Easter is all about the cuteness: Peter Cottontail, chirping chicks, marshmallow Peeps. And for years, people have been succumbing to the cuteness and buying adorable baby bunnies, ducklings, and chicks as presents for kids and loved ones.
This is a very bad idea. Not because there's anything wrong with cute, fluffy baby animals, but because people turn around and abandon said cutiepies in record numbers when they start to grow up. You know, like all animals eventually do.
The South Florida Wildlife Center, a Fort Lauderdale-based rescue and rehabilitation facility, used to see an influx of former Easter pets every year -- chickens, roosters, ducks, and domestic rabbits.
While the center is no longer able to accept these types of animals due to resource issues and disease concerns, the abandonment issue is still very prevalent, says executive director Sherry Schlueter.
"This is really a case where this is sort of an impulsive buy by well-intentioned parents or grandparents caught up in the excitement of Easter, and they're simply not thinking it through that the little chick or duckling or rabbit grows up very quickly and requires a lifetime of commitment and care."
Turns out, after dogs and cats, rabbits are the animals most frequently dumped at animal shelters. That's because people get them when they're tiny and cute and then get sick of them when they grow into adult bunnies.
Gee, imagine if we abandoned our babies as soon as they started to grow up.
The Humane Society of the United States issues warnings for the general public every year around this time. This year, they said the following:
"Bringing a new pet into your home is a serious commitment that should only be made if your family is prepared to provide lifelong care for the animal. If you are sure about making this Easter the time to get a new family pet, The HSUS asks you to adopt from your local animal shelter."
In reality, there aren't a lot of places for these animals to go when people get rid of them. Many families let them loose, thinking they can live in the wild. Not so much.
"Unlike wild rabbits, domestic pet rabbits cannot survive on their own outdoors. Chickens also need dedicated, consistent care, and far too many of them end up in shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries as well," the Humane Society says.
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"It's a tragedy all the way around," Schlueter says. "It may sound like I'm overstating, but it is tragic when a little infant animal, a little baby innocent animal, is thrust into the excitement and hustle-and-bustle of Easter morning. And it's tragic when a child is enamored of this new little creature that's so interesting and fun, then something bad happens -- whether the animal dies from stress or disease or failure to thrive because people don't know how to take care of these animals. Or when the animal stops being a baby and the child is forced to have the animal leave the family. Parents and grandparents will often try to soften the blow by telling the child: 'He's going to live on a big farm with other chickens,' but unfortunately, there aren't that many happy endings for these animals."
So, bottom line: Don't buy a live animal because you think it'd make a cute addition to an Easter basket. Stick with the stuffed kind. Or Peeps, 'cause you can't do much harm to a marshmallow.
"We really strongly encourage people to purchase appropriate plush toys or edible delights for children and leave living animals out of the celebration," Schlueter says. "It's in the best interest of the child, the best interest of the animal, and the best interest of the family to do so."