Live animals don't belong in Easter baskets. As adorable as baby bunnies, chicks and ducks may be, they aren't great gifts. They require an intense level of care and have life expectancies of up to around 20 years. Every year, in the months following Easter, thousands of bunnies, chicks, and ducks either die from improper care or are surrendered to already over-burdened animal shelters.
NOTE: These chickens were not gifts for the kids. We rescued them as fully grown hens.
The reasons to avoid Easter pets in favor of some of the alternatives listed below are numerous, but first, indulge me in a moment of '90s nostalgia:
Joey Tribbiani sits in his living room watching TV. A newscaster appears, stating (accurately) that "some people insist on giving live chicks as presents. Unfortunately, the sad fact remains that most of these guys won't live to see the 4th of July due to improper care." Joey immediately dials up a pet store, asking whether they carry baby chicks, because, "I was watching this commercial on TV, and man, those things are cute!"
After presenting the chick to Chandler, the burdens of chick care become a clear strain on their friendship, inciting bickering about who has gotten up at night with the chick and who has stayed home from work to care for her. Ultimately, the two decide to surrender the baby to a shelter, only to discover that this puts little Yasmine at a very real risk of euthanasia. Chandler returns home from the shelter with not only their baby chick, but a duck someone else surrendered as well.
While all this is presented in a humorous and campy manner, the issues it highlights are very real, right down to the fact that ultimately they are forced to surrender the animals when little Yasmine grows up to be a rooster.
Before adopting a live animal to hide among the synthetic grass in your child's Easter basket this year, give some serious thoughts to the following considerations.
What Lesson Will You Teach?
Presenting a child with a pet they are not capable of caring for and you are not willing to care for in the long term sends very negative messages about responsibility, consequences and the value of life.
How will it affect your child should your new pet die from improper care? What does it say about love, caring and responsibility if you abandon your new pet to a shelter within a year?
Living creatures are not disposable.
If you are not accustomed to keeping pets, have not done extensive research on the care necessary and are not ready to commit up to 20 years to the care of a new companion animal, then bunnies, chicks and ducks are not for you. Check out the great alternatives below!
Speaking of the level of care necessary, did you know that domesticated rabbits, ducks and chickens cannot survive in the wild? Pet rabbits should not even be kept outdoors. They should live in the house with the family, just like a cat or dog. Rabbits are social creatures, and an outdoor hutch is now considered cruel treatment. They can be litter trained, but it is a process, just like with other pets. And if you already have a cat or dog, how will they take to a new addition? A responsible pet owner will easily spend over $500 per year to care for a rabbit. More information on rabbit care can be found here.
Baby chicks require round the clock attention and care, needing to be kept at precisely the right temperature and fed every few hours. Once making it past that hurdle, adult chickens require an appropriate environment, a temperature controlled coop and possibly an enclosure, which you will have to build or buy. They require daily care, including when the family is on vacation. Further, sexing baby chicks is difficult, so -- like Joey and Chandler -- you may end up with a rooster on your hands. Many young roosters are surrendered or killed every year due to incorrect sexing. More information on chicken care is here.
And don't forget that many municipalities don't allow chickens or ducks at all!
Ducks require the same care requirements as chickens and then some. In addition to care, feeding, and housing needs, ducks must also be provided with a bare minimum of 1 liter of clean water per duck per day. More details on caring for ducks here.
And remember, all of these animals are social. Rabbits should be kept with the family, and chickens and ducks need to be kept with their own kind. One should never keep just a single chicken or duck.
The Centers for Disease Control warns that each year, several children in the U.S. are infected with salmonella carried by baby chicks, ducks, goslings or turkeys. Salmonella can be transmitted to children from the animals themselves, or from contact with their houses or bedding (or an Easter basket the little critters were nestled into!).
This fact alone demonstrates that these animals are not appropriate gifts for small children. Find out more here.
Also consider the health of the animals themselves. Bunnies, chicks and ducks are all incredibly fragile creatures and can easily be injured by enthusiastically loving children.
Why take on the expense, risks and commitment of a live animal, when you could use one of these fun Easter ideas?
Plants and seeds and flowers, oh my!
Stuff that basket with seeds, seedlings, bulbs or a sprout jar to give kids the joy and pride of caring for something and watching it grow with a much more manageable level of care (unless it's orchids; don't give them orchids, ha). This is also a great opportunity to wedge a little science lesson into the fun!
Kids love eating vegetables they've grown themselves, so consider some tomato seedlings or radish seeds. Plant some carrots in a clear container (like an old juice bottle with the top cut off and holes in the bottom for drainage), and kids can watch their food grow. Sprouts in a jar provide a lot of interaction and a very fast turnaround, being ready to eat in under a week. Check out this article for information on growing sprouts with kids.
Wish seeds are another perfect Spring activity. At the equinox (or Easter), each member of the family plants three seeds representing their wishes for growth in the coming year (sort of like a new year's resolution). As they care for the plants and watch them grow, they are reminded of their wishes.
Easter comes right at the start of Spring. Why not celebrate the new season with outdoor activity-related basket stuffers like jump ropes, yard games and sidewalk chalk? I'm pretty sure I got my first bike as an Easter gift (we winter babies don't have a lot of warm-weather gift opportunities).
And if you decide to go with chocolate, aim for slavery-free!
Visit a Sanctuary
Enjoy the animal experience and support a local sanctuary or rescue at the same time. Many farm or wildlife sanctuaries include picnic areas and tours.
While this practice my still be somewhat ethically questionable, it is at least superior to adopting then killing or abandoning a pet. Many small farmers around the country offer a "rent-a-chick" opportunity at this time of year. Families can take home a chick or two, complete with feed and instructions for care, and then return it to the farmer after Easter.
If you're in Detroit, visit J&M Farms at Eastern Market to learn more.
If You Must Adopt
Finally, if you are sure that a new bunny or some chicks or ducks are right for your family; if you're sure you're ready to commit to caring for these creatures for so long as they may live, please consider waiting until after Easter and adopting from a local rescue. There are always a large number of these creatures needing good homes at this time of year.
Adopting from a rescue organization saves an animal in need of a loving home, supports the mission of the rescue and reduces the demand for large corporations to overbreed "throw away pets."
For more information, visit:
The Friends episode referenced above is called The one with a chick. And a duck. It is episode 21 of season 3 and is available on Netflix and Amazon.
All images published with permission from either UrbanEarthworm.org or Eastern Market.