Friday, February 15, 2013

Making Mardi Gras Greener: An Idea to Throw Out There

The revelry. The lights. The bands. The crowds. The floats. And, of course, the throws. This is our modern Mardi Gras. The kind of event where people come in drove to partake of the city’s hospitality as they fight over pieces of plastic. Once upon a time, Mardi Gras meant something. Now, it just stands for debauchery, greed and ill-manners.

Throwing beads has been a tradition of Carnival since the late 1800s. Back then, the beads were Czech glass in multi-colored strings. With the advent of cheap plastics, beads turned commercialized. Soon these small plastic beads were replaced with larger plastic beads until they evolved into today’s oil based beads. Today’s beads have lost their intrinsic value because of their mass-produced availability, yet because they are flashier than ever, these beads become more sought after. At the same time, more and more beads are being left in the street from being broken or unwanted. Revelers don’t respect the beads because there are simply too many to be had.

Trinkets have quickly become a much sought after commodity. Perhaps one of the most coveted trinkets is neither plastic nor stuffed. It is the Zulu coconut, a traditional throw that is as old as the krewe and has only gone through cosmetic change. Bar these, trinkets have become screen-printed, monogrammed, embroidered, light-up bits of poly and plastic. While some can be pretty cool, like Orpheus' light-up tambourine, others can be amazingly cheap, like the admittedly cute Saints plush that was already falling apart when I caught it. Most of the plushes don’t seem to be worth more than as a dog’s toy. At least the light-up trinkets can be useful but once that non-replaceable battery dies, they become yet another item cluttering your home.

The amount of waste generated during Carnival is astounding. So much so that you don’t need hard numbers to know this, you just have to look around after the parade has passed. Discarded plastic bags, broken beads, food, and drinks litter the ground, lying where they were dropped and forgotten. The trash doesn’t just stay on the parade route; it finds its way down side streets and onto peoples’ front yards. However, the city-hired clean-up crews don’t worry about that; they were hired just to clean the parade route itself. The city spends millions to pick up trash after the parades, money that could be used elsewhere.

There has to be a solution to cut down on the excesses while keeping the exuberance of Carnival. The season’s success should never be measured by how many tons of garbage is produced. But what can we do, you ask? We start by changing the American psyche. Bigger is not always better. We need to cut down on the volume of beads being bought and thrown by going with more locally-made and eco-friendly beads like glass, wood, clay, even newspaper. Instead of plastic bag packaging, beads should come in paper bags, a renewable, recyclable and biodegradable resource. Recycling bins should be set up equidistant down the parade route, with slots for an assortment of goods to encourage their use. In the meanwhile, programs like Arc of New Orleans’ “Catch and Release,” need to be legalized and instituted to promote and facilitate the reuse of unwanted beads.

Mardi Gras and Carnival season need a green facelift. There is too much trash and waste. Something has to be done about this and it has to start at home. This is our city, our world-famous New Orleans. We don’t want it trashed, we want it beautiful. So next time you sign up to ride, think green. One person can make a difference by inspiring the next.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How to Train Your Rabbit: My Adventure There and Back Again

I had a rabbit once, for two weeks. Why? Because I’m a sucker for stray animals. One night I found a stray black rabbit down the street from my house. A few pieces of lettuce later, I have the rabbit in my possession and safely ensconced in a tall laundry hamper, with lid. I figured it was the safest thing to keep him in temporarily. Fortunately for the rabbit, we always have an extra kennel and I have plenty of plastic shoe boxes. The poor rabbit lived in the ghetto with his shredded newspaper litter and iceberg lettuce and carrots for food. I decided that he needed proper care, so $40 later, he had real rabbit food, fresh aspen shavings litter, sweet potato sticks, sea grass sticks, wood blocks, timothy hay cubes, and a willow stick ball. Yep, this rabbit was livin’ large. And then the fun started.

Rabbits can be litter box trained; just don’t come out knowing to use it, like cats. So for the first few days, the whole cage was his litter box. Gradually, after throwing his poop in the box and wiping up his pee, which is toxic in my opinion, I came to realize that the box was both too small and in the wrong corner of the cage. Apparently rabbits are very picky and function better when each corner, or half, of the cage is set with a specific function, ie bathroom, food, water, toys. And the rabbit will let you know where the bathroom shall be. Once you get past this initial hurdle, however, there’s smooth sailing.

Rabbits are fairly easy to care for indoors. Start with a good sixed cage that is easy to transport or take apart for cleaning. Smaller rabbits need a larger cage as they tend to be more active whereas a larger rabbit is more sedentary. For the litter box, get a plastic shoebox or washtub big enough for the rabbit to set comfortably. For the litter itself, use aspen shavings or pellet style cat litter. Also put a bit of hay, timothy for adults, on one side of the box. They hay is good for them and rabbits tend to poop while they’re eating so this serves a dual purpose. Get some nutritious food and a few snacks, but don’t over feed the rabbit either! Fresh water should of course be available at all times. Make sure to get some wood blocks or cardboard and toys to keep him busy.

Cleaning the cage doesn’t take long. Go ahead and let the rabbit run around for his exercise while you’re cleaning. Keep an eye on him, though! Rabbits can get into some tight spaces. I opted to clean the cage everyday to cut down on any odors, so I only placed enough litter to cover well the bottom of the box. Either way, dump the litter out, wash the pan (remember, rabbit pee is disgusting), refill and replace. Sweep up any stray poops and litter. Wipe off food bowls and the bottom of the cage. Refill water and replace everything as it was. See, that was easy!

Now that you’re done cleaning, play with the rabbit! He may be more interested in hopping arounf the room but he will get back around to you and would love some head scratches before hipping off again. If you want to pick him up for cuddles, make sure you support his back legs, otherwise he’ll lick out. Once you’ve got a secure hold on him, cuddle away! When playtime is over, gently put the rabbit back in the cage and give him a treat. This will reinforce the idea that it’s okay to go back in the cage.

And that, my friends, is how to care for a rabbit. At least, for two weeks. Long term, find a vet and get it fixed. Yes, you can spay or neuter a rabbit and it’s inexpensive! If you’re getting a rabbit for your kid, be sure to show them the proper way to hold the rabbit and remember that you’ll be doing all the work. The internet is your friend for info but always ask the vet if something goes horribly wrong.

To help cut down on rabbit over breeding, adopt a rabbit from your local rescue group! The adoption fee will include a snip or spay and will make room for another rabbit to be rescued. Please remember that pet rabbits are domestic animals and don’t have the necessary skills anymore to survive in the wild, so please don’t release them.

Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue
PetSmart Rabbit Care & Nutrition