Look Before Leaping In With Easter Pets

FOCUS ON PETS

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Easter is right around the corner. All sorts of soft, cuddly creatures come to mind when we think of Easter, including live bunnies and baby chicks.

When I was a child, my parents would take a vacation every spring. Returning at Easter time, they would quickly discover some new creature living in the basement that I had rescued from the dime store.

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Baby bunnies are adorable, but fragile. They are a wonderful pet for a responsible youngster, and a great 4-H project.

A bunny with an eye infection or an injured chick or two sporting feathers of any variety of spring colors would be on the mend in my very own pet hospital. My allowance was never wasted. I always bargained with the store salespeople to let me have the visibly ill rabbit or chick for half price because I knew if it did not get special care, it would die.

Next I had to bribe my big sister, who had a driver's license, into taking me and my new responsibility to the veterinarian for ointment or other medication for the cure.

My parents feared leaving home. Finally I went off to college and they were free to travel again.

The selling of rabbits and baby chickens, dyed every color of the rainbow, at five and dime stores has gone out of fashion. Actually, five and dimes are a thing of the past. But rabbits and chicks are still advertised as gifts for children at Easter.

Any child would be delighted to find a baby rabbit in his or her Easter basket. But a rabbit is a living animal. They are fragile -- not easily and safely handled by young children.

Too often the novelty of the gift wears off quickly and the rabbit is left in the cage with little or no attention and barely-adequate care. Particularly young children are at first very excited and then quickly lose interest in this gift that requires care. Tons of rabbits are brought to animal shelters every year.

A rabbit can become a wonderful pet. But a rabbit needs a clean cage, fresh food and water daily, exercise and companionship. Living day after day in a small cage with not enough room to run around is dismal.

Children and their families who take rabbits on as pets need to realize that they are taking on a responsibility just as they would for a cat or dog. They not only make the commitment to provide these pets with suitable housing and nourishment, but also to provide them with exercise and stimulation.

Rabbits can be litter box trained. They need to be in the house and part of the family just as a dog or cat. They need a secure cage, but they also need the freedom to move around and stretch their legs.

The more time a family spends with a pet, including a rabbit, the more friendly and well behaved it will be. However, with young children, supervision is always required.

Petfinder.com, the largest database of homeless pets on the Internet, urges caution to parents who might be considering giving their child a rabbit for Easter.

"Certainly there are many rabbits in need of homes, but they are not the right pet for everyone," said Kim Saunders, Petfinder.com director of public relations. "We encourage people to do some research about the special needs of bunnies before adopting."

If you are even thinking about bringing a bunny into your house this Easter, go to the library or go online and learn all about them.

On the other hand, a young person who is committed to taking care of a new pet rabbit today, tomorrow and a year from tomorrow should have one. They are the ones who will take the time to build a wonderful cage where the animal can move around.

They will keep that cage clean and make sure that the rabbit has a proper diet. They will take the rabbit out to munch on green grass and enjoy some sunshine and exercise, and they will spend ample time just cuddling. A rabbit can make a wonderful 4-H project. These rabbits are the lucky ones.

Taking on a new pet, whether it be a dog, cat or rabbit, requires a commitment. It is a responsibility. Not many children are ready or even interested in assuming this responsibility. It is not fair to bring a pet into the household, assuming that the child will be the caregiver. It must be a family commitment. You might find that a soft, cuddly, plush rabbit will be much more satisfactory as a pet.

They come in all sizes and wonderful colors and are great to take to bed and drag around the house and use for a pillow. A real live bunny eats, makes messes and needs lots of upkeep.

Do remember the Low Cost Rabies Clinic for dogs, cats and ferrets, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 19 at the Main Street Animal Clinic. Bring all shot and spay/neuter records. County and city licenses will also be available.

The Payson Humane Society is sponsoring a Spay and Neuter Clinic on March 22 at the Mazatzal Casino. Watch for more information.

Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.

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