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Archive for Sunday, April 19, 1992

BUNNIES FOR EASTER

April 19, 1992

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Pink, green and blue babies rabbits, chicks and ducklings in their dip-dyed ``Easter finery'' used to be common holiday gifts for children this time of year.

Survival rates among such animals were never high, and today animal cruelty concerns over the dyeing practice and the creatures' young age have halted many such sales.

Locally, few baby chicks and ducks even in natural-colored feathers were being sold this Easter season and most buyers were farmers replenishing their country flocks.

Rabbits remain popular for Easter though, sellers report, but they now come in drawf and mid-sized versions so standard-sized animals don't have to be sold as babies to keep the "cute" factor working in favor of sales.

LOCAL PET store operators all said their stores had quit carrying baby chicks and ducklings at Easter, but they reported they stocked rabbits year-around.

Eric Axlund, manager at Pet World, 711 W. 23rd, said the store tried to make sure rabbit buyers had a good idea of what care was involved. He noted most children 8 and older could be responsible for such a pet.

Small-sized rabbits are the most popular, said Lonny Pace, assistant manager of Animal House, 2201 W. 25th.

"We see a lot of dwarf bunnies," he said.

Axlund also noted the popularity of dwarfs, which weight in at about 2 pounds.

Pace noted that last year Animal House sold between 30 and 50 rabbits at Eastertime. Axlund said that two weeks ago Pet World had 12 in stock; last Tuesday, they were down to two.

SEAN LUKE, assistant manager at Earl May Nursery and Garden Center, 3200 Iowa, said rabbits had gone the way of chicks and ducklings at his store they're no longer carried.

Chickens and ducks just aren't good pets, he said, remarking on how "ugly" a chicken gets when its grown, and rabbits never seemed to sell that well at the center.

Among local feed stores, only J. West Feed Co., 619 N. Second, carried such stock this year.

Roger Tuckel, owner of Lawrence Feed and Farm Supply, 545 Wis., said he quit carrying live Easter pets two or three years ago although he continued to carry supplies such as cages and feeds. Humane concerns, he explained, made it too much of a hassle to continue with the live animals.

DORIS WEST, owner of J. West Feed, said the store sold rabbits, chicks and ducklings, as well as young turkeys, but buyers were mainly farmers, who routinely replenish their flocks this time of year. None of the baby fowl is dipped in Easter colors.

Where rabbit sales were concerned, Mrs. West said, "Most of the `kids' who get them are adults." She added that a new litter product absorbed much of the urine odor that put off many people who attempted to keep the animals as pets.

Roma Tesch, manager of the Lawrence Humane Society, 1805 E. 19th, said that odor was what pushed many novice rabbit owners to her door.

"We usually get a wave after Easter," she said, noting it takes only two weeks to two months for the holiday sheen to wear off some of these furry pets.

"JUST THE smell of rabbit urine" will do it, she said. "People don't like it in their homes."

Tesch added that many rabbits also bite, which people who haven't researched them don't realize beforehand.

Christy Kennedy, a former WILDCARE staffer and volunteer who has raised and kept rabbits, said many people who buy Easter pets are only thinking of the gift on that day and not in terms of the long-run.

She noted that Kansas University's Potter Lake was a popular dumping site for half-grown unwanted Easter ducklings who don't have a clue that they're supposed to swim on the pond and fish in it for food.

She said such ducklings often run up to people even ones with dogs expecting to be fed and usually become a meal themselves.

Keeping full-grown ducks and chickens is unrealistic in the city, she said, so people who must buy them as well as teachers who hatch them as science projects should find proper homes for them on farms. She also suggested even taking the children to visit their former "pets" in the new, more natural setting.

LOCAL rabbit-keepers say if novices pay attention to a rabbit's few basic needs, it will help ensure a successful experience for both person and pet.

One professional breeder, Tracy Elston, who with her husband, Mark, owns Twitchin' Whiskers Rabbitry in southwestern Douglas County, said she was "real, real set in my ways of thinking about `pets for Easter.'"

An eight-year veteran of raising rabbits who also is assistant superintendent at the Douglas County Fair's rabbit show, Elston said, "We don't breed for Easter, but we do sell then."

She added that a gift of two "mutt" rabbits from her husband one Easter started her in the business.

NOW, SHE said, they show purebred rabbits extensively and sell mostly to other breeders. Easter sales usually amount to only about 25 animals, but her barn houses 300.

She said she wouldn't sell a rabbit under 10 to 12 weeks of age and explained that to handle the stress of being sold moved to a new location, around new people a young rabbit needed to be weaned from its mother, eating proper adult feed and comfortably settled in its own cage.

"Ours are all five to eight months that we sell for Easter," she said, "and they do just fine."

Mostly, the Elstons sell mini lops as Easter pets because of their good temperaments and medium size, she said. Such rabbits weight about 6 pounds.

COMMERCIAL breeds, which are grown mostly for fur or meat, average 9 to 11 pounds at maturity, and Elston said that's too much for children to tote.

Dwarf-sized rabbits do have size appeal, she said, noting her son raises such little ones, but her rule of thumb is allowing for exceptions "the smaller you go, the meaner you get."

Elston urged a little pre-purchase research. She noted proper diet and housing, particularly in the summer when temperatures soar, were extremely important to successful rabbit keeping.

Rabbits also are keen for human companionship, she said, but "not another rabbit. They will either fight or breed depending on what sex you get."

Rabbits also need at least a week to become acclimated to their new homes, she said, noting people should just feed, water and pet them inside their cages during that time.

Afterward, a rabbit can be transitioned into the family's routine much like a cat or dog.

"Rabbits," Elston said, "can take a lot of handling."

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