Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 28, 2013

Experts warn cute pets are tempting, but need long term care

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Those cute little bunnies, darling chicks and fuzzy ducklings might appear to be an ideal Easter gift, but buyers need to consider that they're taking on a commitment that could last up to a decade.

“The No. 1 thing we tell people is to not buy animals as holiday gifts, because they need life-long care – you're looking up to a 10-year commitment for them, and we recommend not (buying them) if someone is not willing to make the commitment,” said Angela Wallace, executive director of the Richard D. Klein Animal Shelter.

Initially, “when people get them as babies, they're cute and easy to care for, and the kids are excited about them, but then they (tire) of caring for them” after a few weeks, she said, adding new owners sometimes don't realize there are specific needs these animals have.

“There are special diets for rabbits, chickens and ducks, and chicks and ducks (especially need) outdoor enclosures,” she said. “And it's not like having dogs or cats – there's not a whole lot of housebreaking to them, so owners are cleaning cages all the time.”

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website, aspca.org, rabbits have a lifespan of seven or more years.

Owners will invest approximately “$90 for a cage, $30 for a carrier and $25 for a litter box (if they decide to housebreak the animal),” the site states. “Food runs about $125 a year, plus $25 annually for toys and treats, $125 for veterinary care and $400 annually for litter and bedding material.”

Then there are the practical matters, like how a rabbits' nails and teeth constantly grow and need to be trimmed by an animal doctor.

Local veterinarian Dr. Ira Stephens considers rabbits “exotic animals,” which his practice doesn't treat. However, he is quick to point out that while they “make nice pets,” the perpetual teeth and nail trimming “gets to be a little hard to handle,” he said.

“And they get a lot larger than people think; they don't stay small and cuddly,” Dr. Stephens said.

Both they and Cherokee County Extension Agent Willie Arnwine emphasize the need for potential owners to understand that they are taking on a long-term commitment when they consider adopting animals as holiday gifts.

“Anytime you take on an animal, whether livestock or domestic, you're going to have to deal with (things) that come, because they live a long time – it's like taking on a puppy you think is cute, but then it grows up,” Arnwine said. “To me, it's just common sense that if you can't take care of it, you don't mess with it. If you don't want to make commitment, don't get involved.”

Wallace said that several weeks after the holiday, the shelter begins receiving rabbits, chicks and ducklings that were given at Easter to owners who no longer want them because “the initial excitement wears off and people realize they've got to take care of them.”

Rabbits are the most often surrendered Easter pet, she said.

“We probably see between six to 10 rabbits in that month (after Easter), and it's kind of sporadic after that. With the chick and ducks, it just kind of depends, although last year, we got in close to 20 ducks,” Wallace said. “I guess it just depends on whatever looks the cutest.”

While the fuzzy critters can be found at various places, the shelter suggests considering adoption after doing solid research into the animal.

“There are a lot of great resources online for rabbits, and people can also make contact with rabbit rescues to see what their recommendations are,” she said, stressing that people need to keep in mind they're taking on a long-term commitment.

Rabbits can live just as long as the family's dog or cat, so “people need to be aware that it's a living breathing animal that needs to be cared for (longterm, because it has a) lifespan of 10 to 12 years,” Wallace said.

Those who want to give their children an experience of handling these kinds of animals, but aren't quite yet ready to take on the challenge of raising them, can visit petting zoos and farms, which are set up for this type of interaction, Wallace pointed out.

“Or they can consider buying stuffed animals and giving them to their children,” she said.