Choosing Responsible Easter Gifts

I posted the above photo on our Facebook page the other day. The comments that followed were curious to me. It would seem that the practice of giving REAL Easter bunnies, ducklings and baby chickens is not something that is practiced worldwide. Just as I was heaving a sigh of relief, I received a message from someone, a bird lover, who didn’t see the harm. I promised to address the topic here on the blog…

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that we are all animal lovers here. I would like to think that if someone gave you an animal as a gift, that you would either accept the animal into your heart and home and act responsibly towards it or find a more appropriate home for it if you knew you were not able to provide for it’s needs. However, not all people are responsible when it comes to animals.

I don’t even want to think about a person who isn’t reduced to mush at the sight of a baby animal. They are warm, fluffy and trusting by nature. Even with their diminutive size, they leave most of us weak in the knees. It is a struggle to resist the urge to carry one home with you. Sadly, during the Easter season, many people give in to this weakness. It is customary to offer gifts that are associated with eggs or rabbits and sometimes those gifts are alive and often given to young children.

The people who frequent this or other parrot sites understand the huge weight of responsibility that comes with keeping a parrot. We know he realities. Where the rest of the world is enamored at the sight of a human cuddling an exotic animal that talks, we know the work that goes into their keep – the expense, the destruction, the messes. People don’t see that part which leaves the impression that parrot ownership is a walk in the park.

It is the same with the baby animals that are passed out during the Easter Holidays – people make their purchases with their heart and not their head. Their are a few aspects that make this practice troubling:

Young children should never be given the sole responsibility of an animal. They are still being cared for by their parents because they are not of an age where they can care for themselves let alone a small animal. They do not understand responsibility, nor it is their job to. I think it is vital for children to be raised around animals to benefit from the many life lessons they offer but until they reach a certain age (which would vary by child) they should never be left alone with an animal of any size, age or temperament.

A Facebook friend told me a story a few years ago that has never left me. At three years old she was given a baby chick by a relative for Easter which she killed the same afternoon. She doesn’t remember very much of the event herself, but it was described to her by her mother later in her life. She was playing with it in the yard and the best her mother could ascertain from her was that she wanted to play with the bird’s feathers and started ripping them out. Apparently, she crushed the chick to death trying to keep it from getting away. It was not at all an act of cruelty, but an act of curiosity and exactly what one should expect of a child of that age. It still makes her cry knowing that she had done that to an animal.

The second consideration is that baby animals grow to adult size very rapidly. Nature has designed it that way to give them a fair chance of survival – predators target the small and the weak first. That means that in the blink of an eye, the baby chick will be a full grown, clucking, pooping chicken romping around the house. That might not be acceptable to everyone.  Their cute factor gone (to some people’s way of thinking), they may no longer be held in the same high regard and may come to be thought of as a nuisance.

This brings me to my third concern: what do you do now? If your chicken was given to you as a gift, absolutely no planning or forethought happened before the chicken arrived. The gift giver probably did not give any consideration to the fact that you don’t have a chicken coop in your backyard. As a result, many of the gift chickens and ducks are put outside without any shelter from the elements or protection from predators. Many more go to shelters or are “released into the wild”, something that domestic animals will unlikely survive.

Most animals purchased on a whim for Easter do not live through their first year of life. Animals should never be given as gifts. They should only be brought into a household after careful planning and preparation. They are a living thing that we must be committed to and it must be our own choice to make that commitment. A child will appreciate a toy just as much and will never have to live with the memory of carrying her dead chick by the wing to her mother because it “won”t wake up”.

Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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