Have you ever wondered why it's a bunny who brings children goodies on Easter? The symbol of a rabbit to represent the holiday of Easter, or in celebration of spring, stems from pagan roots. In pre-Christian Germany, the mother goddess of spring and fertility, Eostra, was often represented with the image of a rabbit. Feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox, or first day of spring.
The first written record of the Easter Bunny giving gifts (hidden eggs) to children was recorded in Germany in the 1500's. In the 1700's, German immigrants in Pennsylvania Dutch country first introduced the legend of the Easter Bunny to the United States. Originally, children made nests for the Easter Bunny to lay eggs on. By the 19th century, nests were replaced with colorful baskets, and the Easter Bunny began delivering treats and small gifts for children rather than just hiding eggs.
For many children, Easter is one of the funner holidays. It, often times, heralds the end of winter and the beginning of nicer weather. And what child doesn't enjoy receiving gifts and goodies? Although the holiday is usually a joyous occasion for people, it can be downright deadly for rabbits.
Commonly given as Easter gifts, often times to children who are not yet ready for the responsibility of a pet, many rabbits suffer ill fates after the excitement of the holiday. As the "Easter Bunnies" grow up, many families realize that they are not the cuddly, low maintenance pets that they are often times portrayed to be. In the weeks and months following Easter, countless rabbits, discarded Easter gifts, flood into rescues and shelters. Even worse, many are released into the wild or kept confined in small cages, where they stand little chance of living out long and happy lives.
How can you help? Never give an animal as a gift, especially to a young child. Pets are a lifetime commitment, not cute holiday decorations. With proper care, and a bit of luck, rabbits can live 10 years or more. But they require daily play time outside of their cage, a (often times expensive) rabbit savvy vet to look after them, and a specialized diet. Most rabbits do not enjoy being picked up, but will enjoy interacting with their people on their own terms. They can be amazing pets for the right people, but, like any pet, should not be purchased on a whim. Always make sure to prepare yourself properly before bringing any new pet into your home.
If you think that a rabbit might be the right pet for you, consider adopting one from a shelter or rescue rather than buying from a pet store or breeder. Rabbits are the third most popular animal found in US shelters, after cats and dogs. There are thousands of adorable rabbits throughout the US waiting for their forever homes. An added benefit is that most rabbits who are adopted through rescues will have been already checked over by a vet, as well as spayed or neutered. Getting your pet bunny fixed is very important, as it will greatly decrease negative hormonal behavior, and can also eliminate the risks of some very common life threatening cancers.
If you like bunnies, but decide they are not the right pet for you, consider donating or volunteering for a rabbit rescue. It can be a great way to teach your child the responsibility that comes with owning a pet, while at the same time helping animals in need, and spending time with some adorable animals. Children can help to put together Easter baskets full of bunny safe goodies and toys for rabbits in shelters, to help make Easter a bit brighter for the real rabbits who are unfortunately often causalities of this holiday.