Red emergency cords. A plea for help.

Red emergency cord tied to a railing

Please don’t do this. If you see it done, please untie it if you’re able, and if you’re comfortable doing so report it to a member of staff.

Red alarm cords like this in disabled toilets and changing rooms (I believe this is only a UK thing) must be hanging freely and the end should be no more than 10cm off the floor.

If it’s tied up like this it can mean people in emergency situations, having had falls, seizures, or otherwise be in trouble can be delayed in getting assistance. 

Having highlighted this a lot, I’ve learned these cords make some people nervous, like they’ll pull it accidentally or something and so they’ll move it where they won’t be at risk of it happening.

If that ever happens to you don’t move it out of the way! Just be aware of where the small orange button is in the room. It’s a reset button, it turns the alarm back off if it’s triggered. It’s also worth remembering that setting it off is not always a bad thing, it tests the protocols they have in place for such an emergency, if any.

If you find you see red emergency cords in disabled toilets/changing tied up or lifted off the floor a lot, you can get sent cards to attach to them to let people know of their importance. They’re free in the UK from Euan’s Guide. Applying them to cords can help spread awareness and ultimately let people get the help they need when they need it.

Please don’t do this. If you see it done, please untie it if you’re able, and if you’re comfortable doing so report it to a member of staff. Red alarm cords like this in disabled toilets and changing rooms (I believe this is only a UK thing) must be hanging freely and the end should be no more than 10cm off the floor. If it’s tied up like this it can mean people in emergency situations, having had falls, seizures, or otherwise be in trouble can be delayed in getting assistance. Having highlighted this a lot, I’ve learned these cords make some people nervous, like they’ll pull it accidentally or something and so they’ll move it where they won’t be at risk of it happening. If that ever happens to you don’t move it out of the way! Just be aware of where the small orange button is in the room. It’s a reset button, it turns the alarm back off if it’s triggered. It’s also worth remembering that setting it off is not always a bad thing, it tests the protocols they have in place for such an emergency, if any. If you find you see red emergency cords in disabled toilets/changing tied up or lifted off the floor a lot, you can get sent cards to attach to them to let people know of their importance. They’re free in the UK from Euan’s Guide. Applying them to cords can help spread awareness and ultimately let people get the help they need when they need it.

I am not here to inspire you.

Content note: mentions of suicide, racism, ableism, fatphobia.

Inspiration. That’s quite a powerful word, isn’t it? To be inspired is such a marvellous feeling, to be made to want to do something, to create something, to be someone, to be something. But does it always do that? When you’re inspired, do you always feel motivated or is it just a feel good sensation, a little pick me up of mental warmth before carrying on the day?

I’m a disabled person, and it comes as a surprise to many but there is no word I find more insulting than ‘inspiring’. There is a depth to it that a lot of people fail to understand, one that leeches our lived experiences and patronises us under the guise of being complimentary.

In my world, with my body, to be an inspiration is not to inspire a person. It doesn’t motivate anyone to do anything. For me to be an inspiration is to make people glad they’re not me, to be used as a yardstick for their own lives and to condescend and pity about what it is they think my life, ability, and experiences to be.

Disability is a part of my life whether I want it to be or not. There is no ‘despite everything’, or ‘even though you’re disabled’, everything I do is with disability as a part of it. It is my default existence, who I am. I am a disabled person and I have accepted it with no expectation or desire to ‘overcome’ it, and it took a very long time to get there.

Inspiration in terms of disability is usually couched in that kind of language. Of overcoming, of doing things ‘despite it all’. I was told recently how ‘inspiring’ it is that I take selfies, that I can show pride in my appearance even though I’m going through so much. Smiling for the camera and carrying on living. Isn’t that so wonderful?

What does that really mean though? I was told by someone it was complimentary and I should accept it as such, that the person probably thought ‘well I hope I can manage as well if I end up like that’. End up like what, though? Disabled? Is my life really such a terrible thing that it can be boiled down to ‘I hope I can still smile and like myself if my life gets that bad’? The person paying the ‘compliment’ had no idea the scale of my disability. I asked a few questions and it quickly became clear they don’t know my daily life or my struggles. It was simply that they’d seen me in a chair. They’d projected their ideas of what being disabled means for me, what my experience with it must be like. Such a terrible existence, great that I can still smile and feel good about my appearance. Truly an inspiration to them.

I was a swimmer for some time, aiming to compete and training with people who are both disabled and able bodied. I would repeatedly be told how inspiring it was that I could do it, that I would push myself and could be motivated ‘even though’ I’m a disabled person. People would express to me that they had ‘no excuse not to’ if I could do it, as if my being there in the first place was somehow so completely different to them and the default was inability or simply giving up. I was a yardstick for them. ‘If someone like you can do it, I have no excuse!’ and if I could do it better they clearly just weren’t trying hard enough, because how could someone like me possibly outpace them?

It was rare that I was told my skill in the water was impressive, or that my motivation to swim and the time I spent in the water truly inspired anyone to actually get out there and swim, just that it was amazing and ‘inspiring’ that I’d be able to do it in the first place. That a disabled person was there, doing this normal thing. It didn’t matter that I was doing it as well, if not better than many other people were, ability rarely came into it, just disability. “You’re just like a normal person”, said one woman last spring. Begins to sound a bit patronising, eh?

I’ve been told my ability to paint is inspiring too. I do abstract acrylic paintings of particle trails, mostly when I’m in some of my worst mental health crises. I have to tape up my hands with micropore to prevent dislocations and clicking joints while holding the brushes. Falling apart is my default state, it’s just how it is and while it might cause pain it doesn’t stand out to me all that much. That’s just life, you adapt.

The paintings themselves, I will arrogantly and proudly state, are beautiful. I put so much time and emotion into them and it’s rare I get to the last brush stroke and don’t feel a pang of relief, of pride, that I’ve created something so majestic. Can you guess one of the first receptions I ever had to one of them? Inspiring. Not that they want to go out there and do something artistic, there was no comment on the image itself or compliment that I’ve had the imagination to create something like it, no. It’s because I did it, despite it all.
The backgrounds are inspired by images shared by NASA and the foreground is clean lines inspired by some of the building blocks of our very existence. Now that’s inspiration.

These are things in my life that bring me great pride and they’re boiled down to my physicality, or more precisely my perceived failure of it. Imagine how it feels when some of your greatest works, rather than being praised for what they are, are boiled down to ‘wow it’s amazing you can do that when your body is like that‘. It’s like being given a special achievement award for everything you do, but never getting the chance to have your work thrown out there into wider society and be judged on its own merits.

The same ‘special achievement’ award is given for some of the most basic daily tasks. I’ve been praised for going to the shops, for going out and getting on with my life, by strangers. I’ve been called ‘inspiring’ for it and encouraged to carry on. For buying food. These, again, aren’t people who know my life or any of the difficulties I face, nor the particulars of my disability. They have seen me in a chair or with a cane and projected their idea of what living with a disability is like, decided it must be terrible and difficult and that buying a tin of beans is truly an achievement for me. But what’s the alternative? Sit at home and simply exist? Never buy food? Starve to death or get someone else to do things that I’m perfectly capable of doing myself?

If this is my life then what choice do I have?

The special achievement category goes well beyond me. Take Stephen Hawking as an example. While he’s praised for his immense work in assisting us in understanding the universe, very often his achievements are put in that same little niche category of not really getting the credit it deserves on merit alone. ‘It’s so inspiring he could achieve so much despite his disability’.

It didn’t affect his ability to think or work on complex problems, yet his achievements and legacy are very often reduced by a persistent need to add the caveat of physicality, rather than simply saying how incredible that work was and allow it to speak for itself. At the time of his death it was repeatedly said how he was ‘now free’, as if being disabled is being trapped, burdened, it’s not just a thing you live with but a personal prison that holds you back. His legacy dismantles that very idea and yet it continues, with depictions of him floating out of his chair and through the pearly gates, finally freed from the chair that allowed him independence.

‘Inspiring’ also takes on other visages. It seems that not a week goes by when some poor unsuspecting person in a wheelchair or with other obvious needs is covertly snapped being helped to cut up their food, to cross a road, or to lift something off a shelf that’s too high. Each time it’s the same word. “Inspiring”. These viral images of us aren’t raising awareness of anything, they don’t make people more likely to interact with us in a world where ableism is rife beyond words, it’s ‘awww, the poor disabled person needs help’ and a saviour coming along to assist a person perceived as otherwise incapable of performing the task themselves. It ceases to be about the disabled person. We’re simply a device there for the aforementioned saviour to jump in and save the day.

How do you think it feels, as a person who needs their food cut up, to know you could become a spectacle of pity and warm happy-feels that someone would be so benevolent as to help if you needed it? I need help regularly to cut up my food and, when in public, would rather struggle through and attempt to hold my cutlery and hurt myself then accept help out of fear someone may secretly try and snap a picture of poor incapable me.

Those feelings of pity rarely translate to people actually humanising us, but rather the opposite. As I say, we’ve become a device to project ideas of inability onto, to scapegoat or to prop up the image of others. I say the world is rife with ableism because truly it is incredible the attitude people have towards us that they do not even realise are so negative. Those covert snaps aren’t restricted to people patronising us in viral tweets, they also have a flip side.

I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user. I’m able to stand up and walk short distances but it’s difficult, it hurts, and I’m at risk of falling. I was once in a supermarket and, unable to reach something off a shelf and too embarrassed to ask for help, I stood up. Someone down the aisle got out their phone and attempted to take a photo. These kinds of things end up in tabloids with jokes about miracles and talk of fakers or people clearly not needing chairs, once again projecting an image of disability that just doesn’t stack up to the reality for so many of us, and furthering the idea that many disabled people are faking it for social security benefits.

If I have to stand from my wheelchair I know people will stare, I loudly exclaim “it’s a miracle” and look around at those people in order to shift the atmosphere to one that makes it clear their attention is unwelcome.

I would personally rather go out in my wheelchair and not stand, struggling with ramps and getting assistance from my husband with small steps, than risk standing and becoming the object of ridicule for a perception of my disability which is based on nothing but my very existence. If I stand I’m at great risk of falling and I know from experience there won’t always be someone on hand who’d be willing to help me up. But at the same time I fear if people knew I was staying in my chair when I could stand for short periods in order to avoid personal embarrassment, suspicion, or injury, I’d be targeted for ‘playing up’ my disability. You cannot get it right.

Last year I was chased down a high street with a man yelling about how I’m a scrounger, we’re all fakers. I hadn’t stood up, he knew nothing about me, simply saw me in a chair. I dread to think the attitude I could face if such a person saw me get to my feet.

The ‘faker’ rhetoric is one that has deeply injured the mental health of so many and changed perceptions of us as a whole in society. The above experience is extremely common, I’ve had it more than just the once. When I shared my experiences on social media many other people with visible disabilities chimed in with experiences of their own that are frighteningly similar. People being yelled at, notes on windscreens about people not truly needing blue badge because they don’t look disabled. I once had a letter written to my local newspaper about me and they printed it! It exclaimed that two young people in a red sports car were clearly misusing a blue badge. Because you can’t be disabled and also be young, and be carted around in a fancy looking car?

When disability is brought up it’s very often followed by a discussion about how so many people ‘scam the system’. In the minds of many we exist as two separate entities. One is to be pitied and helped, or a yardstick of ability for the non-disabled, the other is anyone who doesn’t fit that definition and is therefore under constant scrutiny and suspicion. We don’t exist as our true selves, with complex lives and differing needs, we exist as an abstract notion of what disability is and is not. It’s been deliberately polarised to create a hostile environment for us, where we’re required to perform our disability or have our lives picked apart.

Are we in need of a saviour to cater to our needs, or able to do something ‘in spite of it all’, grateful for help or carrying on with a smile? That’s the good disabled. The rest? Those who get annoyed when people grab the handles of our chairs to ‘help’, don’t like being talked to as if we’re children, and would really rather you didn’t tell us how amazing it is we left the house? Fuck ’em, they’re not even trying. Fall into both those categories and you’re flipping a coin as to where you end up with people.

The idea we need to strive to overcome our perceived physical failings is another thing that riles me right up, and falls directly into the ‘inspiration porn’ category. The idea you’ll one day get out of the chair, there’ll be a cure, you just need to hold out hope. Struggle to be better, strive to heal. If you accept yourself for who you are, find yourself freed by a wheelchair or given independence by a scooter rather than seeing it as a trapping or burden, if you can learn to accept and love your whole self you’re ‘giving up’.

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude”. You’ve got to be positive about it all, you can’t let it ‘win’, as if it’s something you need to fight 24/7. Feeling a bit hard done by that you’re in constant pain is simply self pity? You’re holding yourself back and making it worse by being grumpy about it. If your legs felt like they had just touched hot coals, would you not want to tell someone to “fuck off” if they told you you just needed to smile more and you’d be fine? We are consistently given advice on what we need to do in order to overcome.

Kale.
Yoga.
Core strength exercises.
Have a small breakfast every day.
Green tea.
This medication my aunt had once that helped her, even though I don’t actually know your symptoms.
This painkiller that you’re on a far stronger version of, that’ll do it.
Carrots.
Meditation.
CBT.

Say no? Given up.

Couldn’t possibly be that we know our symptoms, our illnesses better than the people making suggestions. But then it’s not about us, like with the way images are shared when people assist us, it’s about them. It’s about being seen to be helping, feeling they’ve done something, and it’s on us to make them feel as though they’ve assisted in some way. They haven’t, they’ve made it impossible for us to express they’re incorrect and overstepping without sounding like we’re somehow not wanting to be better. It’s on us now, they’ve done their bit.

You can’t get away with not telling people about what’s wrong with you, either. This notion of consistent scrutiny of disability can be insidious and the most obvious example is when people ask what’s wrong. This is asking for medical history, private information that we shouldn’t have to share. I have never felt comfortable doing so but felt it’s socially unacceptable not to. If we withhold it people normally get quite annoyed, as though it’s a personal affront that we wouldn’t want to share something so deeply private, that they’re somehow entitled to it. This has become far more pronounced here since the government in the UK began pushing an ableist agenda and the idea that we’re all milking it. You have to tell everyone, explain everything. If you don’t, you fall into the category of requiring constant suspicion, something’s clearly up.

If the only disability in life is a bad attitude, I’m sure as shit still disabled because I am truly going to tell you to put it up your left nostril. I have accepted who I am and that’s OK, and I resent people who do not understand pontificating about how I should feel about my day to day life. I resent them believing they are entitled to know something so deeply personal about me, and treating me as though my being disabled should immediately make me some kind of example of the disabled community to all who have questions and that I should be there to offer constant representation.

They certainly wouldn’t accept it if I began telling them how to feel about their own lives, or ask them about their medical histories, illnesses, and physical struggles. And believe me, I’ve done it back to people. They hated it. Every single one of them. One has even threatened me with violence.

The idea of overcoming is another avenue for harassment. Strangers hassling you for details so they can offer you that advice and make you better. A terrifying experience I had last April was a man jumping out of a car and chasing me down the road, yelling at me about God, how he could help me walk again! Like a miracle! I told him I was perfectly fine as I am and not interested and it wasn’t exactly well received. Unable to run and limited in speed in my manual chair I was unable to get away from him. This man was targeting me for my disability and I told him quite sternly to piss off. I filmed the majority of the interaction and in the end the police told me if I pursued it I’d likely be in trouble for swearing. I was in the wrong, not the man I was unable to escape from.

People don’t want us to be what we are or accept ourselves for it. I’ve had people tell me they’d rather kill themselves than ‘end up like you’. It has always been intended as a compliment. That I’m a strong person for managing to cope with something they perceive as so horrifying, being ‘brave‘, another word loaded with condescension, instead of just straight up bumping myself off for it. The sad thing is it’s been a strong consideration but largely it’s not been for my physical problems but rather the way I had been made to see them as something so terrible. To see my life as pitiable and become part of the scapegoat for empty coffers, to no longer achieve but be praised merely for doing things. I exist to people, I don’t live.

It’s easy to stop feeling like you’re even in society, you become an afterthought on the fringe in almost every way. Much of how I see myself reflected in media is as a device to make people who aren’t like me feel good. I can’t get access to buildings because ramps are too expensive, because a landlord doesn’t want automatic doors installed, because it would be ‘special treatment’ to offer help.
In terms of becoming disabled later in life, human beings adapt to new situations incredibly, but in this regard it changes your life in such an enormous way because your entire position in society shifts along with it. How people saw me when one of my disabilities kicked in went from peer to something far less. For a lot of us this change comes with immense struggles with mental health and this shit is absolutely a part of why.

There’s a racial and sizeist element to all of this that often gets missed too. Ever notice how most of those stories you see of ‘inspiring’ disabled people are white and skinny? Any saviours are normally significantly lacking in the melanin department? Fat people in wheelchairs or scooters don’t get to become those “feel good” viral tweets, they become the flip side of it all with fatphobic memes, laughter, and comments about needing to lay off the McDonalds.

Anyone that isn’t some shade of pale doesn’t usually get a look in as saviour or saved. Quite often they’re ignored completely or they too get that flip side. I’ve heard many black women especially saying about being scorned or looked down on for “giving up” by using wheelchairs, or the racist notion of constant strength of will meaning they can’t possibly be suffering in the way they are, their experiences minimised by the intersections of misogyny, racism, and ableism. Very often racism and its intersection with both gender and health is ignored completely in the politics of disability and all the complexities that surround it.

All of these things matter and all of them are connected. Our achievements are minimised and we are reduced to a device for people who aren’t disabled to compare their lives to or use to make themselves look like good people to their peers, we are cut out or objects of ridicule at different intersections. We’re scapegoats for empty coffers and at the same time something to go ‘aww’ at, like a cute kitten, when people are feeling as though their own lives are tough.

Our daily lives are uplifted because it’s bizarrely presumed our existences are so difficult that it’s incredible we leave the house, that we have lives to get on with. This is what, to me, you mean when you are inspired by us. “At least my life isn’t like that, and they can still do things!”

The hardest thing I have found about being disabled is other people.

Stereotyping and categorising of abstract notions of our lives is feeding exactly the kind of environment of hostility that makes everything so difficult, it’s polarising the discourse around our existence in society and assisting in dehumanising us. It makes it easy for us to be stripped of rights, of benefits that give us our independence and even just our very existence, it makes it easy for people to target us for harassment, it makes it easy for us to be ridiculed for projections placed upon us.

I don’t want to inspire you. I want to be a person again.

Bigsweir bridge, Fall 2018

The first time I’ve been out the house for a while, and coming back with photos made it feel like I’ve actually done  something for a change. I took my Nikon D200 down to Bigsweir in the Wye Valley and snapped some photos of the bridge in the hazy evening light.

The bridge straddles the boundary between Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire, and so Wales and England. It’s a beautiful structure, especially with the backdrop of autumnal colours and orange glow of late afternoon/evening.

A plea to drivers: Please stop blocking our way.

I am a wheelchair user. Navigating the pavements of the local towns in the rural West Country can be an absolute nightmare at the best of times. Drop kerbs lacking where needed, uneven pavements, overgrown hedges, and steep hills. Many places here haven’t caught up with the idea that some of us can’t get up steps which means our access can be limited to certain routes. Given how difficult this makes life in this area for people like me, as well as people in scooters, powerchairs, blind people with guide dogs, or people with pushchairs, I humbly request that car and van drivers don’t make life harder still by parking on pavements and blocking drop kerbs.

Alternative routes to where you are parking your cars is not always available. Without drop kerbs either side of you, going in the road is not always an option open to us. On busy roads attempting it can put us at risk. Even if you’re doing it for ‘just a minute’, we don’t know how long you’re going to be there or where you are in order to ask. We also don’t know whether asking you to move your car is going to lead to an aggressive confrontation, as has happened to many of us.

In trying to get out of the road where I live to get to the nearby bus stop or shops, I  have found the route blocked by exactly this. Cars completely blocking the main pedestrian exit from an estate which is largely made up of elderly and disabled people. To get around these cars I have to ring someone to help me take another route which I cannot manage by myself, either being pushed over muddy grass or adding a whopping 20 minutes to what would otherwise be a 3 minute journey, subsequently missing the bus. I’ve had neighbours complain of missed doctors and hospital appointments, or being unable to attend social gatherings. One came close to missing a funeral despite leaving considerable additional time because he found himself facing the same issue twice along the way.

Please, please consider people like us more before you look at doing this. Pedestrian life is already becoming more hostile, with charging points, pay and display meters, anti-cycle gates and similar objects blocking our way or making it difficult to navigate through foot traffic. This adds far more stress and upset than many people know.

Thinking about getting a bunny? You may want to think again.

As is no surprise to anyone who knows me, I’m very enthusiastic about bunnies. I spend a lot of time with my two, share a lot of photos and videos online, I’m a very bun-happy person. When I share little glimpses of their lives online I regularly get people saying how cute they are much it makes them want one. I’d hope they’d realise such snapshots are largely very curated in order for people to get the most enjoyment from them but that’s not always the case, and each time I find myself thinking ‘oh good god, no you don’t’ and looking back on the catastrophe that is every Easter.

Every year around that time it’s the same thing. Easter Eggs begin to line the shelves of the supermarkets along with cute plush and chocolate rabbits, pictures of fluffy little bunnies go up everywhere and people, mostly children, begin to get ideas. “Should we get a bunny?”

I see social media light up with photos of adorable little kits, of children holding them gleefully with pride, people squealing about how soft and sweet they look, pet stores displaying their package offers. For some time now I’ve wanted to try and write something which covers their needs in detail as well as the realities of keeping rabbits and the challenges they present because it’s an enormous source of frustration.

I know people getting rabbits around Easter might not seem too ridiculous to most people beyond ‘you shouldn’t get a pet on a whim’, and that it seems silly to get frustrated at children happy with pets, but with rabbits comes extra layers of concern. Bunnies are one of the most misrepresented animals, and a hell of a lot of people go to get one without having a single clue what they’re getting themselves into.

Bunnies aren’t cheap pets that you just buy a hutch for and then just have basic little costs going along with bags of bedding and feed. They have very complex needs that most, after the initial cuteness of them being tiny little kits wears off and they grow, just aren’t willing to fulfil. It leads to a lot of animals living short, unhealthy, and miserable lives where they’re neglected. What’s most concerning is that many people don’t even realise they’re doing this to them, or what a rabbit’s needs and lives are supposed to be like. Hell, I’ve seen a lot who don’t even understand their diet and exercise needs.

Rabbits are Britain’s most neglected pet, with ones bought in the run up to Easter commonly not making it past a year old. Part of this is considered to be down to mistreatment and part down to poor breeding, where pet stores stock up before Easter ready for the influx of customers. 1 year… That’s just 10% of a rabbit’s life expectancy, though I’ve seen many who perpetuate the idea they only live until 2 or 3 since that’s what a lot do end up surviving for. My husband and I can both think of and name over 10 people each who’ve had rabbits who, without doubt in hindsight, have had rabbits die far too young due to poor care.

Many people will even just let them out into the wild once their children no longer pay attention to them, which consigns them to death. If not from predators then the amount of wild traits being bred out of them leading to them being incapable of surviving.

In 2011, it was estimated that of the roughly two million rabbits kept as pets in Britain, 75% of them suffered neglected and/or mistreatment.

That’s a whopping 1.5 MILLION rabbits being poorly kept, or to put it another way, every 3 out of 4 being consigned to misery. The article I have linked there is worth reading for an understanding of the sheer enormity of the problem beyond just those numbers alone. 60% were unaware that rabbits are social and intelligent creatures who need mental stimulation, which is the idea that leaves rabbits left alone in hutches with nothing to do , and around 75% of rabbits seen by vets were in poor health. Poor diet and exercise having led to overgrown and rotting teeth, overgrown claws impairing walking, and obesity. It’s a wonder some rabbits do make it to 2 years with the situations they’re kept in.

They also cost as much as a dog to keep beyond the initial costs, which are steep in themselves. Almost all of the hutches and cages that you’ll find in pet shops like Pets at Home and Jollyes are actually unsuitable to keep rabbits in, contrary to the ‘Ideal for rabbits!’ labels. The majority of rabbits in the UK are kept in housing that they really should not be in. A minimum size (6ft x 2ft x 2ft – RWAF) hutch will set you back a bare minimum of around £100 and, if you’re keeping it indoors (which is largely considered preferable), you’ll need to throw in a lot more to make it suitable for indoor living, as well as spending time and money rabbit proofing your home itself.

Inside or out, it needs to have an area that is closed off, allowing the little guy somewhere to hide from perceived threats and make things more comfortable. If you do end up keeping a rabbit outside, as many do, having a fully wire-sided hutch can lead to exposure in bad weather, to cold, or to predators. All of these, as with so many things with them, can be fatal.

A hutch alone is never, ever enough, either. Too many rabbits bought in the run up to Easter live their entire lives beyond the first month in a hutch, alone. Exercise plays an enormously large part in keeping rabbits healthy. This is true of almost any animal, but with rabbits often being kept in unsuitable conditions it’s a massive black mark on our collective keeping of them. Obesity, gas, and slowing gut can come with poor diet but poor exercise too, they need the space and time to run around. If you keep them in a little box, or let them into a small run for a few hours a day they’re not going to be able to do the things they normally would to keep happy and healthy. To give it the space it needs to run about, leaving a rabbit in an open garden might sound quite idyllic, but you’d have to watch it the whole time to prevent predators from getting to your newly beloved pet. It would need to be a garden free of all plants that can kill them – which is a hefty list, make sure it’s completely secured to prevent escape and, if they have a penchant for burrowing, some way to stop them getting out like that too.

It’s all well and good thinking that a run with a wire base may help solve the issue but wire bases should be avoided where possible. In the young it can cause splayed feet and in all buns it puts them at risk of sore hocks which can lead to infection.

Runs that are large enough and have enclosed shelter are around the same price as a hutch, but you’ll also need to take into consideration that again, shelter to hide away and keep from the elements, and digging their way out may be an issue. The cheapest of runs tend not to be the most secure against predators either, with flimsy wire and easily broken frames.

I mention the need for shelter again because it’s really very important. If your rabbit encounters something like a fox and is stressed out enough by the experience, it can kill them. The animal doesn’t even have to do anything, terror felt by a rabbit is enough to trigger an extreme physical response. Not only is there a risk of shock in circumstances they take as being extreme, but there can be after effects like GI stasis or other gastric problems. Even if a rabbit seems okay after an encounter, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are. They have very sensitive digestive tracts and them slowing down or stopping can very easily and quickly turn deadly.

Exposure to water can be equally hazardous. Pet rabbits and wild rabbits are very different in some ways and coat is one. We like fancy rabbits to be soft, pleasing to touch and groom. In order to get their coats to that point of delicateness we love so much, we bred out what protects wild rabbits from the rain. They have oils coating their fur which stop water from sinking in, and making it easier to shake off. That in turn protects from the shock which can come from the cold of wet fur in open air, protects from the infection risk it can raise. Pet rabbits should not be got wet unless strictly necessary and if it comes a point you have to bathe them it should only be under vets advice, and in most cases they will suggest dry options or damp rubbing before submersion.

It’s common for them to get smelly bums which will need some attention to prevent ill health and, in summer, fly strike. Fly strike being yet another thing that can kill you little bundle of floofy glee.

They need to be vaccinated annually. In their true, ‘bullshit. I’m not a prey animal, fuck that and fuck you, I’ll do what I want, thanks’ style, rabbits kind of messed up Australia a bit after we introduced them. Our solution was to try and mess them up right back by introducing viruses to kill them off. Rabbit haemorrhagic fever and myxomatosis being our weapons of choice. Much like how we introduced rabbits and lost control of them, we messed up the same way with the viruses. They’re still around today and still a major risk to rabbits in a variety of nations across the world. They are horrible viruses that lead to painful deaths, and myxie in particular is still very, very common in the UK. To risk not vaccinating is irresponsible.

They also need their teeth checked regularly (usually done when vaccines are as a kind of package deal) and if you’re unable to do it, their claws kept clipped down to a reasonable length to stop issues and discomfort arising.

They need a good bedding that is not cedar or pine. The majority of the bedding bought in pet shops gives off that tell-tale woody scent which is a big indicator that it’s not okay. That smell means phenols, which like in some other small animals can affect how their bodies process certain medications. Rabbits can get sick very quickly and if that happens it’s important their medications work. To buy hemp or other suitable bedding in bulk can keep costs down, buying smaller bales of suitable bedding can get pricey fast, but you then need somewhere to store it.

The same is true of hay. They need lots of it. Every day they eat their own size in the stuff, it’s the main staple of their diet and they should never be without it. Dust extracted oxbow or meadow hay is the most common, and your options are to buy by the bale to save or buy small packages of 1-2kg at a time and pay 5 times as much in the long run.

They should have a mix of greens every day. 3 or more types, amount varying depending on size but being careful not to include too much of certain cabbages, avoiding certain lettuces, making sure it’s not too much of this too many days in a row, avoiding giving more than 1 thing a day containing this, only giving a tablespoons’ worth of that… I printed the list out and pinned it to the hutch to form the shopping lists for what to give them, and write it down every day so I don’t end up doing things like giving too many days of parsley or spinach, too much of the cabbages they’re allowed over a week and so on. I can’t bloody remember it and I’m not sure many can.

I recommend checking out the House Rabbit Society’s thorough list of what greens can be given and in what amounts per 0.5kg of weight. It’ll give you a good idea of why it can be confusing for some folks!

Vegetables, contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, aren’t things you give much of, or at least you shouldn’t. Throwing a whole carrot into a rabbit hutch is bloody stupid and should be avoided, it’s a myth they eat a lot of them that sprang from Bugs Bunny. A few mannerisms of Bugs came from a character in ‘It Happened One Night’.

From Wikipedia

The unpublished memoirs of animator Friz Freleng mention that this was one of his favorite films. It Happened One Night has a few interesting parallels with the cartoon character Bugs Bunny, who made his first appearance six years later, and who Freleng helped develop. In the film, a minor character, Oscar Shapely, continually calls the Gable character “Doc”, an imaginary character named “Bugs Dooley” is mentioned once in order to frighten Shapely, and there is also a scene in which Gable eats carrots while talking quickly with his mouth full, as Bugs does.

Their diet should be supplemented by a well balanced nugget mix, too. They shouldn’t be free fed but rather have a set amount daily to correspond with their size/weight. This shouldn’t be museli, which leaves them picking out their favourite parts and leaving others, meaning their nutrition suffers. Given a lot of museli isn’t exactly of the greatest quality already, that can lead to a lot of problems like obesity, gas, and the gut slowing down, much like with a lack of exercise.

Misrepresentation of character is another issue that comes up a lot.

You don’t really see them on TV mid-high kick, or stamping in the middle of the night so loudly that your neighbours complain about you doing DIY at 3am. You see these adorable cuddly little things either being held happily or munching on grass peacefully in a garden, as though their main state is docile and calm. Little angels that are easy to care for and absolutely would never sink their teeth into your hand or use your face as a launch pad in play time. They’re shown with children and are often assumed to be the kind of pet that’s ideal for them. A start along the road of responsibility that won’t be too much for them to handle and won’t cost a bomb.

I think I’ve already made it pretty clear they’re complicated animals already, but the bit that amazes a lot of people the most is finding out the reality of living with them. The docile, calm, and child friendly myth that floats around couldn’t be further than the truth with some rabbits. Talking to non-owners I often hear surprise at what their temperaments can be like, while fellow owners and and enthusiasts give a knowing sigh sof ‘ yep.’

Bunnies are not child friendly. Rough handling doesn’t go over well with most animals, and some are far less tolerant of it than others. I would put bunnies well within the ‘least tolerant’ list of potential pets. If you handle them wrong, catch them in the wrong mood, or they just feel being a grouch all of a sudden, you can find out they can do an incredible amount of damage.

I learned this the hard way. I’ve kept rabbits for around three years now, and within my first year I was bitten clean through a part of my hand. I also have prominent scarring on my chest, hands and arms from deep scratches. I’ve narrowly avoided similar on my face from sudden disapproval and running and jumping during play on several occasions.

In my first year of bunny ownership I was injured far more, and more severely, than in over 10 years of living with a house full of fostered cats, pet ferrets, rats, and dogs. These aren’t all injuries from mistakes on my part. You will sometimes have to pick up a rabbit for whatever reason and they’re quick little buggers with strong back legs. They can, and they will, catch you with a claw at some point.

If you catch them in the right mood, they’re still not a pet you can really pick up and cuddle. As natural ground dwellers they’re unlikely to sit on your lap and affection will always be on their terms. All the bribery in the world will not necessarily work to ingratiate you with a bunny that really just doesn’t feel like being anywhere near you.

I’ll use my girl, First Sea Lord Tasty Soup, as an example on this one. She’s very anti-contact when anywhere near what she considers her domain. She’s the dominant of the two that I have, and when in the living room (they have a hutch and pen up one end, and get to use the rest as a run for a lot of the day/evening), all other beings are considered below her on the pecking order (the dogs, my husband, and myself included). She won’t just run away if upset about something, but rather she’ll get confrontational. If she wants to kick up a fuss about something, there’s nothing you’ll ever do to stop her.

Being part meat-breed, she has very muscular back legs which are great for making a lot of noise with stamps; something they do when annoyed, happy, know it upsets the dog and just spotted it go past, or just kinda feel like it. She kicks, uses people as spring boards, nips at ankles, and no attempts at house training will stop her eating the furniture. She has a particular appetite for skirting board and carpeting, although the sofa has taken some abuse.

I’ve been asked on more than one occasion why I keep her given her behaviour, which ranges from stamping all night to bullying our Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but the fact is it’s perfectly normal for a rabbit to be a volatile little sod.

Don’t get me wrong, I love her to bits and it’s not all bad behaviours. She’s a grump but that character is sort of endearing at times and she can also be such a happy little thing to just watch going about her day. Taken away from that area she’s got labelled as hers and hers alone, she’ll spend some short periods of time cuddling up and being stroked. It doesn’t usually last long until she wants to go back to her home area, but it’s still time I can enjoy. Watching her binkying about the place is a great source of entertainment in itself and there’s a lot of games she’ll play with sticks, tubes, and other things.

She’s also got a vulnerable side in that she’s really scared of grass, which is perhaps the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in either of them, next to her regularly getting hay fever.

My other rabbit, Archduke Casserole, is the opposite. While he’ll also throw the occasional tantrum (I have not witnessed anything quite like The Great Tantrum of 2013. Hours of grumbling and stamping because I took a strawberry plant away from him that he’d already eaten the majority of), he loves attention. Nothing is better to him than a good head or ear rub and he’ll follow you around until you give him the focus he’s desperate for. Take him away from their usual area and he’ll start looking for what he can destroy. Usually it ends up being your hands as you try to protect the soft furnishings and your clothes.

He has a mean streak too, though very different than Soup’s volatility.

I left him in the garden for a moment a few years ago while I let the dog in, and he unfortunately met a neighbour’s cat. The cat, incredibly, was the one that fared badly from the situation.

Rabbits are incredible animals with amazing characters that can make you laugh until you cry, but they can definitely test you to the end of your patience. While I find them to be worth the strife, I do often find myself overwhelmed and, to keep them in a way that is fair and healthy for them, I doubt I would be able to manage if not for the help of my husband.

Please, if you’re considering getting a bunny, whether for Easter or any other time, do a lot of thinking and research before hand and be sure you’re prepared to take the cost, the volatility, the education, the space, and the time. No pet should be taken on lightly without knowing all that’s involved, but when it’s one where so many are taken on with such enormous misconceptions being rife, with their welfare suffering in such large numbers and to such a degree, it’s better to be absolutely certain what you’re getting yourself into. For them, and you.

If you’re not, then please, get a chocolate one instead.