can and spare change when I have it, but I will never advocate for anyone to bankrupt themselves just to help others. Because that doesn’t help solve the larger situation nor is it a long term solution for the homelessness crisis.

I try not to support big corporation businesses, but if the only place available for me to meet my friends for a coffee is a Starbucks then so be it. I make sure to always have a reusable mug in my bag or to use my own metal straws. But no matter how good a person you are you will never be able to do everything, and I think it is so damaging to have that perfectionist mindset.

As I have mentioned previously, one of the most damaging parts of the vegan community is the idea that veganism is about being perfect. That if you cannot be perfect then you might as well not even bother being vegan. The reality is though that everyone has their own life outside of their vegan one: We all have hectic jobs and busy family lives and complex social circles that we are constantly trying to juggle. So yes, you may want to only go to a locally owned, completely plant based bistro, but if your family want to go to a chain because it’s the only place that offers an option for everyone, then it doesn’t mean you are a ‘bad vegan’. If you work somewhere which involves working with a lot of paper or plastic, then you are not a ‘bad environmentalist’.

Over the years I have tried my best to help as many as possible in the best way that I can. I cannot financially support every homeless person I see, but I can donate old clothes to homeless shelters, and share resources with my wider community in the hope of inspiring them to also assist. I donate to charities that can provide long lasting support to those in need and I try to always educate myself on how these situations come to be. It can be anything from drugs, to mental health issues to just bad luck and tough times. I do my best to signpost people to charities or resources that could help them get back on their feet and to move forward with their lives.

I also cannot save every single animal from torture. At least not over night. If the most I can do is simply not eat meat and dairy and eggs, then that is still a powerful statement to make. I share resources on my social media, on this blog and in my general discussions with people that I meet who ask me about why I’m vegan and sometimes those little acts can inspire someone else to start refusing meat products or to swap their dairy for nut milk. In the grand scheme of things I am not on the picket lines protesting against factory farming, but I am still doing what I am able to do in my current situation.

And I think that is the most important thing to remember when it comes to any type of activism, is that you can only do what you can do. In many cases you simply sharing resources or information online is more than enough. One of your followers could see that picture of a baby cow being torn away from it’s mother and change their diet there and then. They could then forward it onto to other people who also decide to change their diet and to stop supporting the meat industry and it snowballs from there. All because you shared one little picture. Sometimes it can be so hard to see the far reaching influence that we as individuals have, even though there is literally an entire career market based on being an influencer. If someone can convince you that you need to try this new make up product, what’s to say you can’t convince someone else to give up eggs?

Veganism is about living a life that causes as little pain as is possible. No matter what you do, you will never be perfect and someone who obsessed over ‘Perfection’ for the majority of my teens and twenties, let me tell you it is never achievable. There will always be an injustice somewhere int he world that will need righting and so you will never achieve that utopia you chase after. Sometimes, when I get so depressed at the state of the world and the issues that are so prevalent within my society, I stop and I just sit for a moment. I try to remember that even if I was the only vegan in the entire world, by not eating beef I saved at least one cow’s life. By not eating eggs, I have saved at least one female hen from a life of demand. By not eating dairy, one baby cow gets to stay with their mom. And if I never achieve anything else in my life, I know that at least I have done that.

If you ever need a reminder of the impact that you as one person can have, even by simply changing your eating habits, see this calculator. Even the smallest of acts matter and over time those tiny acts can have massive impacts across the world. Veganism is going from strength to strength and the number of people changing to a vegan lifestyle are doubling every month, let alone every year. Below is my impact and…ignoring everything else, 1915 animals are alive today because of me. My goal in life has always been to save animals, so I am pretty bloomin’ chuffed!

Above all things I want people to remember to look after themselves. If you don’t look after yourself, you will not be able to do as much as you want to do and it will inevitably lead to you to feeling nothing but disappointment and sadness. Their is a wonderful phrase which says that when you are on an aeroplane, the first thing they say to you if there is an emergency is to put your own mask on first. Once you have your own mask on, you can then help everyone around you. It is a phrase that I have been hearing more and more, especially with 2020 and the whole COVID19 malarkey, and yet it is such a true statement. You need to look after you first, and everything else will come together easier.

I made this blog as a little way to share my vegan journey, and if I happen to help a few people come to grips with the lifestyle then I consider this a success. I want this blog to be a place of open and free discussion, so if you have questions, or resources or thought that you just want to share, my comments and emails are always open to you.

Stay safe everyone, and I shall see you all soon!

T xxx

Should vegans get vaccinations?

I have been seeing a lot of stuff going around online lately about whether vegans can have vaccinations and still call themselves vegans. It is an issue that is very much up for debate, even if you are not vegan. Personally, I will always advocate for modern medicine as much as possible and it is something that I feel very strongly about. I do not think it makes you any less of a vegan or any less of an animal activist if you require modern medicine or vaccinations throughout your life time.

One of the biggest issues I have with the vegan community sometimes is the thought that veganism is an all or nothing approach: If you cannot be 100% vegan in every single aspect of your life, then you are not truly a vegan. And it really really REALLY bugs me. It is an impossible standard to try to achieve and it can be hugely damaging to people who are just starting their vegan journey.

Obviously you need to do your own research in vaccinations and medicine and make your own mind up about it all. But for me, I will never and have never advocated that vegans should not take modern medicine or should not take vaccinations. It is a reality of life that you will, at some point, require medication – even if it is just painkillers for a headache or some cough medicine for a cold. While animal testing is – unfortunately – a very big aspect of modern life for the sake of medicine, it is one of those areas that is constantly progressing too. There is constant research being carried out to find alternatives to animal testing and I truly believe that soon animal testing will not be necessary.

That being said, this change – as with all changes in the world – happens gradually., and i think it is even more damaging to the cause to think that the issues within society around animal exploitation can be changed overnight. These issues will take years, possibly even decades, to fully eradicate and it would be naive and dangerous to ignore the reality of this. If you need medicine to cope with day to day life (such as if you are asthmatic, have allergies, depression or mental health issues that need medication to regulate) then I will always encourage you to take that medicine. You need to look after yourself first. If the vegan community does not look after themselves first, then who will be there to fight for the animals and to challenge the practices currently in place? It does not make you a hypocrite, especially if you depend on medication to just get you through the day.

The vaccination for COVID19 is being rolled out very quickly now and I for one cannot wait to get the vaccine. Yes, I know that thousands of animals had to suffer in order for this vaccination to be allowed for commercial use, but once we have all been vaccinated we can get back to demonstrations, talks and protests to continue fighting that fight for the animals. If anything, the fact that animals are the only way to test medicine is a huge issue: If we had multiple alternatives that were correctly funded, researched and utilised within the medical industry, then vaccines and medication could be rolled out way faster and in much larger numbers due to the fact that we are not relying on only one method of testing to green-light any of the products.

Society is constantly evolving, and there have been huge steps forward for animal rights in the last five years. Imagine what we could do in the next five years?! The idea that veganism and activism requires a certain degree of perfection is damaging, illogical and – quite frankly – idiotic. NO ONE can ever be perfect in any aspect of their lives and I think it is horrible to try and force the vegan community to aim for that. You can only do what you can do: The entire ethos behind veganism is to live a life which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. It is about doing as much as possible with what you have, and in some cases that may be something as small as sharing petitions on social media or simply following a plant based diet.

You need to look after you, and in the modern world in which we live that includes taking modern medicine when you need it. I for one will definitely be getting the vaccine (and any other vaccines and medicine that is required of me throughout my life) as it will keep my body healthy and allow me to continue doing the activism work which I am so very passionate about.

Some further reading if you are interested in learning more about this topic:

There are hundreds of resources out there, so if you find any that you find very helpful or informative please do leave a comment below with a link.

Stay safe everyone, and look after yourselves and each other.

T xxx