It's gift-giving time! Is your shopping done yet? Percy, our Head Bunny, says we don’t have enough banana chips for his taste, but other than that I think we're okay. This is good, considering the time is growing short, and these are the days of the year that I love most.
A CHRISTMAS STORY
So, if you don’t mind me asking, what have you got planned for your stockings?
Have your kids been pestering you for a pet? What about the grandkids? Have you thought about making their dreams come true by getting them a pet this season? Let's paint the picture:
Imagine Christmas morning. (Or a night during Chanukah. Or the Eve of the Winter Solstice. Et cetera. As long as they get their treats, our rabbits are very open-minded about the whole thing.)
Anyway, Christmas morning arrives. Bleary-eyed parents and not-at-all sleepy children parade into the den to find the most festive display of decorations, trappings and colorfully wrapped presents ever seen.
Topping it all off, one really big box right in front says "TO: Susie & Johnny. FROM: Santa." A wide-eyed youngster in footie pajamas runs up to it, carols playing in the background while Mom & Dad look on fondly. Hallmark, eat your heart out.
The lid comes off, there's a cry of delight, and out of the box, sitting demurely in the little one's arms, comes the fluffiest long-eared cottontail you ever saw. The child wails happily: "SANTA BROUGHT US A BUNNY RABBIT!!!!!"
Ahhh, what could be better than a new pet at Christmas? Right…?
Let me just say the that this scene would actually end with the squealing child TRYING to take the poor bunny out of the box by just snatching it up, inevitably resulting in a startled, unhappy rabbit trying to kick its way free. This in turn would result in a confused, possibly scratched child, and a scared rabbit leaping about the room trying to find shelter.
Chaos ensues, and now our pretty Christmas postcard is pretty much burning on the old Yule Log, isn’t it?
Sadly, this isn’t an outlandish scenario. Gift pets typically find themselves in homes that just aren’t ready for them. The children have no idea what to do with them, except maybe to treat them as animated stuffed toys, and “Whaddya MEAN we have to take care of them??” It isn’t too long before everyone involved is suffering from disillusion, disappointment, and disinterest.
IT'S NOT A TOY!
Bunnies in particular are a longer-term commitment than most people realize. House rabbits typically live 8 to 12 years, need attention multiple times a day, and need time outside their cage for exercise and mental stimulation. (Kindergartners call this "recess," and skipping it is NOT an option for the same reasons!)
Since rabbits are "exotics,” their vet bills tend to be higher than cats or dogs, sometimes by 30% - 60%. And as "prey animals," they generally hide their symptoms until they simply can't anymore. By that time, it usually means an expensive fix... if it isn’t already too late.
Clearly then, keeping track of the bun’s needs requires time, effort and energy. Bad news, parents: YOU will be the ones spending that effort making sure that care happens. WHEN (not “if”) the kids lose interest, that animal will be yours to deal with… or to dispose of. Are you ready for that?
Are you ready to teach your kids how to interact with this living creature, complete with unique needs, wants and ways of communicating? Is your home "bunny-proofed" so that it can't damage itself or anything valuable? Are you ready to provide not one but multiple varieties of food to keep them happy and healthy long-term? The list only grows, my friends.
Most pet lovers will tell you, the hassle is worth it. But if you aren't ready for it, or if it comes as a sudden surprise -- the way gift pets too-often do -- it can be simply overwhelming.
THREE "DOs," THREE "DON'Ts"
First, the DON'Ts:
- NEVER give a pet as a surprise gift. Such pets are often abandoned within 3 to 6 months.
- NEVER assume that kids will be the responsible keepers. If you don't have the time or inclination, they won't either.
- NEVER buy new pets from pet stores. There are too many shelter animals out there already, perfectly suitable for adoption into most households.
Now, for the DO's:
- ALWAYS TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
The adult(s) in the home will always be the primary caregiver(s). By all means, teach your child the discipline needed to care for a pet, but don’t count on it from them off the bat!
- ALWAYS DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Learn how to live with a pet first! For rabbits, look up the North Georgia House Rabbit Society (www.houserabbitga.com) and the National House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org) online. They have tons of articles, web links and book titles that you can use to help prepare. You can also check out books and information on the subject at your local library. They're always happy to help out!
- ALWAYS SPAY/NEUTER
If you do adopt, you likely won't have any choice on this since most adoption folks require fixing as part of the service. But the health benefits of fixing a rabbit far outweigh the magic of babies later on. You won’t have to home unwanted litters, and it makes for a happier, easier-going bunny.
THINK BEFORE YOU GIVE
In a household where the children have been learning about proper care and interaction, and where the adults have been preparing themselves and the house, a new pet can be an exciting addition to the family at an already magical time of the year. But homes like this are sadly rare.
Instead, many gift pets get dumped into shelters, the pound, or by the side of the road, and this compounds an already-serious problem -- Georgia spends millions of our tax dollars putting down unwanted pets every year. And simply getting rid of a pet this way may wind up teaching the kids that a living animal (and by extension, life in general) is of little value, and that it’s okay to just throw away when it becomes boring or inconvenient.
So think twice before stopping by the pet shop this holiday season. And consider giving a gift pet like you would consider having a baby; the difference is really only one of scale. If you aren't sure everyone’s ready, maybe pick up a book about bunnies to give instead. Then, do as I recommend every Easter:
"Make your bunny a chocolate bunny!"*
Happy Holidays to you all!
P.S.: The Denizens of the Bunagerie allow that a batch of bunny-shaped cookies works pretty well, too. And those of you leaving cookies out for Santa? Make sure to leave a carrot for Rudolph and his buddies, too! - Pat
Have any of you ever been given a pet as a present, or received one as a surprise? Got any comments, questions, or holiday pet stories? Share them with us below!