Easter pets are a long-term (but rewarding) commitment

A few weeks ago, we had a new office mate – a small chick, given to Terri, our office manager, as a surprise by a well-meaning co-worker. Thankfully, Terri has been wanting a few chickens and was happy to take the chick home with her. She even purchased a friend so her chick wouldn’t be lonely, and immediately tasked her husband with building a coop.

While this little chick has a happy home, it isn’t always the case. This is the time of year many people buy baby chickens, ducks and rabbits to give children as Easter presents. Unfortunately, many are released into the wild or turned over to a local animal shelter when the cuteness fades. These animals do not have the natural instincts to survive in the wild, and many animal shelters are ill-equipped to handle them. As a matter of fact, almost 200 rabbits and about 500 chickens were euthanized in N.C. public shelters in 2010, according to statistics collected by the NCDA&CS Animal Welfare Section.

Many people do not consider the long-term commitment of owning these animals. Rabbits have an average life span of 8 to 12 years, while ducks and chickens can live for 7 to 10 years if properly cared for. And even though they are smaller than most household pets, rabbits require annual veterinary checkups and daily care. That includes cleaning out the rabbit’s cage, daily exercise, a proper diet and providing chew items to wear down the rabbit’s constantly growing teeth.

Chickens and ducks also must be properly housed outside to protect them from predators. Households with elderly, young or immune-compromised individuals should also take caution as fowl can transmit salmonella, a bacteria that can be life threatening to these populations.

Rabbit owners will tell you that owning a pet is a rewarding experience. But they do take some work to keep them healthy and clean. Likewise, owning the right breed of chickens can be a great learning experience and will provide great-tasting eggs if you provide the right environment. But before you buy, consider the long-term cost and commitment.

If you don’t think you or your children are quite ready for the commitment, buy the chocolate or stuffed variety at Easter, and remember that you can always get your fix of rabbits and chicks at a county fair.

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