Many thanks to Lauren Merritt of The Christian and Creation ~ Glorifying the Creator for shining a light on the unintended consequences many of our common Easter pets experience:
The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. (Psalm 145:9, NIV, emphasis added)
The meaning of Easter has been mostly lost in our culture, dissolved into a flurry of fluffy yellow candy, hunts for plastic eggs and the ever famous four-legged, long-eared emblem of the season.
I’m not writing to debate the merit or lack thereof of these practices. Are they of pagan origin? Well, yes, but most believing Christians still chop down a tree (or buy a plastic one at Wal-Mart) and pull it into their living room to cover it with fake icicles, messy strings of silvery stuff, and tiny Disney characters dressed in Santa costumes to celebrate our Savior’s birth. I’m not ready to take on all that. So I’ll just leave that discussion for another time.
Easter time always bring me sadness and anxiety, triggered by those first chocolate Easter bunnies that show up in the stores. They remind me that real rabbits are being bred and born for the same purpose: to make a child smile for a few moments and a few pictures, then be broken limb by limb and eventually trashed with the rest of the holiday décor.
Thousands of animals are bred for this purpose alone, to be purchased by impulsive parents to put as live toys in their children’s Easter baskets.
Two months ago they were born under greedy eyes. A few weeks ago they were shipped in crates all over the country to meet their fates. Some of them have been dyed pink and purple to appeal to the market. Look kids! It’s the fluffy friends of Easter! They’ve landed in pet stores all over the US: tiny bunnies, soft little yellow ducks, itty bitty chicks. Now they’re about to face legs broken, wings snapped, eyes gauged, ribs crushed, neglected health, unintentional starvation, and behavior-altering anxiety.
That is the price paid to watch a child squeal with delight for 20 seconds when a baby animal hops out of the plastic Easter grass (if it hasn’t choked on it yet).
Mary Cotter, vice-president of the House Rabbit Society, says that “many of the rabbits purchased as Easter pets will never live to see their first birthday. Some will die from neglect, while others will be abandoned in local parks or left at animal shelters.”
As the House Rabbit Society Easter campaign slogan goes, “He’s not a child’s toy. He’s a real, live, 10-year commitment.”
The reality of pet ownership skips parents minds when they impulse-buy these baby creatures at the store. But it comes crashing down quickly, first when their child loses interest, then when the animals begin to mature and demand attention, care, specialized feed, and in general, turn out to be not so cute and cuddly.
And those tiny little bunnies - sure they’ll stay soft and fluffy, but that doesn’t guarantee you an appropriate child’s pet. Most rabbits hate to be held. They have a natural fear of having their legs leave the ground, and kick out in panic when lifted, especially if not lifted correctly such as when a small child grabs them from the middle. I have more than a few scars from handling scared rabbits at vet clinics, even though I’ve been well trained. These cute little critters are incredibly strong for their size and difficult to properly restrain without someone getting hurt. How about that 12” by 24” cage they’ll sell you at the store? Not big enough by a long shot, but considering that most Easter rabbits don’t live past one year of age, I guess it doesn’t turn out to matter.
Rabbits are not the only animals to suffer in this season. Even more inexplicably to me, some parents purchase ducks and chickens as Easter basket stuffers. But they pose perhaps even more problems than rabbits, for some very practical reasons.
That 4” tall yellow duckling in the pet store will be 2 feet tall and adorned with powerful wings, sharp claws and a snapping beak in a matter of weeks. He’ll lose his baby down and sprout full adult feathers (the in-between stage is not very pretty). To add to the confusion about what type of animal you are really purchasing, I’ve never seen a pet store that sold duck food. Because they’re not pets. And of course, the stores fail to mention that in most areas you have to live in a properly zoned area to keep livestock. Ducks are livestock. So why are they in suburban pet stores? Can you say “ca-ching!”?
Then there are the baby chicks. Oh chicks ... let me tell you a secret here. I love animals; I do. I have compassion on them all. But I really, really don’t like chickens. They smell, they’re loud, they’re ugly ... I would never want one. That’s because I’ve been around adult chickens. But how easy it is to forget that the fluffy yellow chick that fits in your palm the week before Easter is the same animal as the one you put on your plate that night. All those impulse buyers are in for a big surprise when in 10 days those chicks have doubled in size and sprouted ugly adult feathers. They get tall, gangly and ornery in no time at all. And again, good luck finding chicken feed at a pet store.
The average lifespan of a rabbit is 10-16 years. The average lifespan of chickens and ducks is about 10 years. The average attention span of a three-year-old ... probably only a few minutes.
Yet year after year after year, they are bred, bought, sold, bred, bought, sold. To die, die, die.
Why? Why are we celebrating the coming of spring, the resurrection of the Savior who has compassion, by breeding and buying disposable life?
Sin comes into full view here. These animals are bred for a market. The producers know that these animals are sentenced to short, fairly miserable lives. But they breed them anyway, because we keep buying them. In a personal conversation I had with a local pet store manager, he freely admitted that he was certain about 90% of the Easter animals he sells die in a short period of time with their new owners. I asked why he would continue to provide them for sale. He answered with a nonchalant shrug, “It’s a good profit.”
Another pet store nearby has a large sign on the walls that reads, “We care for the well-being of pets.” The same pet store was selling ducklings. But not duck food.
Suffering is everywhere, always. But Easter magnifies it for me. The contrast, the confusion of a culture that celebrates life with death, flinging living beings away with all the sentiment of disposing an empty candy wrapper. For God’s sake, just buy a chocolate rabbit. Choose compassion.
Lauren lives with her husband Nate, 7-month-old son Daniel, and her 4-year-old rescued rabbit Basil. She writes about Basil: "He was found injured outside after being attacked by a dog, clearly after someone had set him ‘free’ a few months after Easter. A kind neighbor brought him to the vet clinic where I was working, and since the local shelter was at full rabbit capacity, I took him home. He now enjoys having his own room to play in, virtually never faces the indignity of being picked up, and is learning to share toys with Daniel.
"'Mommy' is teaching Daniel to pet gently, and only when Basil comes and asks for attention. But first and foremost, Daniel is learning to enjoy watching Basil just be a rabbit and do what rabbits do best – run, leap, hop and jump around the living room. I hope to instill a godly care for animals in my son, so that he will come to know that pets are the most enjoyable when allowed to be and act the way God designed them."
(a big thanks again to Lauren for sharing "Celebrating the Resurrection of Christ with a Season of Suffering," adapted from her original post at The Christian and Creation ~ Glorifying the Creator, as well as the darling photos of Basil and Daniel; first 2 photos copyright Sebastian Duba & Eric IsselÃ©e/123rf.com)