Easter is just around the corner, and sadly, as usual at this time of year, many children will have more than plastic eggs and jellybeans waiting in their baskets. Every year, thousands of baby rabbits, chicks, and ducklings are given as Easter gifts. Sadly, most of these living gifts will be abandoned or dead before they are one year old. Like giving pets for Christmas, giving a living creature as an Easter surprise is a bad idea, and often downright cruel.
But the Kids Are Begging for a Bunny…
At this time of year, with all the excitement over an impending visit by an egg-laying rabbit, most children beg for a pet bunny. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard some or all of the following promises from your children:
If I can have a rabbit…
- “I’ll never forget to clean up after it!”
- “I’ll always do my chores on time.”
- “I’ll feed it and play with it every day.”
- “I’ll never ask for anything again!”
Get real. Children develop rapidly. Their interests change quickly, and they need a great deal of guidance and parental intervention in order to learn to make responsible choices. A years-long commitment to another living creature is simply too much to expect of a child or children. If you’re considering getting the pet that your children have begged and pleaded for, the question isn’t “Will they lose interest?” It’s “When will they lose interest?”
Ultimately, You’re Responsible for Your Kids’ Pets
In any given household, the responsible, mature adult(s) is/are ultimately tasked with providing a happy and healthy life for any pet brought into the household. If you’re not prepared to take personal responsibility for the care of an adult rabbit, chicken, or duck, don’t get a bunny, chick, or duckling.
Rabbits need to be carefully housetrained, your house must be rabbit-proofed, and an adult rabbit should not spend more than a few hours each day in a cage. Constantly caged rabbits can become depressed and aggressive, and may even mutilate themselves. Chickens and ducks are just as complex to care for– you need an outdoor coop, a pond for ducks, a fenced foraging area for both species, and, if you want to keep them indoors at any time, you’ll need a diaper harness. Yes, they make those– but really, do you want to be changing an adult duck’s diapers in 2011 because your then-3-year-old wanted a duckie for Easter two years ago?
Alternatives to Live Gifts
If your kids are expecting a live Easter gift, you don’t have to disappoint them– alternatives exist that will satisfy their need for cuddly animals without bringing a new family member into the home on impulse. Surprise them by taking them to volunteer at a rescue or shelter that takes rabbits and/or poultry. They can learn how to properly hold a rabbit with an adult’s assistance. Never let a child pick a rabbit up unassisted. Rabbits’ backs and legs are fragile and can be broken if the rabbit is lifted roughly.
Next, let them help you clean a few cages, emphasizing what a wonderful thing you’re doing for some homeless animals. Gently remind them of the responsibilities of owning a pet— “Boy, this is hard work! Whoever adopts this rabbit will have to clean his cage just like this every few days. Can you imagine?”
Turn the homeless pets’ stories into teachable moments. If you meet a rabbit who lost his home because his family became bored with the rabbit, take the chance to ask some questions:
“How do you think the bunny felt when his family dropped him off at the shelter? Was he scared? Lonely? Sad?”
“Why do you think his family was so tired of taking care of him that they got rid of him?”
“How can someone getting a pet make sure they’re ready to take care of it forever?”
With a little parental power of suggestion, you can help your children realize on their own that “because it’s Easter” is a bad reason to add a pet to the family. Then all you have to do is congratulate them whole-heartedly on their sound reasoning, and tell them how proud you are that they understand this important matter.