Barbara Nelson has a message for parents who want to give their children an adorable live animal for Easter: Think twice.
As the president and CEO of the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare, Nelson knows from experience that many chicks, ducklings and rabbits end up being unwanted after the excitement of the holiday ends.
“It starts out as a good idea and then, pretty soon, it's no longer a good idea,” Nelson said. “We have the proof because a lot of them will be brought to our shelter.”
Baby critters eventually grow up, and they usually aren't as endearing. They're also not as easy to care for properly.
That small cardboard box they started out living in isn't big enough to accommodate them anymore. They need a cage that is much larger or they need room outside where they can roam.
And they can be messy.
“They're fragile little things when they're small, and they're only cute for a short amount of time,” Nelson said. “As they get bigger, they eat more, and they defecate more.”
The ones that survive to adulthood require a long-term commitment from their owners. Chickens and ducks can live more than eight years, and rabbits can live more than ten years.
“You can't just take them outside and throw them into a cage and not pay attention to them,” Nelson said.
Ducks are aquatic animals, which means they like to spend a great deal of time in and around water. But access to ponds and lakes is limited in most neighborhoods.
“We get lots and lots of ducks at the Albrecht Center,” Nelson said. “I have 80 acres on my farm, and almost all of them end up in my pond. One year, our shelter received 45, or maybe 50, ducks after Easter, and I had to start calling all my friends who had ponds.”
Giving children chicks and ducklings as gifts places children at risk for serious illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Baby birds often carry harmful bacteria called salmonella, and kids are exposed to the bacteria when they hold, cuddle or kiss the fuzzy creatures.
Because children put their fingers into their mouths and their immune systems are still developing, they are more susceptible to salmonella infection than adults. People with HIV/AIDS, pregnant women and the elderly also are vulnerable.
“Give your children Easter baskets with colored eggs and send them on an Easter egg hunt or give them a chocolate bunny,” Nelson said.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.