Charlena couldn't imagine Christmas day away from her 'fur babies'
Animal lover Charlena Haxel is spending Christmas with her alternative family this year - her cat and two rabbits.
The 25-year-old has told her parents that she won't be seeing them until Boxing Day - because she can’t bear to be parted from her pets.
Charlena will cook up a festive treat of roast turkey, potatoes and greens for her cat Itty Bitty Kitty, ten, and rabbits Laura and Audrey, aged two.
And after they’ve all had their dinner, which they eat from plates at the table of her house in Fareham, Hants, they’ll sit down and watch a festive film - the Secret Life Of Pets - with a box of Ferrero Rocher!
Charlena, who runs her own online lingerie business, said: “My pets are as much my family as my mum and dad.
"How can I explain to them that I’m leaving them on their own all day? They don’t understand and I couldn’t be so cruel.
"I asked my mum if I could bring them to hers and she said it was fine but the rabbits would have to stay in their hutch.
"They’re used to snuggling up to me on the sofa or lying in front of the fire at home, so I couldn’t have that. Plus, they have a habit of chewing too.
"So I decided it was best for all involved for me to have Christmas Day with my pets and see my family on Boxing Day."
Charlena won’t be sharing their dinner because as a vegetarian, she eats Quorn instead. And her devotion to her animals has caused friction in relationships too.
While she’s happy to cook chicken and other meats for her pets, she refuses to when it comes to her partners.
"I have had a few boyfriends who’ve been really cross that I won’t cook them meat but I’ll happily roast a chicken for my pets," she explains.
"Even the bunnies eat it. I often find them sneaking up to the cat’s dinner bowl tucking into her meals."
The lucky trio will also unwrap £150 worth of pressies too, including toys, treats and outfits to wear on the day.
Itty has a Christmas hat as do the rabbits and Charlena has splashed out on wooden chewsticks for Laura and Audrey, a cat teaser toy and plenty of handmade treats.
But they’re even picky when it comes to these too. "I’ve bought them all pet chocolate, which is carob free and healthier for them," Charlena explains.
"They turn their noses up at it though. Last year when I was eating Ferrero Rocher, Laura came up and started sniffing it so I gave her a taste.
"She loved it and it was only fair that I gave the same to the others. So this year, I’ll share my box with them too."
It’s the first Christmas she’s spent with her pets as usually her flatmate helps care for them but Charlena now lives on her own.
She works as a pet sitter for the Pawshake app that matches up pet owners with animal lovers living nearby who will treat their pets as family.
And she’s particularly defiant when it comes to anyone who criticises her for putting her pets before her flesh and blood.
She said: "People can seem shocked and say things like 'They’re only animals, they don’t know,' but honestly, I think it’s worse for them to be alone all day than for people.
"Itty was a stray when I took her in nine years ago, and Laura and Audrey came from a pet shop when they were babies and all they have ever known is being around me.
"Seeing them all enjoying Christmas together is a dream come true for me. I call them my fur babies and they are like my children, so why would I be any other way?"