for release Friday March 18, 2005
by Melodie Davis
We are fortunate to live in the rural Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where fields of sheep, goats, llamas, and even alpacas (and a few camels) are common. I’ll never forget the excitement of one of my daughters’ college city/suburb-raised friends who squealed with delight at the sight of real sheep in open fields near our home. “Slow down!” said Christa as they drove along our road. “I’ve never seen a sheep outside of a zoo,” she exclaimed.
I especially love seeing the baby lambs in the fields this time of year as we anticipate spring and Easter. Besides flowers, singing birds, and fresh buds on trees, there is no better reminder of the cycle of new life than sweet baby animals. They are, too, an appropriate symbol for the resurrection of Jesus that Easter celebrates.
But unfortunately, their cuteness is too often their undoing. Too many parents succumb to the pleas of kids (or from seeing adorable pictures) and purchase a baby bunny, chick, duck or other cute animal for Easter.
Experts say that thousands of rabbits are adopted at Easter and face an uncertain future. “The Easter bunny is one of the most popular symbols of Easter and is also one of the most delicate and misunderstood of all God’s creatures,” writes freelance writer and animal lover Candice Silsby. “Many well meaning parents purchase live rabbits at pet stores as gifts for their children. Live rabbits are a huge responsibility and they are not very compatible with children,” she goes on. “Younger children are at a developmental stage that doesn’t go well with rabbits. Children explore their world with their hands, often by grabbing. It is natural for children to exuberantly grab, hug and squeeze that which is cute and seemingly cuddly. In reality, live rabbits are very fragile and instinctively feel threatened when held, squeezed or hugged,” Silsby points out.
I remember the rabbits my mother raised to earn extra money, which were kept in cages. But even a cage didn’t keep my younger brother from inquisitively sticking his finger inside one day for the bunny to nuzzle. The nuzzle turned into a sharp bite—a very painful lesson for my brother.
“Rabbits are not docile, which can cause children to lose interest after Easter. Unfortunately, parents often don’t have access to this information before purchasing the rabbit (or they think they will be the exception). After Easter, thousands of bunnies are returned to overcrowded animal shelters and many must be euthanized,” says Silsby.
Now, I’m not a PETA person (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; often they seem to do more harm than good with their protests). But as a farmer’s daughter and Johnny-come-lately pet lover, I do agree with those who caution against the impulse purchase or adoption of a pet you’re not prepared to raise.
Ms. Silsby suggests some helpful substitutes. “A cuddly plush rabbit toy is a wonderful substitute for a child,” if you give gifts at Easter. “A child can hug their plush rabbit without injury, it doesn’t need to be fed or brushed, there are no droppings to clean up (live rabbit droppings are frequent and plentiful) and a plush rabbit is not destructive,” she says. “It is a happy participant in tea parties and most importantly, if the child loses interest, the plush rabbit will not be lonely or neglected.”
Another suggestion is “Take your child to a local animal shelter or rescue operation to visit and feed greens to the resident rabbits (if any). This is educational and teaches children compassion for one of God’s creatures,” Silsby writes. This is a great addition to a stuffed rabbit gift, especially if your child has been begging for a live bunny. This way your child will see firsthand the effects of having a rabbit as a pet, without needing to understand the mammoth commitment of owning one.
On the other hand, perhaps you are in a situation where as a family you can make a conscious and educated choice to bring a rabbit into your home. If you decide it is feasible, shelters and rescue operations are a great educational resource to help you learn which animal is right for your family.
Finally, a chocolate rabbit is always a practical substitute. Chocolate as a rare treat is acceptable for even the most health conscious family (unless allergic of course).
My thanks to Ms. Silsby for this information, who used the website www.rabbit.org for research. If you decide you can make the long term commitment to care for and love a pet, no matter what kind of animal your children are begging for, do first of all consider adopting a pet from your local animal shelter. Mixed breeds often make the best, friendly, pets for children. Shelters carefully make sure that dangerous or difficult animals are screened from families with young children.
God created animals to inhabit this world along with us, but they are not for everyone’s indoor lifestyle. With a pet’s unconditional love, they can be an everyday reminder of God’s unreserved love for us all. Happy Easter!
Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg VA 22802 or e-mail email@example.com (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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