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April 3, 2007 > He's not a child's toy

He's not a child's toy

By Nancy Lyon

"That time of year" is just around the corner - meaning Easter is just a few days away. Knowledgeable animal-caring folks and animal services agencies know all too well what that means.

What it means is that children will pressure parents to buy live, adorable bunnies, chicks and ducklings as a holiday gift and pet stores are all too ready to provide them for a price. The kids are pretty hard to resist and the animals appear to be low-maintenance...or so it would seem to the uninformed.

The kids will promise that they will always care for their new acquisition - and although they will mean it at the time - the truth is that when these fluffy babies quickly become adults with special needs they usually lose interest. It's mom or dad who must become the primary caretaker.

If parents pressure kids be responsible for the animal but don't constantly supervise
the care, it's putting the animal's well-being at risk. Care for animals should never be the exclusive responsibility of children who are often distracted by other activities and forget their responsibility to the animal. If left to the children, it can mean that many, if not most, of these innocent animals who can't tell us they are hungry, thirsty or need their cage cleaned, may have their basic needs overlooked. This can lead to illness and death.

When the burden of care becomes more than the family wants to deal with, they may convince themselves that the pet will able to survive if abandoned to the wild...that they will be happy "living free." The fact is that these are dependant, domestic animals and they will not survive long in such a dangerously foreign environment. As prey animals, rabbits and chickens without the innate instincts of their wild counterparts will suffer greatly before becoming part of the food chain.

According to the House Rabbit Society, rabbits are fragile animals requiring specialized veterinary care and "children are naturally energetic, exuberant and loving. But such "loving" to a small child usually means holding, cuddling, and carrying an animal around in whatever grip their small hands can manage." These are precisely the things that make most rabbits and other small animals feel insecure and frightened and result in them starting to scratch, bite or peck out of fear. Small animals can and have broken legs and backs when dropped by children - not a happy experience for either the animal or child.

The fact is those cute little bunnies will very quickly become adult rabbits, fluffy chicks will soon become noisy hens or roosters, and in a brief 30 days, charming ducklings will turn into large and messy ducks - think goose droppings at Fremont's Lake Elizabeth on a smaller scale and reality kicks in.

Does it seem harsh to you to bring up such unpleasant truths on what you may envision as a fun activity for the family? Well, the truth is that purchasing such exotic animals is often not approached with the sense of responsibility and commitment that should be part of bringing any animal into the family. Whether it is the giver, the recipient of the gift, or the animal, predictably the ending will not be a happy one unless it is approached with forethought.

It's in the best interest of the animals and their potential caretakers to realize that with proper care, the life expectancy of domestic ducks can be 10-20 years, rabbits from 6-10+ years, and chickens upwards of 10 years. Ask yourself if you are truly able to commit to an animal considering their life expectancy and are you really willing to take on the responsibility and expense. If you aren't, stop right there and don't get one in the first place - It's as simple as that.

Thousands of rabbits are abandoned to shelters or released outdoors each year.
If you are seriously considering adopting a rabbit, don't do so as a holiday toy but make an informed decision and learn about proper rabbit care. When you are ready, adopt from an animal shelter or responsible rescue not a pet store.

For information on rabbit care and adoption contact The House Rabbit Society at 510-970-7575; for information on care, contact Cottontails the Bunny Helpline 510-797-6679.

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