Love ’em? Please leave ’em
The Easter Bunny dates back to the late 17th century, when German folklore reports that a hare would deliver eggs to good children. Since most birds begin to lay eggs in the early spring and rabbits and hares are quite prolific breeders, both have become to be associated with the earth’s rebirth after a long cold winter. The image of a jauntily dressed rabbit passing out brightly coloured eggs to good boys and girls is a time honoured tradition. Taken one step further, though, this springtime ritual can have serious ramifications.
Some people cannot resist the urge to usher in the Vernal Equinox with live bunnies and chicks instead of ones made of chocolate and marshmallow. Adopted into a loving family that understands the level of commitment that this new pet will require, the “living toy” can lead a full and happy life. Unfortunately there are people who do not consider that this new member of the family is a living breathing entity and will require time and attention. It will need a special diet that will change over time as the animal matures. If not fed and housed properly an animal can get metabolic bone disease which can cause bones to be malformed or possibly even too soft to provide support. The average lifespan of a domestic rabbit is 8-12 years, while that of a domestic chicken or duck is 5-10 years (with chickens only laying eggs for the first two or three years of their lives.)
These pets have special housing considerations as well. Some can live in the yard or in the house in specially designed cages, but attention must be paid to the proper location of these enclosures—not too hot, not too cold, away from direct sunlight, far from an air conditioning duct, out of the wind, safe from predators, etc. Quite often the cages sold in pet stores for these species are not appropriately large enough for an animal to spend all of its time there. If the pet will not be permitted free range time daily, larger housing will be needed. The habitat must be cleaned properly and often, to assure the pet’s health and comfort, and enhance the family’s enjoyment of the pet. No one wants to spend time near a smelly cage or animal. Spoiler alert—these animals poop. A lot.
Every year Peace River Wildlife Center and shelters all over the country deal with the fallout from this unethical practice. As soon as the children lose interest, the cute fuzzy little baby turns into “just another animal”, the parents get tired of cleaning up after it, the vet bills start rolling in, and a million other reasons; the rabbits, chickens and ducks get abandoned at a shelter. Many of these young animals are euthanized because there are not enough homes for them. Is this the lesson parents should be teaching their children? Do we want to portray life as precious or disposable? Is it appropriate to abandon a pet that has outlived its usefulness and make it someone else’s problem? These kids are the ones who will grow up to make decisions on Mom and Dad’s care in their dotage.
Releasing a domestic animal into the wild is not an alternative either. These pets do not have the skills to fend for themselves in the wild. They will either starve to death or be killed by predators—either domestic dogs and cats or wild animals. The few that do survive run the risk of upsetting the natural balance of the native flora and fauna. They may eat the plants that our endangered native species need to survive. Or they may interbreed with our native species and risk wiping out an entire population that way.
No one can deny that baby bunnies and chicks are adorable, but unless you are willing to do the research and make a commitment for the lifetime of the pet (up to 10 years), do not give a live animal as a gift or buy one on a whim. Please fill your Easter baskets with chocolate bunnies, marshmallow chicks, and jelly beans. (FYI Jelly Belly is my personal favourite brand.) Stuffed animals can be just as endearing and have none of the long term consequences. For the live animal experience, visit a zoo, animal shelter, or animal sanctuary. Or better yet, visit Peace River Wildlife Center! For those who are really serious about nurturing baby animals, we offer volunteer opportunities to help us during this busy baby season. Enjoy the warm weather, delight in the blooming flowers, and have a happy spring.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM