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During the Easter season I have seen a lot more bunnies in the pet stores. Isn't it wrong to buy an animal just for the holiday?

Ducklings, chicks, goslings and rabbits are living creatures. An obvious statement, but every spring parents anxious to please their children purchase these baby animals as Easter pets. Since in most cases these pets are viewed as toys, the decision to obtain a live animal as a present leads to an unhappy ending.Baby farm animals are just that, animals that should be maintained on a farm capable of providing the specialized environments necessary to raise healthy animals. With the exception of rabbits, farm animals do not make good pets for a city family.

Although they are cute when little, chicks, ducklings and goslings require controlled environments to survive. Even with special care many of them die. Controlled handling is required to prevent the spread of disease and parasites, most notably salmonella and lice.

Baby animals are fragile creatures that cannot withstand the constant attention of a child. A child's attention itself may cause the pet to die.

Baby rabbits are equally difficult to raise in a home environment. They should not be purchased before they are eight or nine weeks old, and they need specific temperatures and care. They should be kept caged and should not be handled excessively. Rabbits can make excellent pets, but the time and expense involved can be excessive.

If baby farm animals do grow up, they can cause even more significant problems. Chickens are noisy, have a distinct odor, carry lice, molt and are not known for their intelligence. They are not fun to play with or to live with and, unless they are confined in a coop, will wander. Ducks and geese that survive their first months can make a good addition to a country home, but they require fencing to prevent wandering and a pond to provide a source of fresh water. Poultry keeping in the city will not win your neighbors' friendship and most jurisdictions require a special permit.

Of the farm animals, rabbits are the best choice for a pet. They can be kept indoors, although they do create odors. They can be housebroken and trained, but unless socialized, can grow up vicious. Rabbits can claw and bite, causing serious wounds to children and adults that handle them improperly. They need a controlled environment and cannot tolerate extremes in temperature or moisture.

Even if the utmost care is taken, the new pet has a high probability of dying within the first weeks in its new home. An estimated 30 percent of all Easter pets die and another 60-70 percent are given up after the first weeks. The death of a pet can be a significant emotional trauma for a child, especially if the child feels responsible for that death. Children may also develop a callous attitude toward animals, feeling that they are toys, which can lead to unintentional cruelty.

Baby animals rarely live up to their small owner's expectations. Children soon become bored with the rabbit that isn't "Bugs" or the chick that doesn't respond to affection.

An alternative is to adopt another type of pet that the entire family can enjoy. Hundreds of dogs and cats are waiting during the Easter season for their chance at a new life. A family looking for a new pet might consider visiting the local animal shelter. Families who do not desire a dog or cat may consider gerbils, domestic rats and hamsters. These are wonderful pets and while they do require care, they are domesticated and adjust readily to humans.

Families that meet the requirements for raising healthy livestock or poultry should follow a few guidelines before obtaining a pet duck, chicken, rabbit or goose. Checking with neighbors is common courtesy, but local ordinances should also be examined. Both Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City prohibit the sale of these animals in lots of less than six if they are under eight weeks old. Artificially coloring or using any live animal as a premium, prize or incentive is strictly prohibited. State humane laws require that certain care and housing be provided.

Choosing an adult pet may prevent some of the problems associated with Easter pets. Animal shelters may have unwanted Easter gifts available for adoption a few days or weeks after the holiday. Obtaining a rabbit from the shelter may save its life. A great deal of time should be spent on learning about the new pet before it is adopted. This provides a learning experience for the whole family and can eliminate problems.

Easter is a time of rebirth in many things, but live animals given as pets often suffer from neglect at this time. All parents who wish to please their children should consider the alternatives to a live pet and, perhaps, bring home a cuddly, cute little stuffed toy.

- If you have a question about health, behavior problems, laws, etc., regarding wild or domestic animals, please write Leslie Kelson-Probert, Salt Lake County Animal Services, 511 W. 3900 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84123 or call her at 264-2247.