So I'm a 30-something who has been keeping pets my entire life, I spent 18 years breeding, showing and judging rabbits as keeping a huge range of animals from reptiles to birds, rodents and invertebrates, and I've been researching and blogging about pets for 11 years... and guess what guys over that time I've made some tremendous mistakes.
I think as a pet keeping community it's time to talk about our mistakes.
This has come about due to the Taylor Nicole Dean situation on youtube. Although I'm not a part of the pet tube community I do watch many channels and saw this scenario unfold. If you are not aware of it a brief overview is Taylor is a VERY popular youtuber who has had some rather awful things thrown around lately and is now defending herself. You can find both for and against videos on youtube and I'm not going to get into it too much. I cannot say that I agree with everything she does regarding her pet care (but the same can be said about many of my own friends) and I certainly don't watch her videos avidly (I'm pretty sure I'm older than her target audience lol). But yes she has made some terrible mistakes in her pet keeping, some of which has resulted in the death of some of her pets...
But they are mistakes all the same and I'm sure she genuinely cares about her animals and that no one will be beating herself up about it more than herself... but its brought out a lot of people preaching a holier than thou attitude lately...
Well you know what, in the 30 years I've been keeping pets, I've made mistakes - and yes some of my animals have died as a result of those mistakes... have I openly talked about them - not so much because they are awful experiences... but perhaps thats the problem. Perhaps us as pet keepers do not share our mistakes enough.
EVERYONE who has kept pets has made mistakes at some point... any pet keeper who claims they have never made a mistake is either:
- still new to pet keeping, trust me with time mistakes happen
- using outdated guidelines - anyone keeping a hamster 10 years ago to the most appropriate guidelines would have been doing it wrong by todays standards - trust me what we know about pets changes so much in a short space of time.
- simply lying or living in denial....
So without further ado I'm going to talk about 10 of my biggest mistakes (believe me I could write a book about the mistakes I've made over the years, but decided to limit it to just these 'bottom 10' moments in pet keeping....
10 Hamster Housing
My last few hamsters and any future hamsters I own have had enclosures that have been measured in feet... however when I was 18 I took up breeding winter white dwarf hamsters... and do you know what I converted to keep them in... a set of plastic sliding drawers (like a snake rack)... those drawers measured about 1foot x 1foot and housed a breeding pair in each. They were tiny and poorly ventilated... but a similar size to most pet shop cages available at the time, so I didn't think anything of it. Now I'm horrified, and have never spoken publicly about it. My hamsters were healthy, friendly and long lived... but happy? I doubt it now. I'm very ashamed of this and will now always advocate large enriched enclosures for all animals... and yes I hate snake racks as they remind me of my poor little mammies living in a storage unit....
9 My Dog Got Ran Over
When I had Cassie and Hektor they were inseparable. We were having to take Hektor to the vet... getting him and a young toddler into the car was a marathon operation and then Cassie had to be shut in the house. At the time she was not left in the kitchen (as she climbed onto the units and ate everything in the cupboard) and my living room becomes too hot to leave her in while we are out, so she was left in the hall (where their beds/bowls were located)...
However as I was coming out and locking up, she squeazed past me and ran through the gap in the door, straight over the garden and into the road. Right in front of an oncoming car. My heart stopped and I was frantic - this was totally my fault, was it intentional - absolutely not, in that moment I wanted to die. I ran out expecting to find Cassie dead.
Fortunately she jumped up and ran into an alley, we managed to catch her (shaking and scared but otherwise ok), and luckily we were already on our way to the vets, she survived the ordeal with just two grazes on her inside back knees.
I was so lucky and thankful that day, the outcome could have so easily been far worse... and I only have myself to blame. Does this mean I am a terrible pet owner and should never keep another animal again... I don't think so, but I am however so much more careful and we now move the heavy bulky crate from room to room whenever we need to leave her behind instead.
8 I Bought Angora Rabbits Whilst on Maternity Leave
Even just typing that sounds stupid, and I wasn't a kid this was only just over 4 years ago... what was I thinking...
Like all new naive mothers I really didn't know what was to come. I was on maternity leave and had a relatively 'easy' baby... she slept well and was pretty good all round... I had a lot of time on my hands and had always wanted to own angoras... so I bought a pair...
At first I managed their grooming requirements readily (20-30mins each a day and then 2 hours or so a month for clipping)... then my baby started walking and the daily grooming became a few times a week... then I went back to work and it became just weekends.
When I had to change jobs and ended up working longer hours I was really struggling with their upkeep and felt like I was constantly having to cut out mats, I sadly had to admit defeat and with a heavy heart called the breeder who agreed to take the pair back.
Looking back I know that it was a stupid decision... but I really had no idea what parenthood was really going to be like and just how much work was involved in that... (note I never underestimated the work involved in angoras... lol)
7 The Leopard Gecko and Cricket Episode
When I was still living at home I begged and begged my parents to let me get some leopard geckos... eventually they agreed and I bought a beautiful boy named Tango. I loved him to bits and everything went well... however around 6/7 months into my gecko keeping adventure I had an accident with a box of crickets - I didn't shut the lid properly and obviously they escape...
The rest of the family were not happy about finding crickets in their bed, the kitchen (everywhere....) and so I was banned from keeping crickets in the house.... at this point I probably should have found my boy a new home... but instead I decided to try and feed him purely on mealworms.
This was a bad idea... sadly over the next few months his health went down hill rapidly, he became pale, thin and lethargic... eventually I reached out to help and rehomed him via a forum to someone already keeping geckos.
I really hate myself for the state he got into. I do hope one day to keep geckos again now I have more knowledge.
6 Dog Medication
Sometimes our mistakes have more far reaching consequences and sometimes this even result in the deaths of our beloved pets... from here on down these are the mistakes I'm talking about.
Hektor was my beloved field spaniel... he did however have a wealth of health and behavioural problems (including fear of strangers, snapping, hormone issues, heart murmur, compression in his spine, early on-set arthritis and many many allergies)
We had persistant ear infections that were causing him a great deal of pain caused by allergies. After multiple visits the vet and operations, it was decided to refer us to a specialist.
My first mistake was not going with him myself to see the specialist as I was working, my parents took him down for me. He had allergy tests down and the vet prescribed a revolutionary new treatment made in the Netherlands that were steroid based anti-allergen injections.
Mistake number two was taking the word of the specialist and not researching or looking into this medication myself. We started his treatment plan and it cured his ear issues and reduced his allergy problems....
So we kept him on them for the next 3 years before we noticed more problems.
Hektor became incontinent and often had blood in his urine (which was put down to cystitis), excessive drinking and then we started getting neurological problems... he would sit and stare at the wall for 20-30 minutes at a time vacantly. He would bark, whimper and twitch in his sleep and randomly wake up snarling and growling.
One time he even woke up from sleep and launched himself off the sofa at my face - I had to physically pin him down while he snarled for a few minutes until he came round... this naturally terrified me, I had a small toddler at the time and worked from home as a child minder.
The next visit to the vet obviously brought up the inevitable in this scenario that we might have to start considering having him put to sleep. I decided I wanted to investigate further to be sure that there was nothing else going on before making that decision. The vet scheduled a MRI scan for him at a nearby pet hospital to check his brain and his liver/kidney function (the vet bill for him by now has run into thousands - that goodness for pet insurance).
It was also at this time that I stopped giving him the injections completely as I had noticed a correlation in the behaviour and symptoms. And I also FINALLY researched and looked into the injections...
I found out about the horrific side effects caused by these types of injections, the excessive urination, drinking, weight loss, hair loss, behavioural changes among others and a much high risk of cancer.
The MRI came and went... everything was fine and normal... following the stopping of the injections the symptoms did improve so we decided to see how things went and I was very hopeful for him.
Nine months later he collapsed, we rushed him to the vet and they diagnosed massive internal blood loss - it was not looking good for him. They decided to do an ultra sound which revealed a huge mass on his liver which had ruptured. We were then faced with a decision. Rush him to the animal hospital and get another dog in to give him a transfusion while they operated, or allow them to open him up at our own vets to take a look at what the mass was.
I opted for the second choice as I didn't want to get a donor dog involved if it wouldn't help. We returned home and waited for the vets to call... which them did about half an hour later.
Hektor had a massive tumour on his liver which had spread to his kidneys, intestines and pancreas. The tumour had ruptured and filled his abdominal cavity with blood. It was inoperable and he would only have hours left to live. The decision was made to not bring him back round from the anaesthesia... My beautiful boy passed away.
Bear in mind just 9 months earlier he had a full body MRI scan which shown his liver and kidneys to be normal... this meant the tumour grew very very quickly.... and pretty much as soon as his medication was stopped... something that was reported to be common with this type of medication.
Obviously his death was not entirely my fault and we genuinely believed we were operating in his best interested at every step of the way (and believe me money was no objective)... however I feel we went into an almost 'experimental' treatment without me even researching the consequences or the alternatives... so I hold this as one of my most costly and heartbreaking mistakes.
5 Assisted Hatching
When I was hatching out some pekin bantam chicks, two out of three eggs hatched well but the third had pipped and nothing else had happened for 12 hours... This was my first time hatching eggs, I panicked and decided to assist hatching. This is something that is very tricky and has to be done with precision... I rushed, I went to fast... the baby was not ready and it bled... It bled a lot. As a result the baby was very weak, it never ate, never stood, never opened it's eyes and passed away the next day.
Perhaps if I had left the baby in the egg longer it may have hatched naturally, on the other hand it might have perished in the egg... perhaps if I had gone slower with the assisted hatch it might have survived. I will never know, but I will never forget that baby. Since then I have assisted dozens of eggs to hatch successfully and have never had another bleed, it doesn't make me feel any better about this mistake however.
4 Fish Heater Malfunction
A few years ago, our beta fish 'Finn' died... the heater in his tank dislodged (it was attached to the glass with suckers) the heater fell and landed on a plastic plant... which melted, turning the water green and slimy. I have no idea how long the tank was like this. I said good morning that morning and when I went to feed him before bed he had perished. I have come to terms that I could not have done anything to prevent the heater from coming loose, but perhaps if I had checked soon, or not had tank items so close to the heater he could have survived.
3 Overheated Rabbits
We were attending an agricultural rabbit show, this meant a very early start and late finish. The rabbits remaining behind were fed and watered early in morning and we headed off to the show.
Unfortunately the day grew very hot, the temperature rose far about any forecast and prediction, and we were hours from home unable to leave the rabbits in the show.
By the time I returned home that evening, and went out to check on my rabbits, several were hot and panty, however one who lived in a top hutch was completely limp and floppy. I tried everything I could but he passed away shortly after. I will never forgive myself for the death of my beautiful boy Solo. What if I'd given them ice bottles that morning, what if I'd stayed home... things could have been different. I should never have left them so vulnerable and I will never underestimate the danger of hot weather to caged rabbits.
2 Hand Rearing Baby Rabbits
Over the Years I have hand reared NUMEROUS baby rabbits... only a few have ever survived (lucky, gerri, Felix, snoopy and harmony) and several of those were left with life long health problems or lived relatively shorter lives. There are at least 20 babies that I've attempted to rear that didn't make it.
Baby rabbits are very hard to hand rear (in fact they are impossible to hand rear successfully from birth without the use of a mother rabbit's milk)...
When you take on the hand rearing of any baby animal you HAVE to accept the fact that you are more than likely going to fail. Most do not survive that is a fact.
With rabbits for the first month they are fed EVERY 2 hours (all night long) for about 20 mins, you have to help them poo, clean them and make sure they don't inhale any milk.
It is exhausting and you put your all in to it. Of course you quickly become very attached to those little lives... and again most don't survive... despite your best efforts. I have about a 20% survival rate for baby rabbits and that makes me very successful at it, I have taken in babies in the past from vets/breeders for hand rearing and specialise in very young babies (under 3 weeks) after this age they have a very very good chance of survival and don't need such specialist care.
But every time one dies it breaks my heart, even after just a few days or a couple of weeks of investing your all into a little life to see it taken away. Sometimes it's my fault... I've increased the time between feeds too soon as I've simply been exhausted... I haven't got the heat pad just right, or the babies have become constipated... sometimes I just don't know why.
My mum has often seen me in the aftermath of loosing a hand rearer, holding it's little body and crying over the fact that I failed it. She tells me 'its not worth it' the chances are so low and that it's too much to put myself through... but I only look at the little ones that have made it and how special they were to me, to know that I would do it again and again... because even it only one out of every 5 survive... that makes it worth while... it doesn't mean I ever forgive myself for the ones that didn't.
1 My biggest single pet loss ever
My biggest mistake I ever made as a pet keeper resulted in the death of over 40 baby animals in one hour. And even now a decade later I am still crying to write this.
I had a beautiful spiny flower mantis girl Ayasha, she came to me as a previously bred adult so I knew the time we would have together was potentially very short. So when she laid an ootheca I decided to hatch it out... despite the fact that I lived at home and my parents had only allowed me to keep a single mantis in my room at any one time (this was after the gecko incident).
A few weeks later the ooth hatched... I was so excited to see the tiny ant like babies crawling around... I however didn't know how to broach the new arrivals to my parents. I purchased all the supplies to set them up individually, and set up 40 cups each with a paper towel substrate, twig, fruit flies, baby mantis and fly screen lid. I put the cups into a plastic storage box (without lid) with a heat mat for warmth, and the cricket box with the remaining smallest babies (probably another dozen or so) in the box as well. I then set them up in my pet shed (where my rabbits, gerbils and hamsters lived)... I assumed that if they were out there till grown on a bit they wouldn't mind. My intention was to keep a couple back for me and find homes for the rest (most likely through the insect groups I was in and exotic pet shops.)
When my parents arrived home a couple of hours later I told them about the babies and they were keen to see them... feeling rather happy about this turn of events I went out to fetch my babies in... only to find every single one of them dead, All laid on the floor of their tubs legs up.
EVERY SINGLE ONE OF OVER 40 BABIES
Then I heard a 'tsssch' noise and my heart sank. In my haste to work out a way to keep my new pride and joys that wouldn't result in my parents getting mad I had totally forgotten that in the pet shed I had a 'konk' machine set up. This was a small unit containing an aerosol that every three minutes set a puff into the shed... a puff of fly killer. I used it to prevent flies coming into the shed in the head and laying eggs in the rabbit waste and as a way of preventing flystrike....
It hadn't even crossed my mind that my precious new baby insects would be killed by the machine I used to keep away the pests... I felt like an idiot and a complete failure to my pets... I sobbed... I cried over bugs. In fact I'm sobbing now writing this.
In a single day I had a death count of over 40 pets... was I abusing them, no... did I neglect them, I don't believe so, I gave them such rich enclosures... I just did not take the time to fully factor in the environment I was putting them into. Was it a horrendous mistake - absolutely... should I never be allowed to keep another animal again... I don't believe so... in fact their mother (who was already fully mature when I got her) went on to live another 8 wonderful months with me, and I've successfully kept many more mantids since... but I'll never forget that day... and no one can make me feel worse about it than I do myself
So what was the point of this thread... to show that we all make mistakes in pet keeping... small ones, bigs ones and ones that will haunt us for the rest of our lives... every time an animal dies we will question ourselves, double guess ourselves... wonder what on earth we could have done differently... and in these situations we as a pet community should try to build each other up not tear each other down. I firmly believe we should talk about our mistakes, share that everyone is only human (heck I've made mistakes as a mother....not just as a pet owner) and to know that we are not alone in our grief.