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March 20, 2012 > Ohlone Humane Society: Celebrating Life

Ohlone Humane Society: Celebrating Life

By Nancy Lyon

In a couple of weeks people around the world of the Christian faith will be celebrating Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead following his death on Good Friday. It symbolizes rebirth and shares the time with the vernal equinox, historically a time venerated by early pagans who celebrated the arrival of spring and the awaking of life.

While Easter heralds the resurrection of Christ, the word Easter was derived from a Saxon goddess known as Oestre or Eastre, and in Germany as Ostara, who represented spring and dawn and the coming of the light arising from the east. She represented the bringing forth of new life both human and animal and the flowering of plants. The hare known for its noteworthy ability to produce offspring was her sacred animal, an animal whose roots in pre-13th century pagan tradition was destined to eventually become the fabled Easter Bunny.

In pagan tradition, eggs and fluffy newborn chicks were a representation of new growth. And it is told that brightly colored eggs, chicks, and bunnies were all used at festival time to express appreciation for Ostara's gift of abundance. They were later incorporated into the celebration of Easter, separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

While there may be no real correlation in the history of Easter between the secular symbols and the Christian holiday, the Christian and pagan have been gracefully woven together; each reminding us of the cycle of rebirth and the need for renewal.

While there is no clear connection between a rabbit being associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Easter Bunny is perhaps the biggest commercial symbol of Easter. Some believe rabbits were another connection with pagan belief associated with Eastre, the goddess of spring and fertility, because of their especially high reproduction rate.

The animals that have been brought into this as symbols of human belief do not always fare well. Today at Easter they are often given as gifts to amuse children and often do not represent an image of veneration as a remembrance of the renewal of life.

Tradition and belief aside, these innocent, temporarily fluffy and adorable little animals very soon become a larger problem. They have special dietary needs and behavioral issues, and their care, if they are to survive, will fall to the adults in the family.

They rapidly grow into extremely messy adult chickens and rabbits that can deposit sizeable amounts of droppings that soon turn into a constant need for cleaning to prevent insects and odor from becoming a home and neighborhood issue.

Baby chicks and ducklings can also present a serious health risk to small children. These young birds are often the carriers of dangerous bacteria called salmonella and each spring some children given very young chicks and ducklings as an Easter gift will fall ill from handling them. Children can be exposed by simply holding, cuddling or kissing them.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), anticipating an increase of demand for young birds at Easter, hatcheries increase the hatching, especially of chicks, for the commercial market. Shipping large numbers of these animals at one time increases the stress upon the chicks and ducklings and makes them more prone to disease. This in turn increases the chance of salmonella being transmitted to both children and adults.

HSUS also warns that baby chicks and ducklings are fragile creatures that can be unintentionally injured or killed from mishandling. Not only does the animal suffer but children are traumatized by the death of a beloved pet.

The House Rabbit Society, an international nonprofit organization, warns against giving rabbits as gifts at Easter. The Richmond based Bay Area HRS strongly urges parents not to buy their children live "Easter bunnies" unless they are willing to make a 10-year commitment to properly care for the animals. Each year, thousands of baby rabbits, chicks, and ducks are purchased as Easter gifts only to be abandoned or left at shelters in the days, weeks and months that follow Easter.

HRS says that many of the rabbits purchased as Easter pets will never live to see their first birthday. Some will die from neglect, while others will be abandoned in local parks or left at animal shelters. Rabbits are fragile, ground-loving creatures that break easily when dropped. Additionally, rabbits are easily frightened by loud noises. It is unreasonable to expect a small child to make a 10-year commitment to taking care of a rabbit. All too often, the child loses interest, and the rabbit ends up neglected or abandoned.

Domestic rabbits abandoned to the wild no longer have the ability to survive in those circumstances and soon die or become easy targets for predators of all species.

Does this mean families with children should never have pet rabbits? "Not at all!" says the HRS. "But what it does mean is that parents must be actively involved on a daily basis, and willing to supervise any interactions between rabbits and children. Otherwise, chocolate is the way to go!"

The Ohlone Humane Society joins HSUS and the HRS in asking people to refrain from acquiring live chicks, ducklings and rabbits as Easter gifts this holiday season. Young, adorable animals mature quickly into adults and need daily care for the rest of their lives. Instead of live animals as gifts, consider giving children a plush toy or a chocolate rabbit. Celebrate the renewal of life in a humane and compassionate manner that truly represents the holiday.

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