The Good Life: Protecting the Babbits

Rabbits have long since been considered a pest in Australia. I mean, the longest unbroken fence in the world was built in the country to keep the rabbits out of precious farming territory.

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The Greater Bilby, endangered in Queensland.  Photo courtesy of DHP

Besides, there’s well documented evidence that the introduction of rabbits can vastly alter the ecosystem. Heck, the adorable little rabbit is believed to be responsible for the decline of several Australian native species such as the Greater Bilby through habitat destruction.

It is no surprise that the Australian government works to control the feral rabbit population through regular releases of biological agents like the Calicivirus[1] (aka Rabbit Haemorrhagic Diseases). In fact, a planned release of the virus is happening across 1,000 sites across Australia as we speak!

For those of you not in the know, the Calicivirus is a very nasty killer. It basically makes your rabbit bleed out internally, until it finally dies from the stress. BUT! A vaccination for this horrible disease does exist and is available at most local vet clinics! Both Bonnie and Clyde are regularly vaccinated against Calicivirus, so they’re covered in the event of a planned release.

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Bonnie and Clyde after being vaccinated.  They’re very upset about the whole situation, but it’s for their own good!

That being said, it doesn’t hurt to take extra precautions to protect the rabbits from the dangers of horrible diseases. Both Calicivirus and Myxamatosis are spread by flies and mosquitoes, so you should take steps to insect-proof any rabbit play areas.

To protect our precious bunnies, The Boobook and I lined Bonnie and Clyde’s outdoor hutch with UV protected mosquito netting. It’s a little bit expensive, but at least it’ll keep them safe.  Plus, we’ve lined the bottom with thick gauge chicken wire so that they can’t dig their way to freedom and get themselves hurt.

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Mosquito-proofed babbit home!

So, now our babbits are free to dance and play in the sun and are safe from the virus come rain or shine!  If you’d like more information on how to protect your rabbits during this viral release, RSPCA Australia has some very useful information and advice available.


[1]Calicivirus is pronounced Khaleesi-virus, but doesn’t have anything to do with dragons, unless you count the fact that it kills kinda messily.

Debs G responds: Skycat from the Sky

Okay okay okay, A Becky Lee, your version of the Skycat Phenomenon seems a wee bit different from what I actually remember!

A little bit of background first:

  1. A Becky Lee has a history of live animal smuggling. A Becky Lee, animal smuggling since 1995.
  2. This happened what I was in London and A Becky Lee was a student in Sydney.
  3. At the time of the Skycat Phenomenon, A Becky Lee had been feeling lonely and isolated in Sydney (it was winter at the time and Sydney winters are dark and rainy and wretched) and her proposed solution to this issue was that she needed a Kitten. The Aged Ps said that she could not buy a kitten because kittens require time, attention and financial resources for proper care, which A Becky Lee would only be able to provide at the expense of her studies and personal nutrition. A Becky Lee responded to this parental logic by crying and generally being utterly miserable about it.
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I so sad. So sad. (Picture credit: Pikachu)

So, when A Becky Lee rang me up at dinnertime in Sydney, I was already midway through a morning ward round and had ducked into an empty side room to take the phone call.

I answer my phone and off goes an excited jabbering in my ear with A Becky Lee yelling DEBS DEBS THERE IS A CAT I HAVE A CAT IN MY HOUSE.

I am appalled at the news. I go straight into Big Sister Mode. “What?! Didn’t the Aged Ps just tell you that you are NOT allowed to have a cat? What are you thinking?!”

A Becky Lee moans, “I didn’t BUY a cat, I don’t know how it got here, it’s just here, it came from heaven or something!”

I am even more appalled. What does she mean “it came from heaven”?

I hiss into the phone, “What are you even SAYING?! Don’t make things up to suit your own purposes! Look, I know you want a cat, but God did not send you a magical cat to defy your parents! Did it follow you home or something? Okay okay, you know what, never mind, you just have to put it back outside where you got it fr…”

“No, LISTEN TO ME YOU BAKA, “A Becky Lee interrupts me, sounding aggrieved, “I don’t WANT this cat. It fell onto my balcony and I don’t know how it got there; when I opened the balcony door and it ran under the couch and I want it OUT. The mice are FREAKING OUT.”

I realise that A Becky Lee is telling the truth, because this is exactly the sort of stupid thing that only can happen to her. “Oh, right. It’s probably scared, maybe you should…”

A Becky Lee shrieks. Loudly.

“….leave it alone.” I finish my sentence and rub my forehead, sighing to myself. She must have tried to drag it out from its hiding place and the blessed creature probably scratched her.

A Becky Lee continues shrieking incoherently down the phone, “What am I supposed to do?”

I start to explain that maybe she can call animal services to ask their advice because the cat is probably microchipped, when she hangs up on me. Typical.

About, twenty minutes later, I get another call from A Becky Lee. She is much more calm this time and the cat has been returned to its rightful owner, but she’s still feeling on edge from all the excitement.

After we discuss where she can get some antiseptic cream for the cat scratches, I burst out laughing at her.

“Why you laugh at meeeeeeeee?” whines A Becky Lee.

“You, lah!” I say, laughing, “Only this sort of stupid thing can happen to you.”

And from here we learn:
1) Listen to your older sister before doing anything stupid.

2) If you want sympathy after doing something stupid, you won’t get it from your older sister. She will laugh in your face.

*boom*

Minion Mic Drop - Imgur

Picture credit: Imgur

More Animals for the Family

Since the new house that The Boobook and I moved into is much larger than my little apartment and has a spacious garden, we decided to add a little to our family by getting a pair of rabbits!

It’s best to get rabbits in a pair so that they can keep each other company.  As prey animals, rabbits tend towards having a little bit of a protective warren mentality.  A single rabbit on its own might get a little lonely.

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Our new rabbits, Bonnie and Clyde!

It just so happened that a friend of mine happened to have some spare baby rabbits.  See, she’d gotten a pair of rabbits from a neighbour who swore up and down that they were desexed.

Well, they weren’t.  So within a week of her getting the little animals, they did what rabbits did and she was inundated with lots of little mini-lop rabbits.

Bonnie and Clyde (or Bonbon and Clydie, as we call them) were the last pair left of the first litter and she’d kept them aside for me just so that I could have them.  They’re sweet rabbits, both female and extremely well bonded!

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Chillin’ after a good grooming.

Bonnie, the blue rabbit, is more human-friendly.  She loves her cuddles, pats and scritches, especially behind the ears!  She’s always looking out for Clyde and loves to lick and groom her friends (even her human friends!)

Clyde, the brown rabbit, is more temperamental.  She’s got an opinion and she’s not afraid to show it!  She’ll tolerate patting, but absolutely hates to be picked up.  She’s much more adventurous than Bonnie is, and absolutely loves her food!  She’s often face-first in the hay loft as soon as it’s filled.

Either way, I’m happy to have them.  They’re a happy addition to our family.  If they’re well cared for, rabbits can live up to 12 years, so J, Little E and Thumper will have plenty of chances to meet them when you come up to visit!

Now, all this writing has tuckered me out.  I think I’ll have a nap.

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Grief, Loss and Small Children (Part 1): Breaking Bad News

Hey Meimei,

Sorry about Clio. It sounds like she was a lovely pet rat and it must have been a tough decision to have her euthanised. I’ll have to tell J and Little E about her – they’ll remember her from when their last visit to Australia.

How could you possibly say no to that cute widdle face?

When we first started this blog, you asked me once about introducing pets to kids. The Barn Owl and I have always thought it important for the kids to be kind to animals so we have always encouraged J and Little E to interact with animals (under supervision, of course) and they have even had the opportunity to keep siamese fighting fish last year.

Well, one of the very important things to remember about keeping pets, is that at some point kids (and parents, too) will have to deal with the eventual loss of their beloved pet.

Two years ago, the Outlaws also had to make the decision to euthanise their cat. Poppy, as she was known, was a wild cat that the Mother Outlaw tamed over the course of several months. Poppy had always been a rather anxious sort of cat, but as she got older she became increasingly more neurotic, often biting her own tail. The tip of the tail became infected, dripping blood and pus everywhere and would only heal after a course of antibiotics and sedatives. The sedatives made Poppy clumsy and she would fall over whilst walking around the house. Without the sedatives, Poppy would start attacking her tail again, reinfecting it.

Eventually, the vet told the Outlaws that Poppy was mentally stressed and that there was no other way to help her other than to amputate her tail and then keep her on sedatives for the rest of her life in order to prevent her from attacking the stump. The Outlaws then made the decision to have Poppy euthanised.

J and Little E had quite a good relationship with Poppy, who was surprisingly tolerant of them despite her skittish nature, allowing them to approach her and stroke her. Whenever we spoke with the Outlaws over Skype, the children would eagerly ask after Poppy who was quite often sitting near the computer on the bed or on the windowsill. Needless to say, when we got the news from the Outlaws, we knew that we had to let J and Little E know that Poppy had died.

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Little E gets up close and personal with Poppy the Cat

Both the Barn Owl and I have had formal training in how to break bad news during our medical undergraduate days, so we employed some of these techniques with J and Little E – with some changes of course.

First, we prep the kids for the bad news by helping them to anticipate what is to come. We put on our most sombre expression and follow it up with a statement like, “Hey, Mummy and Daddy have something serious to tell you so can you come and sit with us in the study once you are done putting away your toys?”. This gives them a little bit of time to steel themselves emotionally.

Next, we choose a quiet, distraction-free place to talk to them. This means that we do not begin our discussion whilst in the car, in the playground or in front of the television. We turn our phones off so that there are no interruptions. We also make sure that the kids are in a safe and secure environment where they will feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings. Usually this means that they are sitting in our lap or cradled in our arms.

When breaking bad news, go straight to the point and avoid using any euphemisms. It’s actually surprisingly difficult to say something as simple as “Poppy is dead.” People sometimes prefer to use terms like, “passed on” or “gone to a better place”. For children, those phrases can be confusing and obtuse, leading to awkward questions such as “Where did they pass on to?” and “Why aren’t we at this ‘better place’ as well?”.

Another thing that we do is that we tell the children the truth, in as much detail as they want to know. This seems a obvious thing to do but it is difficult to resist the urge to make the truth more palatable in order to avoid difficult questions, especially with regards to euthanising pets. Answer your child’s questions as directly as possible, keeping your answers clear and simple and avoiding the use of jargon.

The last thing that we do is to keep the communication channel open so that the kids can ask questions at any time. Kids do not always have an immediate or appropriate reaction to bad news and they take a lot longer to process information, especially emotionally loaded information. This means that your initial conversation may proceed like this:

Debs G: J, you remember Poppy the cat?
J: Yeah.
Debs G: Well, Poppy died.
J: Oh.
(silence)
Debs G: If you want to ask me anything about what happened, go ahead.
J: I have a question.
Debs G: Ok. What do you want to know?
J: Can I go and play with my blocks now?
Debs G: Yes.

This reaction may be surprising to adults, but it is no means an indication that the child is indifferent to the news nor that the conversation is over. If your child reacts in this manner, don’t press them for their thoughts and feelings or continue to repeat yourself in the hopes of eliciting a response (‘DEAD! I said it’s DEAD! Did you hear me?’). It may be necessary to give kids some space, maybe even some time alone while they think about the news. J actually came back to me about an hour later, wanting to talk more about Poppy, and this time he was very sad and tearful, wanting a hug and more information.

Going Over the Rainbow Bridge

When I was on holiday, I received a message from the pet care facility where I’d boarded my rats.  Clio, my black berkshire rat with the sweet personality, was losing condition and wasn’t responding to antibiotics.  The owner of the facility was very apologetic and warned me that Clio did not look anything like she did when she first went to boarding.

Clio greeted me happily upon my return, but she was a lot worse for wear.  The facility owner and I discussed her symptoms and agreed that it was highly likely that she didn’t have a viral condition, but a neurological one – possibly a stroke.  She’d developed a head tilt and could no longer walk straight.  Still, as Clio nuzzled my fingers, I thought that since she was still eating and making happy rat sounds (bruxing), that perhaps we could get her back to her old condition through good feeding and careful care.

Over the next few days, Clio would greet me happily whenever I went to the cage.  She still ate and drank, though her fur remained raggedy and her eyes were often crusted with porphyrin[1].  Every morning, I would clean her eyes and feed her by hand.  When I did so, she always rewarded me by bruxing and nuzzling my fingers.

…But her condition didn’t change.  In fact, she worsened.  She spent more and more time asleep.  When she was awake, she would toddle in circles and fall over.  Sometimes, she would attempt to climb the cage walls to greet me, but would always fall over after the third or fourth rung.  After a while, she would stretch out her legs involuntarily whenever she was picked up because of her balance issues and possibly because she was having difficulty breathing.  But… she always nuzzled my fingers and bruxed, as if to show willing.

On Thursday, two weeks after I took her home, I realised that Clio wasn’t going to improve.  She was getting worse every day, slowing down and sleeping more.  Some mornings, the porphyrin crusting was so bad that she couldn’t open her eyes.  It was clear that she was dying… and that she was in a lot of pain.

So, we decided to have her put down.  We took her to the vet who told us that yes, Clio wasn’t going to improve, but that putting her to sleep was a difficult decision.  She gave us two options:

  1. Bring Clio home and manage her pain until she died naturally.
  2. Have her put down immediately.

Making the decision to put an animal to sleep is very difficult.  Generally, there’s a gut feeling when it’s time to say goodbye to an animal.  Most of the time, your pet’s behaviour will clue you into how they’re feeling, especially if you’re close to them.  Clio stopped playing with her cagemate and spent most of her days asleep.  Towards the end, she was really slowing down and though she would rouse herself and eat, it took her a long time to wake up.  Though Clio never lost interest in her food or water (something I always take as a sign that an animal is dying, as once they stop eating, the end is almost certainly near), it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to get the food she wanted.

If you’re already asking yourself whether or not you should be putting your pet to sleep, in a way, you sort of know if you should.

However, you should always speak to your vet about your pet’s condition before making any serious decisions.  Sometimes, a pet in a great deal of pain can be treated with hard work.  If your vet is only offering pain management options and has let you know that the disease is terminal, then it’s up to you.  Euthanasia isn’t for everyone, which is why our vet gave us the option of managing her pain until she died naturally.

Either way, losing a pet is hard, so always give it lots of thought before you decide for or against putting your pet to sleep.

Since I couldn’t bear to see Clio suffer anymore, I made the decision to have her put to sleep.  The vet took her away, then brought her back in a little box.

I cried a little.

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Clio’s gravesite.  RIP Clio.

We buried the box in our backyard and planted a blueberry bush over it as a memorial.  Clio had expensive taste and she always loved blueberries.


[1] A reddish oil produced by rats naturally to soften their fur.  A sick rat often overproduces this oil and can’t groom it through the fur properly, leading to it crusting around the eyes and nose.

June Holiday Excursions 2015: A Visit to the SPCA

Today, J was very busy with Other Things, so I had the opportunity to spend some time with Little E!

Now that Thumper has arrived, she has been such a great big sister to him, but I still want to show her that having a small baby around does not mean that she will not be receiving any attention from me. This is why I planned a little excursion just for her!

We started out by having a Very Leisurely Breakfast at the Ya Kun Kaya Toast branch down at Holland Village. I ordered a set of steamed bread with kaya which came with a nice cup of tea (for me) as well as soft boiled eggs in a dish. Little E had a cup of Milo to herself and happily ate the runny eggs with a spoon, occasionally taking a mouthful of fluffy steamed bread.

Tasty soft boiled eggs with soya sauce

Tasty soft boiled eggs with soya sauce, steamed bread and hot drinks!

Afterwards, we drove down to the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). The Barn Owl and I want to teach the children to respect nature and be kind to animals, and we have always said that if we ever decide to welcome a dog or a cat into our family, we would probably adopt one from a rescue shelter.

This was Little E’s first visit to the SPCA animal shelter so along the way, I talked to her about why animal shelters exist and the responsibility that pet owners have towards their pets.

She was very impressed by the idea that people would buy pets on impulse only to abandon them later on, and she was shocked that there were people who would actively abuse animals.

At the SPCA

At the SPCA

It was pretty busy down at the SPCA, much busier than I expected. There were volunteers taking the dogs for walks or bathing them, and others in the cattery grooming the cats.

Exploring the SPCA

Exploring the SPCA

The dogs got a little overexcited when we approached and started up a real hullabaloo which put Little E off visiting with them, so she decided to stay within the cattery, which was much more quiet.

There were some helpful volunteers who encouraged Little E to handle the animals gently and took the time to talk to her about the challenges of rehoming and rehabilitating animals who have been abused or neglected.

In the cattery

In the cattery

We found out that the SPCA is moving from their current premises at Mt Vernon, to a much larger facility located in Sungei Tengah. The new animal shelter will have much more room to house more animals, and will include a rehabilitation centre as well as an exercise and agility course.

When Little E heard about this, she said that she wanted to help build more homes for stray animals – so I took her to the SPCA shop and she bought a little bracelet for herself and a yellow button for J. She also dropped some of her angpow money into the donations box! Yay, Little E!

Support the SPCA!

Support the SPCA!

SPCA Singapore

31 Mt Vernon Road, Singapore 368054

Opening hours are from 11am – 4pm daily (closed on Thursdays)

If you would like to make a donation towards the new animal shelter, you can do so here.

Fish are Betta Pets

Now that J and Little E are both in preschool, we figured that it was a good time to let them help to take care of a small animal. They are still a little bit young to be responsible for caring for a small furry creature, so we decided to choose a relatively low maintenance, hardy pet – a fish.

The Husband and I used to keep tropical fish in a small tank when we were still living in the UK, and they are actually quite finicky creatures to look after in a cold country – we were forever measuring the temperature, pH levels and nitrate levels in the water, and making sure that our little underwater community got along well. This is why we did not think that fish would be a suitable pet for a young child.

However, in Little E’s classroom this year, there is a tiny little plastic tank containing a single fish and a marimo ball. Little E’s teacher told me that the fish has already survived one year of living in a nursery-level classroom, constantly surrounded by little children…and it seems to be happy and healthy.

This fish is Betta splendens – better known as the Siamese Fighting Fish. Little E’s teacher explained to me that the Betta is one that thrives in small amount of stagnant water in a warm environment, which makes it the perfect little aquariam fish for small children living in small apartments, who will only need to feed it once daily and change the water weekly (grownups can help clean the tank).

Inspired by this revelation, we took J and Little E on a surprise trip to the local aquarium store and allowed them to each choose a Betta fish to keep! Here they are:

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GingerBomb

This is J’s Betta. GingerBomb is a Steel blue Piebald Deltatail. Ginger is a quiet fish who likes to hang out behind his marimo ball, but he comes out to play whenever J comes near the tank (which is why J liked him to begin with).

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TataBob

E’s betta is a Red Dragon Deltatail and is called TataBob. He is very flashy and is a little bit of a show off. You can see him posing for the camera in the picture – he held that pose very still for nearly a minute and only wandered off once I’d put the camera away!

I’ll keep you all updated as to their progress!