An Easter plea to protect bunnies and chicks. Also: Another perspective of chicks in the city.
by Sunny Branson
On a recent trip to a farm supply store to purchase bedding for my guinea pigs, I heard the soft delicate sound of chirping birds. I followed the peeps to several stacked cages stocked with dozens upon dozens of baby chicks in all their Easter promotion glory. Two women were each holding a chick gushing about their cuteness.
Working in animal rescue, I know all too well the harsh reality faced by most live animals purchased as Easter gifts. Each year, come May and June, after the novelty wears off, unwanted Easter chicks and bunnies fill local rescues; or worse, are dumped outside where the animals are ill-equipped to find food or protect themselves from predators, cars and illness-a virtual death sentence.
Well-intended purchasers may try for several months to raise the animals and provide them good lives. Most soon realize they are not prepared to raise an adult chicken or a rambunctious rabbit.
In 2002, in an attempt to address the problem, the Columbus House Rabbit Society began the "Make Mine Chocolate" campaign to educate the public on the realities of living with a rabbit and encouraging giving chocolate bunnies as Easter gifts rather than live rabbits.
"The goal of the campaign is to break the cycle of acquisition and relinquishment of live animals," said Terri Cook, vice president of the society. "Our aim is to educate the public about the responsibilities involved in keeping a companion rabbit."
Acquiring a rabbit is a long-term commitment; they can live more than 10 years. They can make wonderful companion pets, but people should know the realities of living with a rabbit before making a decision to bring one home. They are not the easy-to-care-for inexpensive pets we've been led to believe.
Rabbits are intelligent and have a highly developed social order, so do best with the companionship of at least one other rabbit. Exercise and mental stimulation are crucial, which means they need plenty of out-of-cage time, which also means "rabbit proofing" your home. In addition to daily pellets, veggies and hay, they need regular visits to an exotics vet experienced with rabbits. Another consideration is space. Most pet store-bought cages are not nearly big enough for an adult rabbit.
Chickens, too, can live up to 10 years and need commitment and proper care for their entire lives.
Raising a chicken has its challenges, but starting with a fuzzy Easter chick removed from its mother only days after hatching presents additional challenges.
"I have many different animals on the farm, and hens are by far the best mothers," says Faith Ching of Ching Farm Animal Sanctuary. "They start communicating with their chicks while still in the egg and form very strong bonds. Once hatched, they teach their chicks everything they need to learn about… well, about how to be chickens."
Optimally, chicks should stay with their mothers for three to four months to learn all they can from her-where to find food and water; where to roost and nest, how to protect themselves from predators, and when to get out of the sun. Baby chicks are very delicate and without their mothers moderating their temperature, they can easily die.
The first consideration before obtaining a chick is the zoning laws. Space is another consideration – overcrowded chickens may become irritable and peck one another. Chickens are temperature sensitive, require dust baths to keep feathers clean and free of mites, and must be kept safe from predators. Like rabbits, they are social animals who do best in groups or with the company of at least one other chicken.
The point is that all animals have specific, often complex needs. Just being small does not make an animal disposable, and they should not be purchased on impulse or for novelty. Bringing any animal into your home should be a planned, well-thought out decision and never just "for the kids."
Animal rescues and municipal shelters don't have the resources to deal with all the unwanted chicks, bunnies and other small animals abandoned after Easter, so they often resort to euthanasia even if the animal is healthy and friendly.
Please make an informed decision when considering your Easter gifts. Toys and books make wonderful Easter basket fillers. Or, maybe you could make yours chocolate?
Sunny Branson is co-owner of Single Malt Media, volunteers for Wasatch Animal Rescue and sponsors two pot-bellied pigs at Ching Farm Sanctuary.