Bunnies and chicks: both of these fuzzy animals are popular as impulse gifts for children around the Easter season. But joining in this tradition of not thinking things out will only result in a nightmare for these animals, and for you. Some of the reasons will echo the issues I outlined in my article about buying puppies as Christmas gifts, while others are exclusive to these animals.
1) Family members are adopted, and not bought: This applies to rabbits as well as it applies to cats and dogs. There are rabbits looking for a home, but taking home an animal from a shelter should mean you’ve made a commitment for the life of that animal: an informed commitment. Caring for dogs, cats, and rabbits are all very different propositions, and you should really do your research for any one of them. Thinking a bunny is something you just buy on a moment’s notice, because you see a guy selling them on the street, or a pet store pushing them, is a recipe for disaster. Are you seriously contemplating making this commitment, and not just because it’s Easter? Here are some questions to consider before you take the plunge.
2) Buying animals makes it okay to throw them away: Again, this applies just as much to rabbits as it does to dogs and cats. But it’s worse for chicks, because they literally are the disposable pet. Parents buy them for small children and then figure they’ll drop them off at a farm when they aren’t cute anymore (which is a matter of weeks). Do you think that any farm can accept a juvenile chicken from a random household and just toss it in their coop? I know between chicken nuggets and egg farming, we aren’t particularly compassionate to this bird. But one wrong doesn’t excuse another. And this isn’t a good lesson for children if they are going to be future animal caregivers.
I’ll also add that just as there are puppy mills, bunny mills will spring up whenever there is a demand for it, and even chicks are produced in large quantity around the Easter season. Supply and demand. Let’s put an end to the demand so we can spare the long-suffering supply, which are living creatures, after all.
3) Killing an animal is not a fun early life experience for your children: Not knowing how to take care of either one of these animals means accidents tend to happen. Have you planned out how things are going to work for this rabbit? Will there be an outdoor space or will it stay inside? Do you have the proper food, and did you get it any necessary shots? A family that has a pet that it isn’t prepared for is liable to harm or even lose that pet (either literally losing it as it escapes, or by killing it). All these risks are magnified when you’re doing this for a young child, which is more than likely the case.
This goes triple for chicks, which are not pets in any sense of the word. Young chicks (and of course you want the young ones, tiny, with soft down) have very special requirements to be healthy, including a brooder to keep them warm, a special diet, and regular supervision. And guess what? Chickens live in flocks. They don’t like being alone. Not one bit. If you want to scar your kid, give them a chick, let them do whatever they want with it, until it either gets sick or horribly injured some other way. I had that experience when I was five years old. I never forgot it.
4) Chicks can be bad for your health: Partly because they’re mass-produced this time of year, and partly just because they’re chickens, there’s a real danger of contracting salmonella (and lower risks for other diseases) from these Easter surprises. The Center for Disease Control implores parents; there may be no federal restriction keeping you from buying chicks, but they strongly, strongly discourage it. The younger the kid, the more dangerous this disease can be, which is a bad combination since everybody wants to get a chick for their youngest kids.
5) There are other options to see or think about these animals: In your home, you can have chocolate bunnies, or origami chicks. But for the living animals, head elsewhere.
Take a trip to a farm, many of which have petting zoos (bearing in mind the CDC’s concerns about young children coming into contact with chickens, ducks, and such). This would be a richer and more valuable experience than the artificial one of getting a chick or bunny from a pet store, something that will likely make young children think that animals come off an assembly line just like the dolls at a toy store.
Besides teaching the children something about how a farm operates, it also puts animals into a proper context. Chickens, cows, horses, goats — none of these are animal companions in the same way that dogs are. And none of them belong in a home for a week or a month, to be discarded later. It’s not safe, it’s not ethical, and it’s not worth the hassle, let alone the heartbreak, later.
Please consider sharing this article with anyone you know who is thinking of buying an Easter animal for their children.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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