Live Animals as Holiday Gifts - A Question of Ethics

This blog is something a friend of mine years ago made me realize happens every year at every major holiday, the results of a simple act by people who are too eager to make money before realizing their impact on the animals they deal with daily.

The act is that of raising animals that either provide food for humans, offspring to produce more animals for food/stock, or as food for various other animals or even themselves only to realize, "Hey I can make money on this." My friend raised rabbits as food for her dog and her family - her dog could only digest the simple protein of rabbit. I didn't write this to appease vegans or anyone else who has a problem with domesticated rabbits being used as food. I'm writing this from an ethical standpoint - its simply not something I agree with.

Kids see bunnies, chicks, and ducks, portrayed as animals associated with Easter and being cute like they are at a young age, beg their unsuspecting parents to buy them a new pet. Parents who don't think before they act, run out and buy their child a new pet. Pets are big responsibilities whether they be dogs, cats, horses, goldfish, hamsters, chicks or bunnies.

Chicks are very sensitive to stress - and what are the first things they encounter shortly after hatching? - Over eager children who don't now how to properly handle the animals, who often squeeze, strangle or otherwise maim the animals simply because they don't know better, and/or are lacking in proper parental supervision during the handling. Animals carry germs - watch kids at a petting zoo or a store selling chicks - kids touch the animals and then put their hands in their mouths. EWW - sorry but EWW ick, blech, yuck. Keep hand sanitizer handy if you're going to a petting zoo - parents, and keep an eye on your children. Help them pet the animals or handle them if the zoo allows. If you're in a store, don't touch the animals unless you actually plan on purchasing them and caring for them long term. If you really must handle the animals, ask a store employee if you may do so, so they can show you how to do it properly. Bunnies & rabbits bite, ducks can nibble, and chicks may peck, all of which can be painful to children and adults. If you ask to handle them, be prepared, know this can happen.

DO NOT blame the store because your child got hurt, handling an animal you had no intention of purchasing or caring for. Do not blame the animal when, several days, weeks, or months later you're still getting bitten when you try to clean the rabbit hutch, or when the chick you bought turns out to be a rooster. Animals are just that, animals, they don't know any different, it is up to you, the adult to be responsible.

Another issue that arises every year is a plethora of unscrupulous sellers, who target these unsuspecting parents around major holidays. It used to be just signs in people's front yards or in the newspaper, but with Facebook groups & things like Craigslist, you'll see lots of posts in local areas showing things like "Cheap Easter Pets - $25," or "Easter Chicks - $15," or worse "Get your child an Easter animal - FREE." And some of these sellers are ruthless, if you inquire, they keep contacting you to get rid of their plethora of animals. While researching for this blog I found several online farms advertising - colored chicks (dyed - we'll get there in a bit) for $3. 

Very few sellers of these animals do any sort of proactive measures to ensure the animals are going to good homes. Almost none give any sort of overview on the care & feeding of these "gifts." None that I've seen offer care sheets, provide a list of supplies needed, or ever make a home visit or inquire about your local zoning laws. Not all cities & towns allow you to keep livestock (which is what ducks & chickens are), and most people don't realize just how messy these types of pets can be. But this isn't limited to just traditional Easter-themed pets either. Cats & dogs are tremendous responsibilities that many people aren't prepared to handle.

Back to the Easter topic and chicks for a bit. Most sellers don't properly sex their chicks, and in turn send out into the world a lot of baby roosters. Roosters have almost no value otherwise, hens are sold to farms (legitimate farms who raise the hens to produce eggs, and few roosters are used to actually fertilize eggs to produce more chickens for food). So baby chicks - sex unknown grow up, if they live that long - to be adult roosters. Roosters are known as cocks that people hear about in cockfights, which are unsanctioned, illegal, torturous fighting of game birds against each other for profit - usually, but not always, involving owners who are involved in the drug trade.

The questions to ask yourself while reading this are:
-Do sellers of chicks screen their buyers to know they live in an area zoned to accept the raising of chickens/roosters? probably not.
- Do the sellers of chicks give their buyers a free supply of chick starter food, a brooder for the chicks to grow up in that is climate controlled? Most likely not.
-Do the sellers of chicks give their buyers a book or even a pamphlet on proper care and feeding of a chick - to allow the chick to grow up healthy and strong? Not that I've heard of.
-Do sellers of chicks care what happens once the animal leaves their hands in exchange for cold hard cash??? Ask the sellers who sell chicks for Easter and tell me the answers you get.

Even the CDC Warns against buying chicks as pets for gifts at Easter - yet many still sell them - because there's money to be made...sadly.

As for the dyed chicks - their feathers are dyed before they hatch - how you ask - there's a dye that can be injected into the embryo before it hatches to produce a colored chick. There are reasons this dying process is done OTHER than for the amusement of small children (and adults). Some researchers will use colored chicks during studies - to keep control vs observation groups separate - even when they intermingle. Research I conducted indicates the dye doesn't harm the chicks or their health, growth etc and the color wears off when the chicks new juvenile feathers grow in, in a few weeks after hatching - again another reason for the novelty of the gift to wear off. Also dyeing of chicks is regulated and outlawed (illegal) in many areas for reasons other than research. Consult your local agricultural centers for more information.

So we're on to bunnies as gifts. Rabbits and bunnies are not low-maintenance animals. Three out of 10 rabbits bought from pet stores or rabbit breeders die because they were impulse purchases and owners simply didn't know what they were getting into.

Any impulse pet purchase, made with no other thought than "Omg, it's so its so cute," is not going to end well. It really is that simple. Research the animal you want to adopt before doing so. Don't go off and buy your child or even significant other (adult) a gift that you don't know they can handle. Rabbits can be good pets, if you know how to properly care for, and hold them. Many rabbits die or need major veterinary care as a result of improper handling by children who hold them wrong because they don't know how to hold them properly, which can cause back injuries and death.

I'm not trying to be a downer here, but honestly, just do your research. As a parent, be informed. Know that you're the one ultimately responsible once the novelty wears off:
-Is your child ready for a pet?
-Are you ready for a lifelong commitment, maybe not your whole life but the whole life of the animal? 9 years for a rabbit, up to 24 years for a cat or dog?
-Are you willing and able to take care of, and do the chores that need to be done for the animal once the child no longer finds the animal fun?
-Do you have the money to pay for food, shelter, litter, and veterinary care for the animal as it grows older. Think about food, litter, and care for 9-24 years. We all fall on hard times from time to time, but are you willing to sacrifice getting a new iphone in favor of ensuring your pets have proper care? -Do you have the time to show your children how to properly handle the pet (rabbit or otherwise), and do you have the time to be around your child and the animal whenever they're together - do not leave young children alone with any animal without supervision.

If all you see is cute and squeals of joy from your child on the day they open up the gift, whether it be a chick or bunny at Easter or any other pet on their birthday or Christmas - then don't buy the pet. Wait until it's an informed, well planned decision everyone in your family is prepared for, and can be responsible for. Don't get an animal only to abandon it to the world under the misguided notion that, "It's an animal, it can survive anywhere," that's simply not true, and you wouldn't just drop your child out the door because they peed on the rug. Don't do that to an animal you get either. If you do make an ill-informed purchase of an animal, do the responsible thing, take the animal to your local shelter, and ensure it has a chance, it certainly won't if you drop a domesticated pet into the wild.

Ultimately the welfare of the animals in question is what's at stake. Most areas have some laws against abandonment of any animal. If someone in your circle of family and friends knows you have an animal and suddenly you don't or they know you've abandoned it, they can report you and in many cases you can be arrested on animal abandonment or cruelty charges. Awareness of animal abuse, abandonment and cruelty is on the rise, more and more people are likely to report you if they know you've dumped an animal, or have a pet you're not properly providing outdoor shelter for. Don't take that risk, and don't put yourself in the position of being seen as someone who is cruel to animals.

As it is many animal shelters are over-run as it is with strays that have been picked up and with animals that were rescued from bad situations, don't add to their burden because you couldn't resist the thought of a cute pet held by your child on that special day. Don't create another rooster in need of a place to go, if you do get a chick and you have no way to keep the adult, don't just dump it. Find if an area farm will take the animal, and please learn from your mistake. Don't get another one until you're certain you can handle the responsibility.

Its a living, breathing creature, it should be cared for and respected as such.

As a buyer, think before you make a purchase of any live animal as a pet. Do your homework, know the responsibilities and in some cases legal regulations of your area for housing, caring for, and keeping such animals, especially chicks, as most urban settings, and even some rural villages do not allow livestock of any form - chickens, ducks, pigs, cows, horses, etc,  generally due to space constraints and sanitation concerns.

As a seller, think before you decide to sell live animals as pets during holiday seasons.
-Do you really want it on your conscience if that animal you sell ends up dead in a week or so because you sold the animal to a buyer making an impulse purchase?
-Do you have any care at all for what happens to the animals after they leave your hands and you get your almighty dollar?
-Would you buy a pet from another seller at Easter knowing you didn't know everything you needed to about that animal? (Probably not). If you do choose to continue selling animals as pets at holidays, please be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Do your part, type up a pamphlet on how to properly care for the animal in question, recommend books and internet resources for new pet owners, include a checklist of the basics needed to care for the animal in question.
-Ask questions of your buyers. See if they've had pets before or know basics of how to care for the animal they're buying. If they're clueless, you have a right to refuse any sale for any reason. Refusing that one sale saves that animal's life. Pure and simple.

Responsible animal breeders simply don't sell pets during the holiday seasons. PERIOD. You can sell animals as pets year round and make your profit, if you wish, by selling to informed customers who know what they want, and by taking a few steps to ensure that the animal you're selling is going to a home that can and will care for it properly.

That said, yes there are people who will lie to your face and tell you things just to get their hands on that live animal gift/pet otherwise. You can't be responsible for those few - but you can be responsible for the lives of the animals you hold care over. Don't send them into any situation you're unsure of. This is why the SPCA has a screening process and application process. You could even make more money by putting together, and selling kits to care for the animals you're selling. Sell cages, pens, brooders, feeders etc. But again that makes more responsibility for you, and don't you have enough already? The lives of the animals is more important than the money in your wallet.

If you know someone who raises animals, ask them if they sell pets during the holidays and if so do they care what happens to them when the novelty wears off??

*the views expressed in this blog are that of myself and myself alone, comments are left by readers and are their opinion I hold no responsibility or claim of such for comments left by others - they reflect the poster's own opinions and not that of the blog writer. If you have a problem with any information herein - or feel that my information is wrong - please provide links showing proof of your opposition. If you agree that buyers & sellers need to be held equally accountable cool. if you think that this practice of selling live pets at holidays should be outlawed - contact your local agriculture department/ministry etc - if you need help finding that in your area - email me - i'll do my best to help:


Jill at Liv'nGood Jewelry said...

Sadly this is very true. A friend volunteers at the local SPCA shelter and she told me every year in mid-April they get a rush of bunnies in that were Easter presents that "didn't work out".

A college friend who grew up on a chicken farm told us her dad would dye chicks for her and her sister each year. They were never pets, it was just "that's your chick there" in the yard. She said they were cute for about a week, but then their adult feathers started coming in purple and pink too.

frawggie said...

This blog is again poignant at the time of Christmas - the local Humane society here is posting ads on facebook and likely in newspapers as well advertising pets of all types, cats, dogs, kittens, puppies, ducklings, chicks, bunnies and more as 'affordable' wonderful gifts that parents can buy for their kids for Christmas.

It sickens me to think that 2/3 of these animals will be turned out as strays more often than not; especially the cats & kittens - people don't volunteer at these shelters to know how many animals are brought in as strays etc.

Really seriously - the SPCAs in NY would never advertise animals as holiday pets. Yes they have adoption drives but they tag the animals they adopt out - and if someone gives an animal a home and the animal is later found to be a stray the previous owners can be in big trouble. I wish this is how it was in more states.

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