By Sharon Reily, Reference Department
Originally published March 23, 2018
You’ve all seen the ads that spring up [ha, ha] this time of year marketing cuddly bunnies and brightly-dyed baby chicks as wonderful Easter gifts for your children. If you’re thinking about buying one, DON’T DO IT!! Amy Mott, president of the Clover Patch Sanctuary, a rabbit and small animal rescue organization right here in Franklin, says “You wouldn’t give your child a reindeer for Christmas. Why would you give him a bunny or duck or chick for Easter??” Amen. If you succumb to their fluffy cuteness, you’ll basically ruin the life of a living, breathing creature to provide a brief diversion for your child. A huge percentage of bunnies, chicks and ducklings given as Easter gifts are abandoned as soon as the novelty wears off. What happens to these unfortunate animals next is not a pretty picture.
How did bunnies, hot pink chicks and ducklings become associated with Easter anyway? One theory emphasizes the Easter Bunny’s pagan roots, especially the rabbit’s connection to Eostra, goddess of the spring and fertility. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate. But according to Catholic Online, the tradition of the Easter Bunny has distinctly Christian origins. The ancient Greeks thought rabbits could reproduce as virgins, a belief that persisted until early medieval times, when the rabbit became associated with the Virgin Mary. In medieval manuscripts, rabbit images served as allegorical illustrations of her virginity. It is likely that German Protestants invented the myth of the Easter Bunny for their children. Even in earliest folklore, the Easter Bunny came as a judge, hiding decorated eggs for well-behaved children.
No matter how the connection with Easter originated, rabbits, chicks and ducklings have not benefited from the association. The Easter holiday seems to bring out the bunny, chick and duckling lovers in people. They think such animals are perfect “starter pets” to teach children responsibility. So they make an impulse buy and their child goes wild with joy for a day. Reality soon sets in as it dawns on parents that these animals are not the “low maintenance” pets they’d imagined.
According to National Geographic, vets and insurance companies consider rabbits exotic pets, so medical care can be more expensive than for a cat or dog. Rabbits need a lot of exercise and shouldn’t be stuck away in a cage. This means they need to learn to use a litterbox. They’re also prey animals and generally don’t like to be picked up by humans, whom they view as predators. The result is that children who want to cuddle with their baby bunny can be frustrated when it doesn’t respond the way they expect and they quickly lose interest. Many parents don’t realize that rabbits can live more than 10 years, a commitment comparable to adopting a dog or cat. When that once-adorable baby bunny matures at between three and six months old, it can become aggressive and even destructive. Male rabbits will also spray urine if not neutered. Proper exercise, litterbox training, and spaying or neutering curb the problem for most rabbits. But many impulse buyers don’t expect and can’t commit to that level of responsibility, and they scramble to surrender the animals.
Rabbits are the third most popular pet in America after cats and dogs, but according to the Humane Society of the United States, they’re also the third most abandoned – and euthanized. It’s unclear exactly how many rabbits originally sold as Easter pets are abandoned each year. But rescuers in shelters all over the country report a spike in calls after Easter from people trying to unload their unwanted bunnies. Clover Patch Sanctuary’s Amy Mott estimates that “80-90% of our adoptable rabbits were once Easter gifts to children. We can judge that fairly well by the timing that they came into rescue.” Many more rabbits – possibly thousands – are abandoned outdoors, a cruel death sentence for these domesticated animals possessing no survival skills or instincts.
Chicks and ducklings don’t fare any better. At Easter, fuzzy brightly colored chicks and ducklings can be too cute to resist. To achieve the brilliant hues displayed by some chicks, a dye is actually injected into the incubating egg. Other chicks are sprayed with a fine mist of dye immediately after hatching. Farmers, hatcheries and others who dye chicks claim the process is harmless, but animal rights workers say the experience is stressful for the birds. In addition to the trauma of being dyed, the bright colored feathers help make them seem more like disposable toys than living animals. Many states ban the practice of dyeing and selling chicks. In Tennessee, it is a Class C misdemeanor to “sell, offer for sale, barter or give away baby chickens, ducklings or goslings of any age, or rabbits under two (2) months of age, as pets, toys, premiums or novelties, if those fowl or rabbits have been colored, dyed, stained or otherwise had their natural color changed.”
But non-dyed chicks and ducklings are still sold as Easter gifts, and like bunnies, they are not ideal beginning pets for children. They can be quite messy. They are extremely fragile and can die from overhandling or being dropped, especially in the first few days before the child’s excitement wanes. Chicks and ducks may also present hazards for children. They can scratch and peck with sharp talons and beaks, but worse, they may spread the bacterial disease Salmonella, which can be especially dangerous to children and the elderly. When the birds preen, they spread the bacteria all over their feathers. So it’s best to avoid contact with them, or at least wash hands thoroughly immediately after touching.
Many people who buy adorable Easter chicks and ducklings have no capacity or intention of caring for adult fowl. Like bunnies, the unwanted birds are often handed over to shelters where they may face euthanasia if they’re not adopted. When abandoned outdoors, they have no experience foraging or avoiding predators. Easter ducklings, many of which are byproducts of the food trade, can swim, but unlike wild ducks, they can’t fly and are vulnerable to temperature changes and make easy targets for predators. One Florida farmer who offers to take unwanted Easter pets does not hide the fact that he will use them for food. He offers to keep them happy while they’re alive, but in the end, he says, “we’re all part of the food chain.”
There are plenty of great alternatives to giving live animals as Easter gifts. Consider:
- Plush rabbits or chicks
- Chocolate bunnies and candy birds and eggs
- Books and games about bunnies, chicks and ducklings
- A visit to a reputable, educational petting zoo
- A birdhouse or feeder to attract wild birds
- Bunny, chick or duckling figurines
- Make a gift in your child’s name to a rabbit or small animal rescue organization
I’ll let Amy Mott from Clover Patch Sanctuary have the final word on bunnies, chicks and ducklings as Easter gifts: “There is never a reason to give a child a live animal as a present for Easter or any other holiday and/or birthday. Animals are not ‘things’ or objects. The only way to put the breeders out of business is to stop buying from them. The chain has to stop. In this day and age of information and compassion it’s really time to get on the ball with ending the antiquated practice of gifting animals to children. They have to learn from adults that all creatures great and small are worthy and special in God’s eyes.” That really says it all.