Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Giving Animals For Easter

From Cheryl Falkenburry, Animal Behavior Coach

With Easter fast approaching, we see images of cuddly rabbits and cute chicks hopping around on green grass littered with colorful eggs. Children see these adorable creatures and beg their parents for one of their very own. Before you dash off and purchase a live animal for your child’s Easter basket, really consider your decision.

Are you prepared to care for this animal for an entire lifetime? Rabbits can live 10 – 15 years when properly cared for. Pet chickens live around 10 years and stop laying eggs around 3 - 4 years. Children, no matter how many promises they may make, are not able to care for animals on their own. They loose interest quickly. Animals also cost money for proper housing, food, and veterinarian care. Perhaps a chocolate bunny or a marshmallow chick or duck would be a better idea.

People often don’t realize what is involved with caring for an animal. I talk a lot about training dogs and cats, but other animals that are kept for companions need to be trained and cared for as well. Rabbits can make wonderful companions when cared for properly, but most people don’t realize what is involved. Just throwing a rabbit in a small cage and bringing her food and water every day is not enough. Rabbits need proper nutrition like fresh greens, fruits, and timothy hay; a large clean enclosure; plenty of time to romp outside of their enclosure; and lots and lots of love and training.

Yes, training. Rabbits can be housebroken in order for them to have supervised time outside of their enclosure. They can be taught proper manners of how to get your attention (a hard nibble is not appropriate, a soft nibble is, in case you are wondering how rabbits try to get your attention). Time must be spent teaching a rabbit to be handled by a human so you can safely check the rabbit’s teeth and trim nails. Some rabbits may never learn to be held by humans — it’s just too scary. Can you imagine a big giant coming down and swooping your entire body off the ground? Scary stuff if you ask me.

Animals also go through different stages of life that cause changes in behavior -- just like humans. Many people will call me and say their animal has suddenly become possessed. The first thing I do is inquire the age of the animal which reveals clues to the reason for the behavior change.

When adolescence occurs depends on the type and size of the animal. For rabbits it can occur as early as five months (sometimes earlier) for the dwarf breeds and as late as a year for other breeds. Rabbits need to be spayed and neutered usually somewhere around 5 to 6 months (although some are altered earlier). An altered rabbit is much easier to train and will remain healthier than an unaltered one. Unaltered rabbits cannot live together no matter what sex they are. The aggression problems will be numerous not to mention the number of rabbits that will be produced with opposite sexed pairs. There are enough homeless rabbits in the world, so a responsible family will always spay and neuter.

And what about a cute cuddly little chick? Fortunately, new laws have decreased the number of chicks that are being dyed Easter colors and sold at Easter time, but the giving of chicks still occurs. Chicks given as presents at Easter often die within the first week because they do not receive the proper care. Chicks require a heat source, a clean enclosure, and quality food and water every day. Hand-rearing a chick takes a minimum of 10 minutes a couple of times each day in order for the chick to bond to the human family.

They must be vaccinated against a variety of diseases. Many people do keep chickens as pets, yes pets, but as with any animal it takes time and care. Housebreaking is difficult but not impossible. Chickens can be trained to do a number of tasks. (Most positive training methods used today started with studying chickens!) However, a pet chicken is not something to jump into lightly.

Any animal is a major commitment and responsibility, not a novelty. Research what is needed to care properly for an animal before having one join your family. If you do decide you have the time, money, patience, and commitment to care for an animal, please consider adopting one from a shelter or local rescue. There are many wonderful animals, including rabbits, looking for a wonderful forever home.

If you have young children or aren’t ready for an animal to join your family, consider a nice little stuffed (fake fur) animal for your child’s Easter basket this year. Chocolate is a sweet idea too!

Cheryl Falkenburry, Animal Behavior Coach, helps make sense of mind-boggling animal behavior. Visit her website for other behavior tips. Set up a private session to work directly on your pet's problem.

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