Fur farming – an unnecessary industry


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People who call themselves “animal lovers” can cop a lot of flack for it. According to many, unless you are a dedicated vegan your opinions are null and void. You might mention that you care about one topic, and then are slammed with a barrage of “Well if you care about that, you had better care about this too or you’re just a hypocrite!” It doesn’t seem to work the same way in other circles – for example, if someone likes cricket, but not basketball, they probably aren’t told that they are a hypocrite and not a true sports fan unless they fully support all sports everywhere.

However, in my experience even vegans can get the same amount, if not more grief for their lifestyle choice. I am not currently vegan, but when I was trialing it I would commonly hear things like,
You do realise that you’re not actually saving anything by not eating meat, right?
I read that plants scream when you chop them up – have you ever considered what those poor veges go through to make your salad!
So you don’t use any animal products at all? What – are you trying to ruin our economy?
I don’t understand why some people feel they have to put vegans ‘in their place’ if they aren’t pushing their morals on others; it’s an amazing ethical decision, and I have huge respect for people who take the time to live a vegan lifestyle. I can guarantee that there are currently enough people in support of using animal products to ensure that the economy won’t be “ruined by vegans”.

Realistically one person cannot solve all the world’s problems. I know that if I personally tried to get involved in every single cause I cared about I would burn out very quickly and be no use to anyone or anything. I am at peace with the lifestyle I currently lead, and with what I believe in. My focus the last few years has been to do with animal industries that I feel have no necessity – e.g. street entertainment, the illegal wildlife trade, endangered animal parts for ‘traditional’ medicines. Another industry I feel there is no necessity for in the western world is fur farming – especially when it involves endangered or protected species.

Most of us no longer need fur to survive. There are, of course, small populations of peoples who do not have access to easy trade and do require the fur of animals for the sustenance of their communities. But for most of the world it is no longer a necessity. People on the pro-fur side might argue that when an animal is killed for, say, food, that the whole body should be used in order to minimise waste – but the types of animals most popularly hunted for food (e.g. deer, boar, poultry) do not yield the kind of pelt used for high-demand fur (e.g. fox, mink, wolf).


Ventana, White Wolf Sanctuary


When I first started at the White Wolf Sanctuary I got two know two pretty intriguing characters, Ventana and Nepenthe. This arctic wolf pair had come from an apparently horrific fur farm that was breeding wolves and other animals for their pelts, and forced the animals to live in terrible conditions. Nepenthe and Ventana were six months old when they were rescued from this facility, and had been confined in such a small space that they’d never had the chance to develop their hind legs and could not properly stand. It took a lot of work and care to rehabilitate them, but they eventually grew into strong, capable wolves, and each lived for over a decade at the sanctuary where they were cherished and cared for.

An article about a farm in Minnesota was recently brought to my attention. The farm, Fur-Ever Wild, is a “working agricultural farm, that celebrates our traditional connections to the land and mother nature… from the pioneering trappers and hunters… to our ranchers and farmers who are feeding the world today.” ALDF, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, is compiling a case against FEW with the aim of shutting their operations down.

Fur-Ever Wild have a range of species on their farm which they breed for various purposes. Animals include cougars, grey wolves, pigs, horses, deer, raccoon, cattle and goats. FEW markets themselves as an educational facility that aims to connect people back to nature while also promoting “ethical outdoorsmanship” (which, to FEW, includes hunting, trapping and pelting animals). The way they achieve education is through inviting customers to pay to “get up close with North American wildlife” – hand-feeding animals, “pet-n-play” sessions, and live animal demonstrations. All of these services can involve adult wolves and/or wolf pups.

One thing instantly strikes me when reading about what this facility does, and that pertains to it promoting itself as an educational organisation. I am simply not convinced with the “education” that they do. Just as I do not believe that selling elephant rides in Southeast Asia is advocating elephant welfare or their conservation, I am not a supporter of bundling children in to a pen with immature wolves and promoting this as wildlife education. Teaching people that you can keep wild animals in a domestic setting with frequent hands-on contact is not wildlife education in my opinion, and I’m against the breeding of intrinsically-wild animals for the main purpose of turning a profit.

Fur-Ever Wild takes animal exploitation one step further. They also sell the pelts of their own animals. FEW proprietor, Terri Petter, says that when an animal at the establishment dies, “I use everything I can. I don’t think anything should be wasted. I openly admit that.” ALDF, however, is alleging that Fur-Ever Wild doesn’t just wait for their animals to die naturally before they are pelted, but slaughters them in their prime. With federal protection recently being reinstated for grey wolves in Minnesota and nearby states, this means the grey wolf is protected by the Endangered Species Act. The ESA prohibits the killing of a protected species.

While looking into this myself I was only able to find examples of FEW representatives talking about pelting their animals after a natural death – however, during discussion with some activists rallying against the facility I was sent documentation from a 2012 court case in which Terri Petter admitted to breeding animals specifically for their fur, and alluded to having them slaughtered in their prime. One line that really struck me is below:

Q: “Have you pelted anything in the last few months?”
A: “I pelted two wolves last night. And there is another two going tonight… then the rest of them go. There will be 25 within the next three weeks-two weeks.”

As a genuinely interested party I contacted Fur-Ever Wild directly for some clarification on whether they do slaughter animals themselves, or if they wait for natural deaths. FEW received my messages last month, but I have had no reply as yet.

Unsurprisingly, Fur-Ever Wild is a strong talking point for many animal rights activists at the moment – and FEW are understandably not happy about it. Their Facebook page proudly displays plenty of recent posts talking about “animal whacktavists” and how misinformed people can be. Some of their communication gets quite personal – they have openly given the name of one activist and posted her photograph online, and one of their volunteers has even set up a petition against another activist involved in the case, labeling her an “ecoterrorist”.
To be fair to FEW, many of the comments I have read in support of shutting them down have been utterly horrific. I understand that it is an extremely passionate topic for some (I do not exclude myself from that), but resorting to slander, threats and abhorrent language is no constructive way to get things done. That, however, goes for FEW too. In my opinion they have conducted themselves in a very unprofessional manner.

I am completely against what this facility does. Even with legalities aside I personally could never support an establishment that breeds animals primarily for their fur – I do not deem it a necessity in the modern world, not even for the sake of “education”. Educating people on the “old ways” of traditional hunting, trapping and pelting could easily be demonstrated through the use of photographs, illustrations and examples of tools such as you might find in any truly educational facility. Using education as an excuse to carry on a tradition that calls for the unnecessary breeding and slaughter of live animals is simply not a strong enough argument to convince me.

The fact that grey wolves have federal protection just adds another filthy layer to this already messy case. I hope to remain in discussion with people directly involved, and will follow any legal outcomes closely. If this facility is indeed illegally slaughtering protected species then hopefully adequate legal action is enforced. I do admit a personal concerned interest in all of this. The majority of animals I have spent my time working with have been rescues. Rightly or wrongly, if I discovered that any of them had been sold into industries that hold no necessity in my mind, I would most likely be appalled.

I like to think that many people who wish to view wild animals would consider other options before giving money to an establishment that breeds captive wildlife and allows the animals to be exploited in this manner. I suppose by now, though, I have come to learn that countless tourists and customers are prepared to turn a blind eye for the sake of some hands-on contact. Would you be comfortable supporting an establishment that breeds and potentially illegally slaughters its animals for fur? I certainly wouldn’t.


Animal Legal Defense Fund
ALDF article on Intent to Sue Fur-Ever Wild, with link to 2012 court case

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Desexy Revolution


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Christmas is undeniably fast approaching, as terrified as I am to admit it. When I am not overseas working on a wildlife rescue project I do a bit of local rescue work back home and foster cats for a wonderful charity based here in Auckland called Lonely Miaow. Christmas is one of the busiest times for charities such as this one – not only does summer promise countless new kittens, but the festive season also brings an influx of people wanting to get pets as presents. Sadly, the time after Christmas also guarantees more work for rescue charities; for some new owners the reality of caring for a pet sinks in, and many animals are returned to where they came from.

I have never supported the concept of ‘gifting’ a live animal to someone else unless there has been thorough discussion and planning involved. I remember a client who came in for a consultation at a veterinary clinic I work at – a middle-aged lady with her elderly mother. The lady had purchased a fluffy toy breed puppy for her mother – it was running around the clinic waiting room, excitedly soiling the lino every time someone paid it some attention. A typical puppy, it was full of energy and needed lots of stimulation and patience. The lady was grinning from ear to ear, gushing about this little dog who she now got to visit a couple of times a week – meanwhile, her mother simply shook her head at me. Obviously this had not been a ‘gift’ she was prepared for.
Animals are responsibilities. They require time, dedication and, of course, adequate funds for food and medical care. Before acquiring a pet for someone this Christmas please remember to ensure that the decision is one that has been properly thought out by the receiving party. Pets deserve the gift of a good, caring home; not to be given as a spontaneous gift themselves.

Many animal Christmas gifts come from what I will refer to as ‘backyard breeders’ – people with entire animals who allow them to breed without any real oversight or proper planning. Often someone discovers they have a full litter of kittens or puppies on their hands, and decides that they need to find homes for the offspring in time for summer. In New Zealand anyone can breed their cat or dog – and our shelters are inundated with unwanted animals. A single female cat can be responsible for producing 25,000 descendants in only five years – no, that wasn’t a typo! One female cat can have two-three litters per year, of up to nine or so kittens. These kittens can start producing themselves from only several months of age – the numbers quickly add up.
New Zealand has a massive number of stray, roaming cats – that’s where Lonely Miaow come in. They get these animals ‘off the streets’ so to speak, put them into a foster home, desex them, and then their foster owners find them a forever home. Since my time working with Lonely Miaow I have rehomed 21 kittens and cats – not a huge number, but that is 21 little furballs not out there contributing to the mass feral population; 21 little furballs with a happy home, medical care, full tummies and awesome owners.

HURRAH Desexy Revolution Alyson Young PhotographyAnother Auckland-based charity that I have some dealings with do similar work for dogs. HURRAH – the Humane Rescue, Rehabilitation and Rehoming Charitable Trust – is a volunteer-run group that rescues unwanted dogs, puts them into foster care and provides them with everything they need for a new, happy life. Some of these animals had been surrendered for euthanasia by their previous owners – HURRAH do amazing work with finding these dogs, giving them proper behavioural training and medical treatment, and ensuring they are ready for a caring, responsible home.

Not only this, but HURRAH have recently started up an even more community-focused initiative: the Desexy Revolution. Desexy Revolution aims to eliminate the high number of unwanted puppies in Auckland by offering desexing services to lower-income families. They require massive support for this – not just financial aid and surgical equipment, but man-power too; vets, nurses, dog handlers, administrators – and these are all volunteers.

Alyson Young Desexy RevolutionIn September I lent my nursing skills to Desexy Revolution for one of their mass clinics. In just one day and with only two surgery tables we spayed and neutered over 20 dogs – a fantastic feat. I was at the end of the line in Recovery; as soon as each veterinarian had finished surgery on a dog, I and the trainee nurse stationed with me would take the animals off the table, set them up in a recovery kennel, and ensure they woke up properly. Their endotracheal tubes and intravenous catheters would need to be removed, their post-operative medication (including pain relief) would be given, and we would monitor each animal closely to ensure its early recovery was going to plan. A big part of our job was shuffling animals around for space; with only three recovery kennels we had to be pretty smart about our resources!

Samantha Boston Desexy Revolution recovery HURRAHThe day truly was a great success. It even made national news! You can check out the little piece here.

Samantha Boston Desexy Revolution Alyson Young Photography

Check out my sweet over-sized scrubs

Initiatives like this are so important, but nothing beats responsible pet ownership. I really don’t encourage backyard breeding; I have worked in veterinary clinics, shelters and rescue facilities, and the number of abandoned animals passing through these establishments is shocking. For each puppy or kitten born, that means one less potential home for a shelter animal in need. If you are going to be blessing loved ones with a furry addition to the family, consider a rescue animal. They are far less likely to have medical issues than most pure-bred pets, and providing a wonderful life for an animal in need is one of the most satisfying things you could ever do.


Desexy Revolution
Lonely Miaow
Alyson Young Photography

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Our world is bigger than us


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I’ve been having a few rants lately to people about how western culture encourages us to live for ourselves only, the way our civilization pressures us to. Celebrities flood the media; how to dress like them, why you should want bodies like them, where they eat and what they buy. We are told that our goals in life are to work ourselves raw in a career, secure a house, have children and raise them to care about the same life cycle as us and to become unconscious consumers just as we are. Our shopping choices fuel child slavery, destroy unimaginable expanses of dwindling natural habitat and continue the demand for rife corruption in countless countries – all because we want more, more, more, and we have decided that nothing else matters more than supporting our own lifestyles. Our blind tourism and entertainment desires have consequences I still can’t get my own family to understand: That elephant you’re riding in Thailand has had its herd slaughtered, its family dismembered for some wealthy human’s fetish, and its offspring smuggled across a border to be broken and tortured only to later end up at an ‘elephant camp’ where you will pay to bottle feed it and thus throw more money into supporting the decline and incarceration of a wild species.

And yet we plod along, without a thought for anything but what we deem as important in our own little worlds. That sentiment is something I continue to struggle with. How can we be so intelligent, and know so much, yet allow these things to happen?

Some truly devastating images have been shared widely over social media and through the news lately showing the utter trauma Syria’s people are currently going through. Syria’s displaced refugees are literally dying to get away from the country that was once their home – and shocking photographs are making outsiders realise that this is actually a reality.
A lot of what I hear in response to this are complaints that the photos shouldn’t be circulating at all, because they are disturbing. Yes, they are disturbing, yes they are heart-breaking, and I also can’t stand to see them any more. But when someone tells me that they plan to do nothing but switch the news off and carry on with their own lives, I am ashamed. For many people it is easy to just shut their eyes and put bigger matters out of their minds – but this is an attitude that can sustain humanitarian crises.
So I know that it can be traumatic to be forced to see the horror that is our world right now… but use that energy to do something good. And I don’t meant get up and leave your life and current responsibilities behind to go and physically help – you can do plenty from a chair at home. Donate $5.00 or some toys to an aid project, for example. This link <— has some good little ideas.
Live with compassion. Be aware. Our actions – even many seemingly insignificant ones – have consequences. Give thoughts to things outside your own world and encourage those in your care to do the same. One of my favourite philosophies is: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

There is a lot going on, all over the globe. Plenty of projects need our help. I’ve said it before, but by choosing even one thing important to you, and doing something beneficial for it every now and then, you can make a difference – or so the optimist in me believes. I know that everyone has their own troubles, difficulties, and tragedies. But if we resign ourselves to believing there is no point in even trying to make a tiny piece of difference, nothing will change. It isn’t difficult to do a selfless good deed, and I relish hearing about the many plans different people have to help others or contribute something positive somewhere.

Below is a video that I think is a good illustration of how anything can happen to anyone, and may put things in a different perspective for some. It certainly made me think.


LARP: The Bleed-Out/Bleed-In


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I recently rediscovered my ‘fear’ of flying. This isn’t ideal when I have plenty of travel plans, a job that sees me skip across the country occasionally, and a hobby that also encourages a bit of local travel. New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, is known for its windy temperament (which can lead to some interesting flights at times) and last month I flew down to Wellington to spend the weekend with some of the LARP (Live Action Role-Play) community. Most thankfully the flight down was smooth and entirely uneventful – I’m using it to top up my “See, flights are fine!” list.

LARP (which can basically be described as dress-ups and make-believe for all ages) has become a favoured hobby of mine, not that I would ever say I’m super “good” at it. I love the escapism, and I also love simply being around the community we have here in New Zealand. I’m quite a shy person, and while I’ve been attending LARPs for at least three years now I wouldn’t consider myself to be highly proactive in the community. When I’m at LARP events I think I only need to know I have at least one or two people I’m relatively close to, and after that everyone else adds to the positive experience just by being there even if they haven’t interacted with me at all. I’m certainly one who would say she experiences “LARPover” (an emotional low after the games are done). I think it’s because I revel in that escapism so much, and each and every person in some way adds to my experience, so I end up missing everyone to a notable extent – even if some of us have hardly spoken at the particular event.

At last month’s weekend I had a different experience to any other I’ve had while LARPing. A lot of people consider a LARP experience to be successful if they have really felt raw emotion, or if their characters have been affected quite deeply by something. I used to steer far away from anything that had a “Warning: Emotionally intense, this game is for experienced LARPers only” label on it because I didn’t think I would be able to handle it, but I feel I’m somewhat more confident to tackle increased emotionally-involved games now.

A while ago I wrote about my first ever LARP experience, which was at a ‘campaign’ game called Teonn. Different LARPs have different lengths – you might have a game that only lasts a couple of hours, or one that lasts a whole weekend. You may even have ‘campaigns’ where people meet up every so often to play a game that has a continuous storyline. The current campaign we are playing is known as The Crucible, and this story was planned to span out across three or four years. Every six months we have a big game that lasts for three or four days, and in between those weekend games we have little events or ‘day games’. The LARP I’m writing about in this post was a Crucible day game, and played out for several hours.
In Crucible (and many other LARPs) you can choose to ‘Play’ or ‘Crew’. Players tend to write their own characters to fit in with the setting, and make character connections with other Players to create some kind of back-story. Crew flesh out the rest of the setting like the extras (very important ones!) of a movie – they play the ‘NPCs’ (Non-Player Characters); the quest-givers the Players have to satisfy, the monsters the Players have to fight, villagers and townspeople, etc.
Crucible is basically a dark fantasy game with different factions that you can pledge your loyalty to. Some of the factions could be loosely compared to those in Game of Thrones. We also have several Demon factions and other interesting creatures to keep us on our toes. I started Crucible as a Player, but for the day game last month we didn’t have too many crew so I decided to help out on the NPC side. One of the GMs (“Game Masters” – they organise the games and oversee the plot) got in touch with me a few days before the game and asked if I would be happy playing a particular NPC for the day. I jumped at the chance because I far prefer character-focused role-playing as opposed to being involved in heavy combat – plus it sounded like an exciting character.

The setting of the day game was this: a Hold that the different factions often congregate at was under attack by demons. The Jarl (Jarl Garm Vandholtz – played by the NPC Coordinator) had called to the factions for aid, and so they came along to see if they could put an end to the attacks. Garm has a daughter named Rikku (played by one of the amazing Crew), but she and a few of the Players were captured right at the start of the game by some demons – and so the other Players had to find and rescue them.

Rikku and especially Jarl Garm have been important parts of the Crucible story so far, and make regular appearances at games. It was common knowledge that Rikku’s mother (Garm’s wife) had passed away some years ago. It was not common knowledge that the Lady’s ghost was still lingering atop a mountain, underneath which a cache was hidden in some sealed catacombs. I was to play Garm’s wife, Astrid Vandholtz, and the Players were to eventually find and placate my “spirit”.

At the start of the game I had a briefing with a couple of the GMs who helped me understand what to expect, and what my aims were for the game. I had several warnings that it was going to be emotional, so I tried to prepare myself as best I could.

Astrid’s story was that she had been the much-loved Lady of the Hold, a powerful mage, a loving wife and utterly devoted mother to her children. Seven years ago she had been captured by a group of demons and dragged into the mines near where she and her family lived. The demons wanted to take advantage of her powerful magic and undying love for her family: they wished to bind her to the area to protect it from strangers. In order to do this, though, they had to kill her painfully in a ritual that lasted many days. During this ritual her screams echoed throughout the tunnels of the labyrinthine mines and out into the mountains, and the Hold’s people (including the Jarl) were forced to hear it day after day, night after night, until the ritual finally took her life.
After that day Astrid’s spirit took to the mountainside above the mines and she had haunted it ever since, a tragic and all-but-living memory of what had occurred in the depths of those tunnels. During the ritual the demons had ensured that Astrid’s love for her family was transcribed into her desire to protect the mines, and she did so passionately – her ghost was extremely hostile. If people ever came to find her she would simply frighten them away with her ferocity.

On this day, when the factions gathered to bring aid in response to Jarl Garm Vandholtz’s call for assistance, some of the Players stumbled across Astrid’s ghost. She would have turned them away completely, but they spoke the name of her daughter – Rikku. Astrid’s love for her family was still as strong as it was in life, and eventually the Players realised that in order to get Astrid to be reasonable with them they had to bring Garm and Rikku to her restless spirit. However, Jarl Garm and his daughter had no idea that Astrid still had a presence on this earth. They believed she was long gone, at peace with their Gods. When the Players did finally bring Garm and Rikku to the place of Astrid’s haunting, they could not believe what they saw. Rikku was convinced it was but an evil manifestation, and refused to listen to her lady mother’s ghost speak.

LARP Crucible Astrid and Garm

A disbelieving Garm watches as Astrid’s ghost turns on him

Unable to convince her daughter that she truly was the girl’s awakened mother, Astrid turned on her speechless husband, Garm. He stood, watching in disbelief, yet knowing that this was indeed remnants of the wife he knew had died seven years ago. But she was furious.

“Why hadn’t you come to find me?”
she accused. “Seven years I have waited in this place for my family – seven years! And not once did you seek me out.”

Garm, torn with grief and guilt, could only implore to Astrid that he had wanted to – their family had been tortured by the knowledge that she had been slaughtered in those tunnels, but they knew it would be impossible to find her in that demon-run labyrinth, and eventually they sought solace in their belief that she was at rest.
Meanwhile, the Players were gathering around trying to figure out how to pacify Astrid’s unrelenting spirit. Earlier, some of them had met a Hag in the woods who had taught them a ritual of how to set the ghost free – however they needed Astrid’s body to do this, and in her furious state she wasn’t going to give them any assistance.
It took some convincing, but once Rikku saw that her father very obviously believed that this truly was Astrid’s ghost, she inched closer and closer to her mother’s spirit and they finally touched hands. It was quite a reunion – careful, cautious, and almost too good to be true. Astrid smiled, her eyes gleaming with bittersweet sorrow, and sighed, “Rikku, you have grown so much, my beautiful girl.” The two dissolved into tears and an embrace.

For me these tears were not false. The situation, of course, was in that make-believe realm, but it slightly echoed something in my real life. Many people have methods for separating character experiences from their real selves, and I have for the most part managed to do so thus far. But this was something else. That slight echo gripped me, and shook me, and caged me in those tears, and wouldn’t let go.

After the embrace with her daughter Astrid disappeared, whispering the location of her body to Rikku and granting her and her friends (the Players) access to the mines. (At this point I ran off with one of the GMs, down into the tunnels of this gorgeous LARP location: the Players now had to face a maze to find Astrid’s body.)
Once the Players reached the correct mine entrance, Astrid’s ghost awaited them. The Players were certainly wary of her, but one was brave enough to approach and have a short but gentle conversation with her. It is always interesting, for me, to see the types of characters people play – the ones who want to make things right, the ones who want to ensure their deeds are honourable and intentions clear. Once Astrid caught sight of her daughter she disappeared into the tunnels, beckoning for Rikku and her friends to follow. The tunnels were long and dark, and Astrid’s ghost would appear at every corner, calling to her daughter, leading the Players to her final resting place. The Players, of course, did not know what to expect. Finally, Astrid led them to a room in which they found a raised platform. The GMs described the scene to them as this:

LARP Crucible Catacombes

The Players find Astrid’s final resting place deep within the catacombs.

Atop the platform is a throne, and in the throne sits a sunken body: the corpse of a female. Her clothes are torn, and there are deep symbols etched into her flesh. Her lifeless body sits here, but you can also see her ghost over the top of the flesh – Lady Astrid. To the right of the throne is a tall demon. He smiles as you enter.

While in this form, tied to her body, Astrid’s ghost was able to slightly move her physical limbs and still had the ability to speak. But at first I – myself – could not. The Players filed in to the room, one by one. I truly did feel like a fragile, vulnerable body atop this little throne. Rikku cried as she entered, and I couldn’t stop.
On seeing the demon the Players demanded to know who he was and why he was there. He laughed and said that Astrid was the one they should be concerned about – she was a problem that needed to be “dealt” with. I stared around the room at the Players, imploring them to help, feeling desperate. The goal was to have the Players successfully release Astrid’s spirit and finally allow her to rest. I knew this, but I also knew that I was feeding off my own raw emotion – a resolution in this story would not bring me peace. I was not sure what to expect after we had concluded this scene.

Rikku seeks the comfort of a friend in the presence of her mother's tortured spirit.

Rikku seeks the comfort of a friend in the presence of her mother’s tortured spirit.

Thanks to the Hag in the woods the Players had the ritual they needed, and asked Astrid’s ghost if she would accept them performing it in order to bring her the eternal sleep she had longed for all this time. It was what she wanted, of course – she had been reunited with her family, and knew her daughter and husband were safe. But she wanted to hold them one last time. This was the hardest thing for me – “saying goodbye”. The simply gorgeous girl playing Rikku was astounding – she grasped my hands and cried out about how this shouldn’t be how it ended. Garm begged to trade places, but Astrid told him that he needed to continue leading his people and raising beautiful Rikku. There were so, so many tears.

Finally, the Players performed the ritual and released Astrid’s spirit. Her body slumped down into the throne, and her protective ward was lifted. After all of that the Players now had access to the cache she had been protecting. They also managed to dispel the demon! It all went according to plan.

Except, there I sat, with ‘Rikku’ crying over my ‘body’. She gently placed my hands together in my lap, and fell back into the friends who were there to comfort her. My face was tilted down and tears were tumbling off my cheeks – I kept willing myself to stop; “Corpses don’t cry, Sam, corpses don’t cry…” but I couldn’t help it. That scene had been too much. I couldn’t stop thinking about the things my real-life family were going through right then, and what they would be having to endure in the near-future, and I just couldn’t shake that tragic pain. The lovely lass playing Rikku then whispered to me that we would leave the tunnels, and pretend that she was carrying Astrid’s body out. I followed her and couldn’t speak. The Players had to wage through a final battle, and I sat out of the way with my wonderful friend who played the Hag and a couple of others who wanted to spectate. I still couldn’t shake the tears.

I needed to get that out. While it was certainly one of the best role-playing experiences I have had, it also grabbed me in a way that meant some real-life pain came out. It is almost surreal knowing you are feeling this real emotion, caused by something in your true life, while being in the middle of a fantasy-based game where people all around you are pretending. It felt incredibly lonely and isolating.
There are articles floating around describing a phenomenon known as ‘Bleed’ from LARPs, which is an affect that occurs when the emotions of your character actually creep their way into your real life. I suppose this encounter was the ‘Bleed-in‘; real life affecting an in-game experience. It meant that some of those feelings I made out to portray were actually coming from me, myself, and not just the woman I was meant to be playing.

LARP Crucible The Hag

The surreal forest Hag


A huge mention to everyone involved. Everyone had different experiences with this particular game, some more positive than others, but I want to thank those who interacted with me in any way, shape or form, whether it was causally hanging out before the game began, or afterwards when we were all feeling drained and tired.

If any GMs from anywhere are reading this, thank you for all that you do.

To everyone dealing with the loss of a loved one – you are in my thoughts.

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Shutting down a temple


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A few days ago, the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, a wildlife rescue organisation I worked with in 2013, posted some photos of a very emaciated-looking sunbear that they had found in a temple in the Prachuap Khiri Khan province. This little girl, who they affectionately named Kwan, had been found all alone in a bare, cell-type room at the temple. They uplifted this malnourished creature and provided what veterinary treatment they could, placing her in intensive care back at WFFT’s veterinary clinic. Sadly, though, they just could not save her, and she passed away shortly after her long-overdue rescue.

Assessing Kwan - photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Assessing Kwan – photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Animals held at temples in Southeast Asia are a common occurrence. Probably the most infamous is the widely-promoted “Tiger Temple” in Kanchanaburi province. This is a very popular tourist destination, and attracts floods of people daily even in the off-peak season. As a major travel attraction, animals at this temple generate significant business for Thailand, which means the animals need to appear happy  and healthy to visitors. So what of lesser-known places that keep wildlife?

This is half the point of WFFT’s mobile vet clinic (set up and maintained with the help of the Born Free Foundation) – to travel and assess the conditions of animals kept in public and private establishments. Three years ago WFFT visited the particular temple little Kwan was held at, and found several species of animals (bears, primates and more) in appalling conditions. Edwin Wiek, the director of WFFT, personally handed a complaint to the DNP (Thailand’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife), but it seems that direct action was not taken. Six months later, WFFT re-sent this complaint (with full information, including veterinary assessments and photographs attached), but again did not hear back. Last year WFFT once again traveled to the temple, only to find new animals held in the same unhygienic conditions. Please note that WFFT itself has to be extremely careful with how they conduct themselves. The team cannot simply go and uplift animals without permission from authorities as this could lead to their own sanctuary being shut down. They are dealing with an unbelievably corrupt environment, so care must be taken to ensure they do absolutely nothing that could be deemed as unlawful. WFFT is an incredible organisation that does invaluable work, but you can probably imagine that their aim of rescuing wildlife from dismal situations has made them more than a few enemies.
Finally in August last year, WFFT received communication from the DNP that this particular temple had been charged with illegal wildlife possession and had been shut down. However, in the following months Edwin discovered that the DNP’s actions were not swift enough – he received information that not only were many animals still held by the temple, but that a bear had passed away from illness and was being skinned for its pelt. This ongoing saga finally resulted in WFFT gaining permission to treat remaining animals at the temple – which is when they came across little Kwan.

Treating Kwan - photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Treating Kwan – photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

As it stands, yet another bear had also died in the confines of the temple. WFFT helped remove the remaining four bears from the temple – unfortunately WFFT does not currently have the capacity to house these animals, but they have pledged ongoing support for the bears at the rescue facility they had been moved to, and will provide food, veterinary treatment and enclosure upgrades where necessary. At least for a few of the temple’s animals there was a positive way out.

While in discussion with friends and family members about this situation, the question was asked: “Why?” As in, why hold animals in a dark room?

The main, obvious reason to use animals is for money. Those beautiful, enticing holiday places in southeast Asia that boast daily elephant rides are using their animals as a lure to make money. Tourists just love it. They will gladly pay money for this sort of experience, and tell their friends how wonderfully the animals are treated. The reality, however, is that baby elephants are poached from the wild for these ventures, and that their greater herds are killed. Babies go through the elephant ‘domestication‘ process, and the end product is a submissive, empty animal that will live its days to serve. Those subdued tigers at the Tiger Temple will never be released to the wild; there is no conservation effort there whatsoever. Once again, it is simply a way of attracting foreigners to spend their coin.

So what is the point of having animals at the temple mentioned in this post? These animals were not making anyone money. Little Kwan could not have been skinned for her pelt – she was so malnourished that most of her hair had fallen out.
People I have discussed this with back home have been absolutely horrified. The endless Facebook comments WFFT has received in regards to Kwan’s story show that there are so many people who have been mortified by her ordeal. And yet, this sort of abuse happens everywhere, even in first world countries (blasphemy I know!). People neglect their animals. They come into possession of living things and end up putting them somewhere where they are “out of sight, out of mind”. I shudder to think of the state of some pets I’ve seen at friends’ houses. It’s everywhere.
Traditionally, and very generally-speaking, there is a typical difference in the way animals are viewed in places like Southeast Asia; less companions, more servants to our wants and desires. But the world is [very slowly] changing, and I do not personally believe ‘culture’ is a good enough reason to mistreat an animal in one’s care, or poach from the wild. As always, I can only implore travelers to carefully choose their travel destinations and activities. If you really want to get close to beautiful wildlife, support a conservation effort like an ethical national park, or help out at a sanctuary such as WFFT.

Edwin Wiek and Kwan at WFFT - photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Edwin Wiek and Kwan at WFFT – photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand



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Comic relief


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Things have been pretty same-same back home. I’m working far too much (I have, what, three jobs that I’m staying on top of now?) to savesavesave for the ongoing overseas volunteer travels, our tanks at the farm I live on have been filled a bit by rain recently, and the weather is getting progressively colder much to my dislike. Cooler temperatures tend to hinder some of the plans I make with good intentions to keep myself busy while I’m not working. Yes, I know – for my friends reading this I know it exasperates you to hear that I have this strange urge to ‘keep busy’ with little projects when I’m not off overseas or working silly hours. “But you don’t have time as it is!” While I consider myself a quiet person I suppose I also have this desire to feel productive in my life. But with winter steadily coming along I can guarantee I’ll be more inclined to keep cosy inside when I can. This girl is a Summer baby, I don’t tend to thrive in the cold.

I like to think that I have at least one or two interesting hobbies that seem to satisfy this hunger I have for a vibrant life when I’m not traveling. I have talked a bit about my earliest experiences with LARP (Live Action Role-Play), and have mentioned a few times the enjoyment I get from being a part of creating interesting images (see my sea-nymph post or earlier scribbles about these image collaborations in general). I seem to have put the two together, in a way, and by doing so have opened myself up to a whole new world altogether. I’ll tell you what I mean:

I’m not sure when I opened a comic book for the first time, but I knew it was something I took a liking to straight away – despite it being a ‘weird’ thing for a girl to like in most of the social circles in school. Thankfully I’ve been out of school for a long time now and have more than embraced the old playground tauntings of “geek” and “nerd”. Geekery really does seem to be in fashion these days, especially for females. Since moving in on my own about a year ago I found I no longer had to cater for anyone else’s tastes but my own. It also gave me extra opportunity to explore these hobbies of mine, and that’s something I seem to be enjoying more as time goes on.

One of my favourite ‘superheroes’ is Batman. I’m not too sure why his stories appeal to me more than so many others that are out there – I don’t relate to the guy, but I like the way he is currently portrayed to uphold his air of mystery and how he conducts what he does. Naturally, being partial to adventure/story-based video games here and there, I ended up playing a couple of recent Batman video games (Arkham Asylum and Arkham City), and really enjoyed them. In these games one of Batman’s most well-known enemies, the Joker, is prevalent – and he’s not alone. His female side-kick, Harley Quinn, is also part of the show.
To be honest I didn’t know much about Harley Quinn before playing these games. I had heard her name, seen her picture – I knew about her, but never took much interest in her. For some reason, though, this poor, misguided, terribly enamored ex-doctor really grew on me. She is epitome of a fool in love, and will do absolutely anything for the Joker – he is, of course, the reason she became a ‘villain’ in the first place. She follows him blindly with a larger-than-life personality, but instead of pitying her I almost view her with a kind of strange respect. Though I do need to point out I’m no expert on comic book characters by any sense, and the opinions I’ve formed of her have come from the limited amount of resources I’ve encountered.

Well anyway, one day I decided I wanted to bring her to life in my own way. I spent some time slowly piecing together an unconventional costume involving a tutu, and finally chatted to my friend Brett at Creative Photography who I have worked with in the past. He loved the idea, and so we made it happen; we took over a couple of different locations around Auckland city, and Harley came out to play. Scroll down to have a look – there was a huge selection of photographs, but I have included some of my favourites for you in this post.

Of course, that wasn’t enough for me. I love the creativity inspired by LARP, but I think deep down having a character to play is also a way of hiding behind a safe mask; something that is not myself and helps me decrease my vulnerability to the outside world. Over the weekend that has just passed there was the first of several expos this year in NZ that is dedicated to so-called geekery. Here in New Zealand we don’t get those huge, incredible conventions like we hear about from overseas. But we do have something at least! Armageddon is its name, and I had only been to one or two of its events previous to 2015. I remember walking around, seeing video games on display, seeing people in costume, learning to play different card games – but this year I decided to don my Harley outfit and see how it went.
And I can’t begin to describe how much of a buzz it was! It was nerve-wracking at first; of course I was worried my less-than-accurate costume would come under scrutiny. But I very quickly discovered that the people I was meeting were warm, welcoming and extremely encouraging. This was part of NZ’s cosplay community, a community I had never been involved in before now. Suddenly I was meeting all these people – other characters – the Joker, Batman, other Harley’s – it was a blast, and the people were wonderful. However, I don’t see myself as a cosplayer. Over the weekend I met some incredible cosplayers, and I wouldn’t think to count myself in their ranks. My costumes are less accurate, more artistic takes on particular characters. I’m not sure if the definition of cosplay includes accuracy – I’m very new to all of this – but perhaps readers could shed some light on it for me. :) In summary, though, I think I can say I have found another hobby.

Below are some of the shots from Harley’s day out about Auckland. I hope you enjoy them.

Harley Quinn sitting on wall

Harley Quinn city skyline

Harley Quinn brick wall

Harley Quinn corridor Samantha Boston wildatheart

Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn cartoon poster

On aHarley Quinn and Deadpool convention wildatheart side note – I really, really, really think if Harley Quinn and Deadpool were in the same universe that they would make a pretty hilarious/amazing couple (that’s if Mr J. wasn’t around…). So, of course, Deadpool was one of the characters I had hoped to run into at this weekend’s Armageddon. There were a few Deadpools out there, but here’s one low-quality snap from my phone.


Creative Photography Ltd.

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America – The Wolves of WWS: Sakarri and Modoc


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Left: Sakarri: Arctic wolf, female, 7 years - Right: Modoc: Arctic wolf, male, 7 years

Left: Sakarri: Arctic wolf, female, 7 years.
Right: Modoc: Arctic wolf, male, 7 years.

If I was to describe the perfect wolf from memory, I would probably draw on the images I have of Modoc. Modoc is this huge, white beast with sturdy paws and gloriously haunting eyes. I’m six feet tall and if he stands on his hind legs he can easily throw his muzzle into my face. He has a large, powerful body and manoeuvres it effortlessly like thunder through the trees. Wolves like Modoc really illustrate the draw many people have to his species. And despite him being an impressively strong creature, he has the most gentle personality – anyone who’s worked closely with wolves will know that this is not an anomaly.

One of my first photos of Modoc

One of my first photos of Modoc

Self-proclaimed wolf-lovers often earn notoriety for expressing their passion in a highly emotional way. They can be perceived as revering wolf species and regarding them higher than some human life. Those who hate wolves might see the creatures as unstoppable killers until each one is wiped out, believing them to have no purpose in the modern world. Every time a wolf-focused news article pops up on the internet you can be sure an extremely heated online argument will ensue. As with most controversial topics, there is no reasoning with a vocally emotional party of either side.

One thing I can, however, guarantee is that a bit of quality time with a wolf like Modoc or his sister Sakarri will give even a non-wolf-lover a slightly changed perspective (even if it is only slightly). In my time working with the White Wolf Sanctuary I have witnessed more than a few people come up for a visit to the mountain accompanied by obviously more wolf-enthusiastic guests, and they have left at the end of the day just as spell-bound as their enamored peers. The Sanctuary staff are wonderful and do their utmost to educate and inspire, but nothing beats getting a wolf ‘kiss’ to truly demonstrate that these creatures aren’t the beastly, aggressive, monstrous things you hear about in fairy-tales. I’ve seen staunch men and women simply crumble in the presence of sweet Sakarri who won’t let you leave until you’ve given her some one-on-one attention.

Sakarri at 3 years of age

Sakarri at 4 years of age

The White Wolf Sanctuary holds solely rescue animals. None of the wolves were born at the Sanctuary, and it is highly unlikely that they will be made to spend their days anywhere else. They are not sold, bred or swapped, and they will never be released into the wild – this is because they wouldn’t survive, nor are their most suitable habitats safe enough. Sakarri and Modoc were delivered to the Sanctuary after being intercepted on their way to a low-welfare captive institute. Their other siblings, Nike and Tehalin, were also rescued and brought to the Sanctuary. Seven years on, they are still here, running through the dozens of acres of safe wolf habitat the Sanctuary contains. If they want to come and say hello to people, they can. If they prefer to be lost in the dark forests, they can do that too – nobody tells them what to do.

Something I really, really want people to consider is the idea of more conscious tourism. When I was making arrangements for my Thailand work I was faced with many, many ‘offers’ of different tours and attractions I could see along the way. When a high-ranking travel agency is spouting lists of destination-related ideas to choose from, it is easy to not think about researching these ideas yourself. For example, a travel agent I have worked with closely for the last few years suggested I take a look at the Phuket Fantasea show, which I found absolutely appalling. I recently saw an article on the Daily Mail Online about elephant massages in Chiang Mai being a must for anyone’s bucket list – when exploitation is being promoted in such a positive manner it is no wonder most people don’t put more thought into what they support when they are traveling abroad.

The captive establishment Sakarri, Modoc and their other siblings were destined for has been shut down. The use of wild animals for entertainment is hugely popular in the western world, and the WWS Director is constantly inundated with snippets of information of a wolf being held or sold unlawfully. Even when traveling around your own country, don’t forget to consciously think about what you support. None of the WWS wolves were poached from the wild, but supporting tourism ventures using even captive-bred species of this kind does fuel the illegal wildlife trade and demand in the black market. I do like to encourage people to also consider the suffering of the individual animals in the venture they are supporting. No wild-at-heart animal would choose a life of confinement. And while no Sanctuary is perfect, there are plenty of ‘good’ ones out there doing incredible work while providing a safe, spacious and stimulating home as close to nature as possible. If you want to get up-close and personal with your favourite animal, choose to support a decent Sanctuary instead of lower-welfare alternatives – by doing so you can help greater conservation efforts, and in my mind seeing happier animals is a far more rewarding experience than being able to get a photo of something being very obviously mistreated.

Sam.Modoc white arctic wolf nose


Little things


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Occasionally people make jokes that I must get bored to tears in New Zealand with its lack of wolves and monkeys and such. We do have amazing, unique wildlife here though, and when I was going through university I did think about joining our Department of Conservation but ended up deciding it wasn’t quite for me for the most part. While I was doing my degree I began working at a zoo up in Auckland, and was there for six years or so. That gave me some invaluable experience working with exotic species, and while I loved the animals I did slowly find that more and more I craved to work in a setting where animals were there because they needed to be; i.e. because they had been rescued, and/or were going to be rehabilitated back into the wild. There are some incredible zoos, though, and I believe the better ones do raise some very important awareness about the plight of species all over the globe. New Zealand zoos focus heavily on raising funds for conservation efforts and even send their employees across the world to do work on different projects, which I think is fantastic. They care greatly about the welfare of their animals, and do what they can to construct species-appropriate habitats, encourage natural behaviours and promote intellect use (so having an animal that sits around all day in its cage depressed would be deemed as unacceptable). There are so many terrible zoos and captive institutes around the world, though, and I would like to see those stopped.

People are forever asking me, “Why do you care so much? They’re just animals.” Let me explain my side a little bit. I see it like this: all living things have nervous systems that help us detect certain stimuli; heat, light, movement, etc. The complexity of these nervous systems vary between species, but most animals have some kind of pain-receptors that, as you can probably guess, help them detect pain. Thus, most animals are capable of feeling pain and physical distress. They can suffer. Some can even experience emotional suffering. Non-human animals cannot speak, but many have the same intelligence levels as a human baby. Some even have the intelligence levels of a human toddler. So this is part of the reason why I care: if an animal is hurt, I can recognise the fact that it is suffering. When I see an animal ridden with disease, I can recognise the fact that it is suffering and that it is not living with the quality of life it could have. When I see a great ape stuck in a roadside cage for the amusement of tourists, I recognise that this animal is suffering, its mental health is not being encouraged, and it is not living with the quality of life that it could have. No animal would choose to be in pain, distress or a life of mental suffering. So despite understanding that non-human animals may not be as high up on the intelligence ranking as our own species, that is why I care. And in my opinion the world would be better if everyone had more compassion.

New Zealand has the fairly noteworthy problem of a high population of stray and feral cats. These guys spread disease and prey on local wildlife, and of course do not distinguish between native or introduced species when they kill. For the kitties themselves, they are often riddled with disease, full of parasites, and tend to live in heightened anxiety and distress. Stray and feral cats are a problem for our wildlife and environments, and the individual animals themselves are most likely suffering – when it doesn’t need to be this way. A lot of these cats are out there because 1) people have let their own pets breed without control, and 2) pet owners have abandoned or ‘dumped’ their house cats. Unclaimed or unwanted litters of kittens go on to continue the breeding cycle, and this ensures the number of stray colony cats stays strong.

As I’ve talked about before, I do some foster work for an Auckland charity, Lonely Miaow. Lonely Miaow takes stray or feral cats and kittens, places them in foster care, gets them appropriately vet checked and then rehomes them once they are desexed, microchipped and fully vaccinated. I have rehomed a few litters with Lonely Miaow now, and it is always a rewarding experience. I can’t afford pets of my own plus I am often off on some excursion or another, so fostering is the perfect way to combine my love of ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ plus my desire for some kind of fluffy companionship at home.

The last bunch I picked up (only a day or two after I flew home from America, no less) was a litter of four plus their mum, Grace. I have always fostered kittens or cats on their own, never with their cat mum in tow, so this has been a different experience for me. Even the most feral of feral kitties I have socialised to some point of genuine affection towards humans, but it has been relatively slow progress with this lot. They rely on their mother as their primary source of affection and hardly need a thing from me, so it has been harder for me to teach them that interaction with humans can be a positive experience. Grace, however, recently got to the point where she was sick of the kittens constantly tumbling all over her, and has started giving them a smack with one paw if they got too close too often. This is a good sign that they ought to be off on their own, learning life lessons more independently as adolescent kittens should.

Despite them being less affectionate towards me at the beginning, each kitten has found a home and I am just left with Grace at this point. She’s a gem and has done really well raising her babies. I look at them – and think of the hundreds of other cats and kittens Lonely Miaow rehomes – and know that they have been saved from a life on the streets, so to speak, where they would probably have lived diseased and hungry. Reducing the number of stray animals is important work, and I encourage anyone who has considered fostering to give it a go – it’s a really rewarding way to help out. It’s also only temporary, so you can try it once and there’s no obligation if it doesn’t work out for you.

Here are some snaps of the most recent bunch. I expect Grace will be with me for a while (the demand for adult cats is far lower than that for kittens as you can probably imagine), so you might hear snippets about her here and there later on.

2014_Bohemia 2014_CP 2014_Grace 2014_Murri 2014_Zephyr

Bohemia – a typical tortoiseshell; feisty but a real smooch.







CP – so, incredibly shy. He was adopted by one family, who returned him 36 hours later because he was too timid for them. He has only just gone to another lovely home – and they adore him! I think this will be the family for him :)





Grace and the babies.





Murri – a truly affectionate lad, he warmed up to me the quickest – and consequently found a home the quickest. He and his sister Bohemia were adopted together, which is neat.





Zephyr – he still has remnants of his “cat flu” here (that slightly gunky eye), but now he’s a healthy little mischievous terror (in the best possible way). He has turned out to be incredibly affectionate, which is great for his new owners.






Tale of a sea-nymph


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I love creating stories. I get lost in written words on paper, and would love to say that I express myself well through colourful brushtrokes on canvas but painting is definitely not my greatest forte (and I’ll be the first to admit it). Over the last few years I have unknowingly been part of creating stories through a different medium – photography. I say ‘unknowingly’ because although I have been doing different projects for some time now, it’s not something I ever recognised to share with an audience other than those on my personal Facebook. Seeing each project as a tale in its own right has only been a recent expression.

I adore, admire and envy photographers – the few times I borrowed a top-quality digital camera proved to me that there is a lot of technical knowledge required to capture a truly beautiful shot. I make do with my little point-and-shoot camera for animal work, but to possess that technical understanding and actually be able to put it into practice to produce a work of art would be incredible! But, I’ll leave that up to the real photographers.

There are old legends that tell of feminine sea-nymphs – mermaids, sirens, Nereids… all manner of beautiful creatures dwelling in the ocean or within watery elements. Some serve as watch-women of the sailors, ensuring they have safe passage across the seas. Some others take pleasure in luring these sailors to their doom. These nymphs are strewn throughout art and ancient tales – powerful, mystical creatures; sometimes symbols of hope and motherly care, sometimes depictions of dangerous beauty.

A few weeks ago, with the weather warming up in New Zealand, a photographer I know took to the beach with camera, assistants and this wild girl in tow to bring a sea-nymph to life. What was created was a seemingly tranquil creature – a lonely sun-basker, delicate and careful. We picked her home to be the entrance of a cave where light still bleeds into the darkness. She appears watchful, wary and serene. But is she protector, or hunter?

I hope you enjoy these images as much as we enjoyed shooting them :)


Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog

Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog

Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog

Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog

Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog

Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog

Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog makeup face


Please note that these images have been edited by myself. You can view images edited by the photographer on his website below.

Photography: Graham Meadows at Graham Meadows Photography
Makeup and air-brushing: Jessica Seo at Jessica Seo Makeup Artistry



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Today we farewelled a family friend. He passed away extremely suddenly, without any warning; a completely random, freak accident at home. He left behind a beautiful daughter, two wonderful sons and three gorgeous little granddaughters. And, of course, his incredible wife. His children spoke the most touching words of his passion for life, his heart, the lessons he taught them – I can’t imagine their pain. This is a family separated too soon.

When we moved house for the first time I was in primary school, and we ended up in a little abode down a no-exit street within walking distance of my school. Our home happened to be next-door to that of a boy my sister’s age and his family. Our parents became fast friends, as did us kids. His siblings were a little bit older than us, so it was us three (him, my sister and I) who spent time together the most. I have the best memories of us running around our backyards, hiding in trees, having tea parties outdoors, swordfights, sleepovers and storybooks, trampoline competitions, playing derby in his wooden cart, nonsensical games of children’s pool in the dark downstairs room by their garage, fireworks with the other neighbourhood kids, water fights, Sonic the Hedgehog and other video games, terrifying ourselves on that infamous skateboard, giant New Year gatherings, tyre swings, splashing around their pool after they transformed one of their gardens into a relaxing summery retreat. That’s how childhood should be; playful, fun, and carefree with friends.

And our parents were often together. Our mums especially. They both had a fondness for chatter and wine. I didn’t even think of them as my second family, just an extension of my own, and I assumed they would always be there in my life. I remember the time they got that pool. It had been a bit of an ordeal with sorting out underground pipes that were already there, and they also needed to upgrade their fence. Once there had been a gate between our two houses for the kids to run through mercilessly, but now we had to be a little more civilised and use the front door. I remember thinking at that point things were changing out of my control. We were all growing up and making plans for the future.

My parents renovated our house into this beautiful homely thing that now had a small second storey on the top with a distant view of the ocean. I would drag a mattress out of one of the top windows (with difficulty) at night and watch the moon over the water, and listen to the familiar quiet of our street. Us kids were much older, and spent far less time together, but we were still there within reach of each other.

When things with my parents fell apart, so did life in the house. I knew we couldn’t stay; it was too painful. And I also found it too painful to see my treasured neighbours – that extension of our family – as much. We would have to leave. And it would be hard. A few days ago Margie, the wife of this dear man we said goodbye to today, told my mum that when we left a part of her heart went with us. It was never the same for either of us. This was the first point in my life where I wish things had gone so, so differently.

Now we have, of course, all grown older. Their eldest daughter has three incredibly beautiful children of her own. Their eldest son has been living in the UK for some time now. And their youngest, whom I still consider my brother, has developed into a man to be admired. We have all been living our own lives. Today, a horrible tragedy brought us all together again along with many other people who have shared life-changing memories with them. I can do nothing but sit and think of their strength, and am grateful that they have such a close family and unwavering support system.
Just over a week ago life was normal for them. Margie went to bed having no idea of what she would face the next day. Neither did their children or grandchildren, or siblings. This man was taken from their lives in literally an instant – there was no lead-up or alarm. One moment everything is as it was, and the next it has all changed forever.

How do you deal with something like that?

This year a beautiful young lady in one of my social circles also passed away. She had been fighting against cancer for months. She was only twenty-one. She left behind a beautiful baby girl, a wonderful husband, an incredible family and a grieving community. And it doesn’t matter if there was warning – the loss is still too great to bear for all who loved her. Nothing makes it easy to accept, or to deal with. Life is so fragile. This year I’ve had several friends who have lost people close to them. The giant pain in my heart I feel for them doesn’t change or help their situation at all, and yet it is uncontrollable and will not subside. Why do we grieve? Why do we feel pain, and loss? We love people so fiercely, though they can be taken from us at any moment. This goes well against self-preservation and survival; it does show that there is so much more to us than that. Perhaps, then, a quiet blessing in grief is that it proves we have loved and been loved back – enough for us to feel such sorrow and anguish when someone close is lost.

Tonight I’ll lay awake and think of you and your family, Murray. I will remember the perfect times I had with you all – those are the years I wish had never, ever ended. I will think of your strong, yet heartbroken children, and your simply wonderful wife and how amazing they all are. And how much I miss our lives together, and how grateful I am that you, your wife and my parents created this little safe world for us to grow up in. I think of how much things have changed, and how much pain we have all gone through, and how much pain there is to go through still. My heart is with you, and with your family. And as they said today – I hope you rest not in peace, but in happiness and pride knowing that you have raised an incredible family who are out in the world doing their own remarkable things. They will never completely recover from this loss, but you have filled their hearts with so much love that they will also carry this with them always. You changed my life, too, and helped shape it in a way that I look back on the years we were with you and remember them as my best so far.

“Today we farewell a true gentleman.
A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.”

In memory of Murray Raymond Brake, 17 November 1949 – 7 December 2014