We’re coming up to Easter and spring is progressing, and often rabbits and chicks become seasonal pets who are purchased and then abandoned, even today.
I have no photos of the occasions, but I’ve found more than one obviously domestic rabbit as I’ve been wandering the woods and fields as well as chasing stray cats, even recently. Years ago friends kept a rabbit or two and adored them and I could take them any bun I found if I could catch it. That turned out to be easier than catching cats in most of the cases I found, though I think that was because the rabbits, who would normally hide themselves quite well, were so tired or hungry they weren’t as cautious. Later the Agway where I bought supplies and sold plants and handmade things, which also rescued cats, would also take a bun or two and find good homes where they would not become part of the livestock. Chicks were another story.
But aside from convenient rescues like those, what happens to these animals? At first it was only kittens and puppies, but now it’s bunnies and chicks who end up in shelters after being given inappropriately as gifts at holidays. Worst of all for the bunnies and chicks, they are often not even purchased to be used as a pet but as a decoration, not even considered a living sentient being.
Growing up I remember white baby bunnies and yellow chicks dyed bright colors—in the grocery store as well as in other places where bunnies and chicks didn’t necessarily belong. While the kittens and puppies were at least intended to be pets, though not necessarily always wanted by the recipient, the bunnies and chicks were only part of an Easter display. Once grown, or even right after Easter, the rabbits, which had been cage raised, were usually “released in the wild”, totally unprepared for life on their own and facing starvation because they had no idea how to fend for themselves, or they would die a horrible death at the paws of a predator. A few neighbors in those days tried to raise the chicks, but chickens are work, and they have their own agenda that didn’t suit the average suburban middle-class lifestyle.
Sadly, today, rabbits and chicks are still adopted inappropriately as pets at holidays, and though at least they are not always dyed in spring colors, their needs are still not understood and they end up in a shelter—if one can be found that takes unusual or exotic pets.
If you have the idea to adopt a rabbit at Easter thinking it will be cute and cuddly and easier to take care of than a dog or cat, spend some time studying their needs and you might be surprised. In 2002, the Columbus House Rabbit Society founded a campaign cleverly named “Make Mine Chocolate” that clearly explains the needs of pet rabbits and offers alternatives to giving live rabbits as gifts. Rabbits are intelligent and very busy creatures, and you might spend an awful lot of time outwitting them from exercising their need to chew on things you never thought they’d be interested in, even after you thought they couldn’t get to it. And rabbits are friendly and affectionate but like cats and dogs and people and most other animals, they have their own personalities. What most people want to do first—give them a big hug—is something they really don’t care for because that type of confinement is often frightening to a small prey animal. And not all of them are small as you can see from the Flemish Giant in my photo!
Likewise with chicks and chickens—research their habits, personalities and needs, and even visit some if you can. Chicks can easily imprint on humans and are actually quite friendly and sociable as many people have found who raise a few chickens for their eggs or even meat, but they are typically not house pets and have specialized needs for housing, food and water.
Both need regular veterinary care as well, and with their needs for specialized diets they are out of the realm of a low-cost, low-maintenance pet, if there ever was such a thing. Visit the House Rabbit Society website or the Facebook group or any one of a number of organizations about raising chickens, from your local county extension agency to Backyard Chickens or Poultry One.
If you are ready to make a commitment to either of these species for the next decade, then first consider a rescued rabbit or chicken from a shelter or rescue instead of purchasing a baby. Shelters are full of the bunnies and chicks former adopters underestimated. And if you do adopt, enjoy!
In Pittsburgh, our local shelters always have bunnies for adoption, and a number of local organizations like the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club who can help you understand what house rabbits need as pets. For assistance with raising chickens you can check with the Pittsburgh Pro-Poultry People (P4) for regulations on keeping chickens in the city, or for specific health questions, state regulations and the like check with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture regional office nearest you. For everyday assistance find a local farm and see things in person and also find if they have a website, blog or Facebook page where you can communicate with a community of like-minded people and help answer questions.
To follow the “Make Mine Chocolate” campaign visit the website of that name (or visit their Facebook page). I’m going to “Make Mine Chocolate” for sure and let others make theirs marshmallow—I’ll pass on the peeps!
And if you’re interested in trying out some egg dyes made from plants and spices this year take a look at this article in Living the Country Life.
Read more articles in the category Health and Welfare
Browse some rescued cats and kittens!
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!