by Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.
Q: As an Easter gift, I bought my daughter one of those adorable baby chicks. I couldn’t help buying it. After the chick grows up we won’t be able to keep it anymore, and I would like to place it in some kind of farm or rescue. Can you recommend any?
A: Every spring I cringe when I see those little chicks marketed for Easter sales at some pet or feed stores. Often the chicks are dyed pastel colors to enhance their cuteness quotient. I suspect that most people buy these on impulse, unable to resist these tiny pastel bundles of fluff. Buying on impulse is one of the worst ways to choose an animal companion for your child or family. Two serious problems go hand in hand when buying a pet on impulse: lack of information and expendability, both to the detriment of the animal.
I commend you for thinking about the future of the chick. But the question you should have asked yourself is, “Why should I purchase the chick at all if I have no intention of keeping it?” Ask yourself what you are teaching your child about the value of life. Because it is small and inexpensive, that does not mean the chick’s life is worth so little that it can be disposed of after you are done with it.
When you adopt an animal companion for your family, you should adopt it for the natural life span of the animal. While chicks or kittens or puppies are cute, remember that for most of their lives, they will be chickens, cats and dogs. When you adopt the baby, you adopt the adult. One of the first questions you should ask yourself when you are considering an animal companion is whether you can give the animal a forever home. If you can’t make the commitment, then that animal is not for you.
Lack of information:
Another major problem with buying a pet on impulse is that the purchaser is not equipped to make an informed decision as to whether the animal is an appropriate companion for the family. Before you adopt or purchase a pet, you need to know what the social and physical requirements are for the animal, what kind of care it takes, what the life span is, what the cost is for food and veterinary care and whether you can provide these things. If you don’t have this information before you select a pet, the chances of making the wrong choice are high. It is the animal that suffers for your wrong decision.
The fate of many animals bought on impulse is a sad one. They are often passed from one home to another or abandoned outright. They suffer from mistreatment, not necessarily out of willful abuse but from the lack of information about their care. They die from neglect well before their natural life spans are over. Chicks are by no means the only animals to fall victim to expendability and lack of information. Many small mammals like hamsters and mice, or small reptiles like lizards, suffer similar fates.
What should you do?
NEVER buy a pet on impulse. Find out about the type of animal in which you are interested well ahead of time. If you are informed and prepared, you will know if the animal is the right companion for your family, and if you can provide a permanent home for the animal. If you want to celebrate the spring season and introduce your daughter to baby animals, make plans to visit a humane farm. Buy her a plush toy chick for cuddling. When you treat the acquisition of an animal companion with intelligence and compassion, your daughter will learn an important lesson about the value of life. What better gift could you give to your child?
Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator who worked at the Boston Zoos for 15 years. She lives in Cerrillos with her husband, five rescued dogs (three greyhounds, two terriers) and three horses.
Animals, like us, are living souls. They are not things. They are not objects. Neither are they human. Yet they mourn. They love. They dance. They suffer. They know the peaks and chasms of being. - Gary Kowalski
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