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Live animals as Easter gifts can be a little foul

Happy Easter. Nibble, nibble, peep, peep.

Each year around this holiday, I receive a flurry of info from the national Humane Society and state health officials advising against giving little feathered or furry animals in lieu of stuffed or candied species.

I gotta say I agree. No matter how much your kiddo begs and pleads, please don't succumb to the impulse pet purchase. Unless you've done your homework and are committed to properly caring for these hapless holiday innocents.

Why not? Because things can go seriously south fast for the critter — and the human.

Allow me to introduce Dr. Emilio DeBess, Oregon Public Health veterinarian. DeBess this week offered insights into a salmonella outbreak that took place last year at about this same time after people handled, kissed and kept baby poultry.

"Chicks, ducklings and other fowl often carry salmonella bacteria," DeBess said. "If you do touch a chick, duck or other baby bird — or anything in the area where they live and roam — wash your hands so you don't get sick. Do not allow children to touch them."

Of course the kids are going to want to touch Chicken Little. Do you really want yet another reason to be permanently attached to your hand sanitizer bottle? Here's a hint. There are no known salmonella dangers attached to giving a nice stuffed plush toy.

If you've already made the leap and brought home a live peep(er), I wish you and the critter(s) in question the best. I truly do. I also hope you spoke to your veterinarian, your local animal shelter or other pet owners about the nuts and bolts of caring for these animals — for a long, long time. According to "Dr. Bob's All Creatures" Web site, a chicken can make it to 14 years. At least one Peter cottontail attained nine years. And a Daffy duck hung in there for 22 years.

"People often don't realize the level of commitment that these animals require," said Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets at Risk program for the Humane Society of the United States.

Unfortunately for most Mr. Peepsters, life expectancy drops almost as fast as downy fluff is replaced by stubby pin feathers.

It's not easy breaking the news to a child that their new pet is dead. Or must be given away because the adults in the home made a bad decision, Goldfarb said.

Case in point: A friend recently told me of her annual Easter gift of baby chicks, bestowed upon her by doting elders. Her smile turned upside down as her mood took a quick downward spiral. Sadly, she has no memories of fully feathered hens or roosters.

"I don't know what happened to them," my pal said, shaking her head. "I don't want to know. I don't even want think about it."

Why continue the tradition, given the result? My guess is that Grandma and Grandpa were projecting. Turns out they later moved to a farm and started raising chickens themselves, she said.

Each year, animal shelters receive a surge of unwanted Easter pets given up after the owners have lost interest or are unable to care for them. Many are euthanized. Some people release their Easter gifts into the wild. Unable to fend for themselves, they usually die of starvation or exposure. Others are preyed upon by other animals.

My friend's neighbors gave bunnies to their kids one Easter. And, as rabbits are prone to do, the bunnies quickly made more bunnies. Some of the little Thumpers scampered into my friend's yard, only to be gruesomely dispatched by the family terrier.

"Oh! It was awful! Just awful!" she said, shuddering.

Spare yourself — and your offspring — the therapy bills. Get a nice basket containing a big chocolate bunny and some marshmallow peeps. Make your dentist happy.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Artwork by Addie Dorn Smith, Sanne Specht’s mom.