This is one of the pieces I wrote for my old Angelfire website (edited for language and off-topic tangents), about an issue I continue to feel strongly about. Each year, in the weeks and months after Easter, animal shelters become flooded with house rabbits because the owners’ kids got bored of them and no one was responsible enough to step up to provide care for them. You should never buy a pet just because it’s cute in babyhood, and before acquiring any type of pet, esp. a non-standard pet, you should always do all your homework and then some. Don’t get it just because you think it’s cool, cute, or your kids won’t stop whining for one. It’s counting on you to take care of it, not dump it at the pond or a kill shelter after the kids are bored.
At this time of year, many rabbits, ducks, and chickens are bought for children as Easter presents and quickly abandoned to either shelters or the wild. It sends children a very dangerous message when these precious animals are abandoned once they outgrow their “cute” stage. You’d be charged with child abuse if you adopted a cute cuddly baby but then stopped paying attention to it once it started getting bigger and you lost interest in it. A pet is a lifetime commitment, not just something you get for a few weeks till your kids lose interest in it. And if you’re getting a pet they’re likely to lose interest in before long, you have to be mature enough to step up and assume responsibility. Rabbits, ducks, and chickens aren’t ideal pets for small children anyway.
All animal lifespans vary, but on average ducks live 10-15 years (sometimes longer), chickens live 8-10 years (sometimes over 15 years), and rabbits live 7-13 years (the longest recorded lifespan is 18 years). That’s basically about as long as a large dog lives, and if your duck is one of the ones who makes it past 10 years, that’s about as long as a small or medium dog lives. Not exactly fly by night pets.
Additionally, these smaller pets require more care and upkeep than larger animals such as dogs and cats. After all, while you still have to bathe your dog every week, you don’t have to change the bedding and litter in his or her cage or crate every single week too. In many ways, having a small animal for a pet isn’t as much of a hassle as caring for something like a dog, cat, or horse, but there are also many ways in which it’s harder and more work and mess.
You particularly shouldn’t get a pet rabbit, duck, or chicken if you work long hours or travel a lot, or envision moving or going on a long trip in the near future. Ducks, for instance, get lonely and crave companionship. It’s not like a dog, whom you can leave at home for 8-12 hours a day while you’re off at work. They need daily care. If you work excessively long hours or are constantly on the road, who’s going to provide the fresh, clean drinking and swimming water, fresh dry bedding, and food? They can get seriously sick or even die if just one of these things isn’t attended to constantly.
A pet should also be in your life even if you undergo a major change, such as getting married, moving, or having a baby. They deserve love, care, and a lifetime commitment from you. If you don’t have the time or interest to take care of an animal that lives 7-15 years, occasionally even longer, get something short-term like a mouse (2-3 years on average), a rat (about the same as a mouse), a gerbil (2-4 years), or a hamster (1.5-3.5 years depending on breed).
Since rabbits are prey animals, they don’t like being picked up and handled, or even sitting in someone’s lap. They feel more secure and in control of the situation if their human is sitting alongside them and petting them. Dogs and cats are predatory animals. They’re not used to being threatened by other, bigger animals. Rabbits, however, are used to being threatened, and therefore more shy and easily-frightened. It’s in their genes to run away if a human or other animal approaches, even if that person or animal doesn’t mean any harm. Rabbits feel best when their paws are on the ground and they can control their movements, which they can’t if they’re sitting on a lap or being cuddled. A rabbit isn’t the pet for you if you enjoy cuddling with your furbabies. Ducks and chickens also aren’t the pets for you if you like to cuddle and play with your pets a lot.
Rabbits also feel more secure if they’re in an enclosed space. Only when they’re comfortable with their surroundings will they enjoy being out in the open and not in a hutch or cardboard playhouse. It’s not in them to dominate their environment. Unlike most dogs and cats, rabbits don’t like a lot of physical play, to say nothing of rough-housing. Small children are apt to be disappointed that they don’t share too many characteristics in common with dogs and cats.
Small animals, not just ducklings, chicks, and bunnies, aren’t ideal pets, “starter” or otherwise, for young children because of how fragile their bones are. A well-meaning kid can easily kill or maim a mouse, hamster, gerbil, rabbit, duckling, or gosling by just picking it up or trying to hug it. These are not traditional hands-on pets. Veterinary care for these smaller animals is also often way more expensive than for dogs and cats. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they don’t need regular vet visits, and it can often be harder to find a vet who specialises in small mammals or so-called “exotic pets.”
Then there’s the separate issue of whether or not they’ll get along with your other pets, or pets you might plan to get eventually. Again, these are traditional prey animals, and even the best-trained dog or cat can end up killing, maiming, or eating a duck, rabbit, or chicken. Feral cats only kill because they have to, and they kill their prey right away. Domesticated cats don’t have to hunt, and are notorious for torturing their prey before finally killing it. In particular, they’re known to do horrible things to innocent baby bunnies. Although if they’re raised under the same roof, most dogs and cats will get along with rabbits, so long as they’re always watched closely when they’re together, particularly when they’re first introduced. Of course, one doesn’t need to be an expert on rabbits or birds to know that it’s never a good idea to put them under the same roof as a snake. These animals are the natural prey of snakes.
Sure a kit (baby bunny), chick, or duckling looks adorable when it’s tiny. But the cuteness factor begins to fade eventually, particularly for farm animals. Ducks stop being cute and fuzzy after two weeks, and by the second or third week, they’ve already outgrown their cage and have begun to sprout feathers. They’re fully-grown by the time they’re a month old.
This is the point when most domesticated ducks are released into the wild by rivers and lakes, or disposed of in even crueler ways. This drastically reduces their chances of survival, particularly after they’ve imprinted on their humans and come to see them as their parents. Domesticated ducks cannot survive without human help and assistance. And over the hundreds of years they’ve been bred to be domestic instead of wild, they’ve lost the ability to fly. They need humans to protect them, shelter them, feed them, water them, bathe them, groom them, medicate them, and love them.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not good to feed a duck bread and crackers, just like it’s not good to feed a rabbit sugar, table scraps, vegetables, or anything with meat in it. Ducks are vegetarians, and need to eat grains, corn, and greens, along with protein such as water bugs and worms. Don’t contribute to the destructive cycle by taking popcorn, bread crumbs, crackers, or cereal down to the local pond to feed the ducks. It will fill up their stomachs and provide zero nutritional value.
Since they feel full, they’ll eventually forget their natural food supplies and subsist only on the inappropriate handouts from the humans, thus causing them to first become beggars and then starve to death. You know those warnings park rangers give you about not interferring in the natural habitats of animals by not feeding them human food or trying to get friendly with them? It also applies to the wild duck community.
It’s absolutely barbaric and inhumane to inject coloured dye into chicks and ducklings. Sounds so similar to some of the revolting experiments the Nazis carried out on their human guinea pigs. Any parent who would buy such altered baby animals from a pet store (which anyone who cares about animal welfare knows is a horrible place to buy a pet anyway) to put in an Easter basket is only contributing to this problem.
Gum, lip gloss, a trashy tabloid, or a chocolate bar is an impulse buy, not a living breathing creature! And why would you purchase an animal with such a long lifespan (relatively speaking) without doing some serious research on its care and upkeep? Animal shelters become flooded with these outcasts several weeks after Easter, these poor little abandoned ignored bunnies, chickens, ducks, and geese. Many of them end up being euthanised, and those who are released into the wild will be killed before long because they’re not genetically wired to survive without human assistance.
It also screws up the environment by releasing domesticated versions of these animals. You should only bring a wild animal into your home as a last resort (hence the term “accidental pets”), because they’re almost always better off in their natural habitat. Generally these accidental pets only work out if you’ve done a lot of reading on their proper care and if they’re very young, not fully-grown.
For the exact same reason, it’s not a wise idea to dump a domesticated animal into the wild. During the breeding process they underwent to become domestic, they lost a lot of the survival techniques their wild brothers and sisters come by naturally. Rabbits, chickens, and ducks have their lifespans significantly shortened if they’re kept caged or crated. They’re not like hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, or parakeets. They need wide open spaces to thrive. Rabbits in particular have it in their genes to run, esp. considering they’re prey animals.
Think of big dumb Lenny constantly killing everything he squeezes too hard in Of Mice and Men. He’s well-meaning and didn’t dream of hurting these animals (or, later on, the human), but since he wasn’t aware of what his grip could do to these fragile things, the worst happens. That’s exactly what happens many times when a well-meaning child tries to pick up or give a hug to these fragile little Easter animals.
Get them a dog or a cat if they want something they can rough-house or cuddle with. Those pets will not only be much more likely to put up with rough boisterous children and constant handling, they’re also much more ideal for young children (apart from certain dog breeds generally only recommended for adults, such as the Chow-Chow, most toy breeds, and the Borzoi). Very rare is the child with the patience and temperament to properly care for and appreciate a rabbit, a duck, a goose, or a chicken.
Though one might not assume so, these amazing animals actually do feel emotions and have very distinct personalities. They’re also very beautiful as adults, even though many people can’t see past the cute baby stage. And when they’re shut up in a cage and ignored all day long, you won’t get a chance to get to know them and discover their special unique personalities.
Parents who want to get their kids an Easter-related animal would be much better-off buying them a stuffed rabbit, or getting them candy rabbits, chickens, and ducks. Those don’t require constant care and attention, and a child can easily cuddle and carry around a stuffed animal to his or her heart’s content, no worry about accidentally killing or maiming the animal. These pets may not be for everyone, but they’re certainly not for small children or for anyone who’d ignore it or dump it at the shelter or into the wild after a couple of weeks when the “novelty” and cuteness wear off.