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Archive for Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pet peeves

Live animals popular at Easter but live long after the holiday

Assorted bantam chicks gather together under a heat lamp in a tank at Orscheln Farm & Home, 1541 E. 23rd St.

Assorted bantam chicks gather together under a heat lamp in a tank at Orscheln Farm & Home, 1541 E. 23rd St.

March 22, 2008

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Andrew Krejci, 10, holds one of the many rabbits his mother raises on the family farm north of Lawrence.

Andrew Krejci, 10, holds one of the many rabbits his mother raises on the family farm north of Lawrence.

Catching a little sun and a meal, this group of rabbits on Kelly Krejci's farm north of Lawrence enjoy some outdoor air.

Catching a little sun and a meal, this group of rabbits on Kelly Krejci's farm north of Lawrence enjoy some outdoor air.

Machine-carved bunnies and chicks crowd the aisles at grocery stores, drug stores and convenience stores this time of year, lined up like little marshmallow soldiers.

Peering up from cellophane wrappers with dotted-on eyes, they stand frozen - the epitome of Easter's sugar-coated goodness.

But what for the family who wants a real-live Peep chick or bunny instead of the marshmallow-and-sugar-coated kind to go with their celebration of the Christian holiday?

The real animals of spring - and Easter - are available to make for an critter-filled Easter egg hunt that children may relish for years. Bunnies can be bought from a breeder or a pet store. Chicks can be mail-ordered or picked up at the local farm store.

But after the memories are made, after the holiday candy is long gone, that Easter animal fling will still be there. Within just a matter of weeks, it won't be a cute little symbol of the season anymore - it'll be a full-time pet, and it'll be yours, warn local experts.

Easter bunny Q&A

Kelly Krejci sells rabbits along with Persian kittens through her business, Buffalo Creek Farms. Customers don't leave without a round of questioning.

"Generally, I'm not here to be anybody's boss but it's, 'Are you aware how long they live?' 'Do you know that they are prey animals?'" the North Lawrence resident says. "It's not that I go to their house and look at them or whatever, but (I) generally make them aware of the health care that's involved. The food that they need to feed them. Their life span."

She also gives a separate speech about spaying and neutering for the animals, even if the purchaser is buying just one bunny.

"If you don't have them spayed and neutered the girls have a 50 percent chance of dying within three years - rabbits are very prone to uterine cancer," Krejci says. "The reason you have the boys fixed is, well, first of all no adolescent male is all that much fun to have in your household, and rabbit boys are not excluded in that. They do have male adolescent behavior and it's not pleasant. And it begins at about four, four-and-a-half months."

That means that if the bunny leaves home for Easter glory at eight weeks old, by the end of May, Krejci's phone will be ringing with someone on the line who didn't follow her instructions.

"The biggest thing I always hear is 'This rabbit doesn't like me, it's always peeing on my wife,' or 'It doesn't like my wife.' Well, it pees on her so it smells like her. So all the boys know that she belongs to him, it has nothing to do with him not liking her," Krejci says. "And it's not pleasant to be peed on. That's just all there is to it."

The chick rush

Dave Haight is the store manager at Orscheln Farm & Home, 1541 E. 23rd St., which sells chicks to both egg producers and folks wanting cute, Eastertime pets. He says that though the store does not officially screen its prospective owners, it's pretty easy to know what a buyer's plans are.

"We started getting chick orders here three or four weeks ago, just people wanting chicks for producing eggs just as much as they're cute," Haight says. "We don't normally ask, but we can usually tell. If they're getting only one or two, you know, in my opinion it's for Easter. If they're getting 25 to 100, they're raising them."

Haight says that often, customers who buy chicks ask local farmers if they want to take the chicks when they become chickens.

"A lot of people will find farmers who will take them," Haight says. "They know someone will take them before they grow up. That's what I've been hearing from a lot of people, which I think is a great thing - they go out and find someplace rather than turning them loose or destroying them because they're tired of them."

Krejci is familiar with those calls.

"I'll get two or three calls a year, 'Well, I've got this duck, I've got this chicken, I live in a subdivision," says Krejci, who doesn't sell chicks but raises chickens. "In three months, (it's) 'What do I do with this?'"

Midge Grinstead, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society, says that while she's glad this practice gives the animal a place to live, she doesn't believe it imparts a good lesson.

"It's just adding to that disposable animals (idea) and they're not disposable," Grinstead says. "You know when you're done with them, 'Oh, they're too big now, we're going to get rid of them, take them to the farm.' You know, to me, that's not right."

Pets and playthings

While Krejci will gladly take in a home-raised chicken or duck - "I mean, who doesn't mind an extra duck?" she says - she's not happy with anybody taking in an animal and treating it like a plaything.

"I think pets are important, but it's the antithesis of pets to treat them as a toy," Krejci says.

Grinstead agrees. The Humane Society doesn't accept applications to adopt rabbits during the week before Easter. She says that most of those applicants mark on their paperwork that the rabbit is to be a gift. In the weeks following the holiday, Grinstead expects the 18 rabbits at the shelter will increase to at least 40.

"(We) explain that they're a living, breathing being, and that they require care and that they are not a gift," Grinstead says. "Usually we talk them out of it, but there are a ton of places you can go and buy chicks and rabbits and ducks."

After hearing what the folks at the Humane Society, breeders and sellers of Easter animals say, why is there still a yearly rush?

"I think they just associate Easter with a cute, little, hopping rabbit that leaves Easter eggs," Grinstead says. "If you're on a farm, it's a different thing.

"I just don't think people think about it."

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