Guest Post #1 – Pandemic Pets; How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

As I mentioned in my post last week, I’m starting a new guest feature here on The Glorious Outsiders, looking at how our pets might have helped us through the pandemic. Last week I wrote about getting a ‘lockdown puppy’, something that we did as a family, by accident, I might add. (We were already on a waiting list for a puppy before the first lockdown happened.) Our new bundle of joy plus our other dog and various pets are always well loved and appreciated, but during both lockdowns, their role in our home became even more obvious and vital. Please welcome author Lily Hayden to the blog – today she will be telling us about the lost rabbit they found during lockdown and goes on to express concern for the many unwanted and abandoned animals out there.

PETS DURING THE PANDEMIC

We humans have been sharing our homes with animals since ancient times. Back in the day, historians speculate that ours was a mutually beneficial relationship, domesticating dogs for hunting and protection, and cats to rid our safe spaces of rodents. Fast forward to present day and our relationships have evolved. We seem to have an obsession with sharing our indoor space with another species for comfort and companionship.

The mental health benefits are widely publicised; pet owners surveyed report lower stress levels, higher happiness and increased activity resulting in better physical health. The downsides are also well known- increased responsibility, financial costs, lack of freedom. Unlike children who will (probably) grow up and move out, these animals will be dependent on you to varying degrees for their entire life with no days off.

During lockdown, we did inadvertently add another fluffy family member to an already full house when my husband found a rabbit in the street. I managed to eventually track down the owner, but they did not want him back. With four other animals and five humans in the house, I figured that my stress levels could stretch to one more.

I must add at this point that I really wanted to write a heart-warming tale of how much I love the animals that live in my house, how unique they all are with different personalities and funny habits. Because hand on my heart, they are a constant source of joy. Even though they are messy, sometimes smell, are needy, and constantly under my feet, they are beautiful, comforting, peaceful, and my home and my heart would be emptier without them. In just under a month, I have developed a lovely bond with the rabbit which is just as well as he sleeps under my bed and jumps on the bed to tell me his food bowl is empty.

Thiago the rabbit is sadly just one of many animals that find themselves being rehomed, and amidst the confusion and heartbreak they must feel, they are fortunate in that that their owners ensured that they went to a safe place. Thousands of not-so-lucky animals are dumped or abandoned every year.

Lockdown has seen a rise in the number of homes acquiring a pet. The retail price for puppies has shot up with unprecedented demand during the pandemic, and I know there are many families that have provided loving, forever homes for their new addition. But equally, I can see that online selling pages are full of animals that aren’t sweet, little babies anymore, and I do worry what will happen to some of these in the future.

A good friend of mine who doesn’t have any pets began fostering cats during lockdown, and the condition of the first cat that came to her was nothing short of heart-breaking and he sadly had to be put to sleep due to his health. She bravely decided to take on another; the tiniest little boy that was no more than skin and bones when he was found dumped in a box with two siblings that were sadly too small to survive.

While the majority would find this, and rightly so, horrendous, it is worrying that trading animals as a commodity and breeding animals for financial gain is something that doesn’t make us all uncomfortable. To us, they might just be a cute companion, but to them we are their whole world, and even more so during lockdown where suddenly sixty percent of the working population in the UK are working from home.

In 2019, the RSPCA took in 10,564 dogs and 29,432 cats. There are hundreds of other animal rescues and charities, dedicated to ensuring that animals remain safe and cared for, taking in thousands more, but they are all struggling with a lack of resources, adoptions and vital fundraising on hold, due to the pandemic. While we are all looking forward to a return to normality, they are justifiably concerned about an influx of unwanted animals in the not-so-distant future.

So, if an animal has brought you love and comfort during this time, when you’re in a position to do so, please support the thousands of animals out there that haven’t been lucky enough to find a home like yours through donating, sponsoring or offering any time that you can spare.

Thank you so much to Lily for joining us on the blog today. If you would like to find out more about her books, here is the link https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Hayden/e/B07CR8KF7D

And if you would like to talk about your pets and how they have helped you get through the pandemic, please get in touch as I would love to hear from you! Blog posts, stories and poems all welcome.

Pandemic Pets; How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Like everyone else in the country, I sat in a kind of shocked stupor when it was first announced that we would be going into lockdown. I think the biggest shock for most of us was the school closures and onset of home learning. As I write this, England is in another lockdown, though a far less strict one this time around. Mostly, life appears to be going on as normal. Of course by ‘normal’ I mean the ‘new normal’ of social distancing, bubbles, hand sanitising and face mask wearing. Isn’t it weird how quickly we all get used to things like this?

We all live such day-to-day lives now, don’t we? We really can’t plan too far ahead. Especially when it comes to things like weddings, birthdays and Christmas. We all just shrug helplessly and say; ‘we’ll see what happens.’ And that’s a weird and unsettling way to live your life, not being able to plan much, not knowing anything for sure. Young children are good at living like that; they tend to live in the moment, not looking too far ahead. Animals are the same; they have little concept of time or future and so don’t worry about it like we do.

During the first national lockdown, there was a growing and slightly worrying trend of people purchasing ‘lockdown puppies’. For anyone who already had a dog, or had been planning to get one, this was probably a sensible idea, as long as social distancing rules were adhered to etc. But for anyone who bought a puppy on a whim because they were bored, not so good, and I fully expect to see a lot of these lockdown puppies end up in rescue before long.

Having said that, I truly believe that owning pets is massively beneficial to your mental and physical health, and perhaps that was what drove some of this. As well as puppies and kittens, there was also a huge increase in people chicken-keeping for the first time too.

I’ve been an animal lover my entire life. I grew up surrounded by a much loved menagerie of dogs, cats, guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits and I’m just the same in my adult life. We have dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and ducks and chickens and until recently pet rats and hamsters too.

Often, I prefer animals to people, or at least I prefer their company and find them generally a lot less stressful to be around. During the first strict lockdown, in the messy middle of home-schooling and juggling work, I found myself turning to my animals even more. I spent as much time as I could outside, and we were so lucky that the majority of the lockdown weather was absolutely glorious. I felt so blessed to be sat in the sun in my large garden, with the cockerel crowing and the ducks quacking.

We were one of the families who got a lockdown puppy, though ours was planned before lockdown happened. In February, a month after I lost my beloved lurcher Skipper, I came across an ad from a lady whose beautiful lurcher was due to have puppies in March. We made contact, spoke on the phone and after she had carefully vetted me, I was put on the list. The day before the puppies were born, we went into lockdown and it became very uncertain as to whether we would get one or not.

As luck would have it, the travel restrictions were lifted just as the pups turned 8 weeks old and we were able to pick our beautiful boy Jesse up mid-May. He certainly entered our lives at the perfect time. We were starting to lag…starting to get on each other’s nerves, starting to get itchy feet. It was getting hard. But having Jesse and integrating him into our family was the perfect distraction and gave us all something positive to focus on. I will always be grateful to him for that. He is now 7 months old and a truly beautiful boy with the sweetest soul. I’ve never had such a loving loyal dog before, he is just adorable in every way, and so smart too!

Jesse at 8 weeks

But even before he arrived, I was so grateful to have my pets in my life. At the start of home schooling me and the kids fell into a routine, where we would start the day with PE, do a few lessons and then take our older lurcher Tinks for a long walk before lunch. We really looked forward to these walks, and it was lovely to have the kids with me and Tinks, when usually they would be at school. We integrated some of our learning into the walks, sometimes had picnics, played in streams, ran down hills and played hide and seek. I’m not sure we would have done all those things daily if we had not had a dog to walk.

Beautiful Tinks

My dogs are my best friends. They are my family. I love them so much I cannot bear being away from them. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have a dog or who doesn’t like dogs…quite what they give you in return for a warm bed, some yummy food and long walks. What we give them is small in comparison. My dogs welcome me home with wagging tails, warm kisses and the absolutely adorable ‘lurcher lean’! They watch me, listen to me, follow me, and love me for me. They don’t expect or demand anything of me, other than the above mentioned food bed and walk! They make me laugh every day with their antics and loopy smiles. They challenge me – to keep going, to get out, to talk to people, to socialise, to train them, to get better, to be better. I would be far, far less without my dogs and I hate to imagine what lockdown would have been like without them.

As for now, as we navigate through another lockdown and balance precariously between old normal and new normal, between hope and fear, between fragile mental health and steely resilience, I turn to them more and more because they are steady, they are sure, they are always there, just being them. Just being dogs. Living in the moment, not worrying about what tomorrow might bring. I hope that anyone who got a lockdown puppy, kitten or flock of chickens is feeling the same right now, because to have pets in your life during tumultuous times is truly a wonderful gift.

Home schooling with chickens in tow

How about you? Did you get a pet during lockdown? How is it working out? If you already had pets, tell me about them and how they have helped you during the pandemic. I’m starting this as a new guest feature so get in touch if you and your furry friends have a story to share. It can be a non-fiction piece or a story or a poem!

Time to Dig Deep

It was predictable but here we go again – heading into another lockdown in England. Like a lot of people I’d been expecting this for some time as the rate of infections has been accelerating since September. I know there are divided opinions on the best approach to tackle the dreaded Corona Virus, but I’d class myself as falling into the ‘I don’t want another lockdown but if it saves lives, okay then,’ camp.

The announcement came on Saturday night and today it will be voted through Parliament with the lockdown starting tomorrow, Thursday. It will not be as strict as last time, (which does make me wonder whether it will even work…) with schools, colleges and universities remaining open and essential shops, as well as DIY and garden centres staying open. The advice is work from home ‘if you can’, which will no doubt mean for a lot of people, life will go on as normal. Which again, makes me question what impact this will have on the spread of the virus…

For me, I once again cannot teach my writing clubs and groups in person. Instead, I am forced back online, and I suppose the only good thing about it this time is that I am better prepared. Last time, I just could not act fast enough to what was happening. I think my brain put me in survival mode and for me that meant looking after my kids and ignoring everything else. As the time wore on I did give in and purchase Zoom and I have been holding regular adult writing groups online in this way. There is no reason why my other groups cannot go online, but unfortunately children seem less keen to do this, and I have not had a good response so far to my proposed Zoom clubs.

The other positive is that having predicted this would happen, I undertook a Copy-Editing and Proofreading course and at the moment I am providing these services for free to a few authors with the agreement that they will write testimonials for my website. Editing and proofreading their work is also a great experience for me. The plan is my CIC Chasing Driftwood Writing Group will soon offer extra services to authors in the form of editing and proofreading. I hope eventually this will bring in some money to help replace what I have lost. In the long-term it gives me an income stream that can be achieved working from home.

A few days ago I felt intensely unsettled and anxious. I’m sure a lot of people did as they waited to hear whether their place of work would have to be shut down this time or not. For me, it is the uncertainty that makes me anxious. As soon as I know what is happening, I feel better and I can deal with it. I felt sad driving home from dropping my youngest at school and gave in to a few tears while alone in the car. His school have asked parents to wear face coverings during drop off and pick up time, and of course everyone has complied instantly and without complaint. But it was sad to see all these faceless parents dropping off their children and I could not kiss my son goodbye properly, which really got to me. I thought about the virus and how it has made so many things miserable and joyless. Shopping, mixing with people, moving about and now even the school run. I had my tears but I am over them now. Today I am sat here feeling thankful and positive.

I’m thankful because the schools have not closed so while that remains the case, I can get tons of work done at home without disruption. I’m thankful because I have a new business partner at last to share the load and really push Chasing Driftwood in the right direction, despite the pandemic! I’m thankful because I live in a beautiful area with glorious walks right on my doorstep. I’m thankful that so far my family and loves ones are all happy, healthy and safe from this virus. I’m thankful for my pets and my kids and my garden and all the ways I have to distract myself if I start to feel down.

Last time around, the weather was beautiful and we threw ourselves into gardening. It was a real family effort, transforming areas of the garden and making the most of what we had. It was a life saver and I know it had a massive effect on my moods. Being a woman of a certain age struggling daily with the mood swings of the perimenopause, the pandemic has been an eye opener with regards to mental health.

I am better when I am busy, and I am even better than that when I am outside getting my hands dirty. I was fascinated watching the wonderful AutumnWatch the other day, where they explained the science behind nature elevating our moods. From being near water, walking among trees and even spotting birds, all aspects of nature release mood enhancing hormones in our brains. In particular there is a microbe (Mycobacterium vaccae) in soil that when inhaled by us increases the levels of serotonin, lifting our mood and helping us to feel relaxed and happy.

I can testify to this, because whenever I spend any time gardening I finish off feeling as high as a kite – no kidding! It makes me feel amazing, it really does.

Last lockdown saw a huge rise in people growing fruit and vegetables, tending their gardens, attracting wildlife and so on. This will be harder as we enter Winter but not impossible. I have set myself a challenge. To help me through this uneasy time of reduced income and increased stress, I aim to spend at least half an hour every day in my garden. There is still plenty to do out there and I will not let the cold or the rain deter me. I need it!

So, my advice to anyone with a bit of dirt near them is to dig deep and keep digging. Gardening is productive, positive and rebellious. It reminds us where we came from and links us to our ancestors and their ways of life. It connects us to nature and to wildlife and elevates our mood, making us feel happy and content, despite the crazy world we live in right now.

We are all feeling on edge as the virus increases again, as we worry about our health and the health of our loved ones, as we isolate from the rest of humanity, cover our faces and keep our distances, as we fear a reduction in income and living standards, as we fear so many things….We got through it last time so we know we can get through it again. Talk to each other, help each other, speak up when you are feeling lost and afraid and dig deep, even deeper this time to find the resilience we are going to need to get through it.

(Image by Goumbik from Pixabay)

Guest Post#13 Dreaming of Another World

Last week I shared what I thought would be the last guest post for my Dreaming of Another World feature but I could not resist adding this wonderful piece from 12-year-old Thea. Thea is a hugely talented young writer who attends one of my children’s writing groups. I think you will agree she has a beautiful way with words. Thank you Thea!

Chantelle’s Blog Series from Thea Anne.

The human race has a tendency to rest. We take a breath. We pause. Replenish the energy that we lose in our hectic, busy lives. Sometimes that makes us feel guilty. Sometimes that makes us stressed. Or sometimes we’ll rest too long, and we’ll stop being productive, stop working on what we love because we forget we love it; or at least that we once did.

However you take it, a rest can change things a lot. When we open our eyes they’ll be fresh, clean and never the same.

I remember, months ago, we talked about how covid-19 wasn’t very serious, it wasn’t the end of the world, a pandemic.

Most of all, I remember wishing I could just take a break.

That’s almost what quarantine felt like at first, a rest, a break, a pause, a breath.

At first.

The roads were quiet, no cars rushing past. Their headlights that somehow managed to slip through the gap in my curtains, their polluting fumes slowly crippling the earth. There were no more packs of school children making their way down the street right in front of my house, tossing litter carelessly into my driveway, or on the road. There were no more aeroplanes in the sky for me to watch go past with a smile on my face, although they too thoughtlessly polluted the air.

All my classes were cancelled, the auditions no longer happening, my mother no longer having to spend hours rushing me and my brothers around, me no longer quite knowing what the loneliness I felt was.

I talked to some of my friends more, even if not in person. Yet some I heard from less. Turns out that sometimes people will only talk to you if they want something.

I started listening to music a lot more, sometimes I’d find myself in another world with my headphones on. Turns out reality is the least pleasing place in which we live.

I started writing a lot more too, sometimes pages at a time, sometimes nothing. It helps me understand my feelings better, by letting someone else feel them, that someone being the only one that understands me. Not even I understand me all the time, but they do.

I expected to still hear children, maybe taking a walk for fun, sport, or exercise. I thought there’d be the sound of laughter and children playing in their gardens. But a deafening silence had embraced my home. It sometimes made me think, what is everyone so afraid of? For everyone did seem afraid. Surely the grim reaper won’t take you just for having fun? Surely when you have a rest you should enjoy yourselves? But everyone locked their doors, and pulled the shutters closed. Hid away.

The human race has a tendency to divide themselves, unity preposterous in the eyes of fear. But surely this is the time to change that?

Surely, for all the lives lost, it’s about time to start living one of your own?

A huge thank you to Thea for sharing the post with us. And that really does bring my Dreaming Of Another World feature to a close. Thank you to all the creatives who took part and shared their experiences as well as their stories and poems. Do stay tuned as next week I kick off a new feature for which I will be needing guests again!