By Sarah Liu & Steph Selice
Why Chocolate Bunnies and Peeps® Make Better Easter Gifts
Every spring, many animal lovers are reminded how great it was to love their first pets—not only puppies and kittens, but also what we think of as Easter critters: rabbits, chicks, ducklings, and even lambs and goats.
We all want to share that wonderful feeling of loving a pet, particularly with the kids we love. Many experts suggest that there are better gifts for kids (and for unprepared adults) than live animals. This time of year in particular, they suggest some excellent alternatives.
After cats and dogs, rabbits are the third most popular mammalian pet in the U.S. They also rank third among animals most often brought to shelters (and euthanized). John White of RabbitWise, a web-based education and advocacy organization for rabbit lovers, thinks that though rabbits are intelligent, beautiful, social creatures who can become as much a part of the family as any other pet, giving bunnies (as well as chicks or ducklings) as Easter presents is a bad idea.
Contrary to popular belief, bunnies are not a good “child’s pet” or even “starter pet.” Their delicate bone structure makes them prone to injury if mishandled by a child (or adult). They also require care by a vet specialist who handles “exotic” species like rabbits, snakes, lizards, and birds. The cost of a rabbit’s vet care can equal or exceed that for a dog or cat.
Most bunnies available for Easter are juveniles, 2 to 3 months old. They are adorably cute. But most kids soon outgrow their fascination with their furry friend, and the family often loses interest too. With the end of summer and the school year starting, the bunny is often ignored except for basic care.
At the same time, that cute bunny is maturing into an adult through what will be 5 to 6 months as a “teenager.” Behaviors such as chewing, digging, and scratching are normal and quite pronounced, especially if the rabbit has not been spayed or neutered. Males also begin “spraying” to mark their territory, which includes furniture and family members. Finally, the rabbit’s dietary needs change significantly. For a family that just wanted a cute little “Easter Bunny,” this is often all too much, and the rabbit winds up at the shelter.
At least, the luckier ones do. Rabbits must be indoor pets so they won’t be exposed to predators, heat, and cold. But some well-meaning people release the bunny into the wild where he or she can find some wild friends. This is a death sentence for the rabbit. Domestic rabbits are a completely different genus than American wild rabbits—as distant as we are from apes. Wild rabbits see domestic rabbits as interlopers and will kill them.
But when you’re ready, rabbits can make wonderful family pets. Once past their “teenage” period, they mellow out and become social, affectionate, entertaining companions who can become as much a part of a family as dogs or cats. They enjoy being with their humans and respond to attention and care. Most love being held, though some prefer to sit on their person’s lap or side by side. Each rabbit is an individual, with a unique personality. Rabbits easily learn to use a litter box, and they enjoy being groomed, playing with toys, and hanging out with their people. They make excellent companions for those who take the time to learn about their special needs. As John White says, “The one thing I can guarantee people who share their lives with a rabbit is that no matter how much time or money you invest in your friend’s care, in the end you will always feel like you got the best part of the deal.”
What about chicks and ducklings? Kerry Hilliard at Rikki’s Refuge in Orange and John Netzel at Peaceful Fields Sanctuary in Winchester agree that there are great alternatives to giving these birds as Easter presents. Though chicks and ducks are adorable creatures whom kids find irresistible, they grow quickly into adult birds and require much more care than some folks realize. Lolly Busey at Rikki’s notes, “We have many birds that came to us after the cuteness of buying the fuzzy little chicks at Tractor Supply wore off.” John Netzel agrees: “Any adoption has to be after careful consideration and only with the animal’s best interests in mind.” John adds that when adopting chicks, “people don’t realize that you can’t easily tell males and females apart. Males become roosters, which are abandoned more often because people are more interested in hens that lay eggs. In many jurisdictions, it’s illegal to keep roosters because they crow. It can even be dangerous to keep more than one because roosters fight one another.”
For those who learn about them, chickens, ducks, and other birds can be a pleasure to raise and care for and can become part of the family. In some parts of metro DC, they can even be kept legally in a coop outside on private property. But it’s worth checking out whether these pets are the right ones for you—and that’s easy to do.
You could visit an animal sanctuary, shelter, or rescue and meet not only their chickens and ducks, but also their rabbits, lambs, goats, and other animals. Visitors can make an appointment to meet the animals or take a tour, and even to volunteer or do internships (see Resources below). Some farms like Caromont Farm in Esmont let volunteers help with their kids and goats. And all caretakers enjoy introducing kids to animals they love.
Other tried-and-true ways of introducing kids to animals:
Read a book aloud or together (like The Tale of Peter Rabbit or Make Way for Ducklings).
Do crafts to make animal portraits.
Give a stuffed toy, play farm, or animal playset.
Watch nature shows on Animal Planet, National Geographic, PBS, or YouTube.
Give a chocolate bunny, Peeps®, or other Easter treat.
And when you’re ready to adopt an animal, please consider a shelter, rescue, or sanctuary. Thanks.
RabbitWise (a web-based education and advocacy organization)
John White, Education Director
Kerry Hilliard, Director
Lolly Busey, Kathy Doucette, Robin McClary
P.O. Box 1357
Orange, VA 22960
540-854-0870, x2 to volunteer/visit, x3 for events
Peaceful Fields Sanctuary
John Netzel, Director
Winchester, VA 22603
Volunteer days: first Saturday of the month
9261 Old Green Mountain Road
Esmont, VA 22937
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
4101 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22304
Adopts to residents within 25 miles of the shelter
Friends of Rabbits and House Rabbit Sanctuary
P.O. Box 1112
Alexandria, VA 22313
Adopts to residents of Northern VA, suburban MD, and DC