Why I don’t use live animals for photography sessions. A cautionary tale of animal abuse.

Easter! It can’t get here soon enough. For me Easter means spring time, chocolate easter bunnies, colorful tulips, fluffy easter dresses, handsome pastel bow ties, and a reflection on my faith.

But as a photographer, it also now means something else. Live animal Easter photography sessions.

I see them everywhere. A cute toddler holding a cute fluffy bunny or cuddling a ducking. A baby adoringly looking into a box of tiny baby chicks. And it makes me well…anxious. Actually our sweet golden retriever Poppy’s face (as seen in the photo above) is an accurate description of how it makes me feel.

Because as an avid animal lover and pet owner and farmers daughter, there are a lot of reasons why live animal photography sessions are a really bad idea.

If you are considering hiring a photographer over Easter, please read below. There are steps that you can take to ensure your safety for an adorable easter session and to ensure that no animals are harmed in the process.

Here are my reasonings on why I do not offer live animal photography sessions(with the exception to a client’s pets) and why the only little easter bunny I’ll ever photograph is the one below 😉

1) It’s illegal if you don’t have a license.

A license is required by the USDA every time live animals are used in a photography session. This doesn’t apply for pets, but it does apply when using animals that are not pets for commercial gain. An inspection of the photography business and session location is required and the fee varies depending on the amount of animals being used. Sometimes a inspector also must be present during the photography sessions depending on the state.

2) It’s not safe (for the animals)

Tiny bunnies, chicks and ducklings are usually the most used animals for Easter photos. These tiny creatures have very delicate features and bone structures and they simply aren’t meant for hours of handling. Tiny duckling wings, little chicky feet, delicate bunny ears…Most mini session events for Easter photos run at least two hours in length, sometimes up to 8 hours a day. The animals will pass through multiple children’s hands which is not only exhausting for the baby animals, it’s also dangerous. Small children, toddlers especially, simply don’t understand how to hold tiny animals.

Children may become overly excited and squeeze a tiny chick too tightly. They may drop a busy squirmy bunny on accident. They may squish a tiny duckling if they move too quickly in their seat. You may even remember the Mercer Harris Photography incident from two years ago(don’t google it, it’ll only make you angry) where children are seen in the photos holding bunnies by their ears, photographed throwing ducklings into a lake, and even one child bite-kissing a rabbit.

This is in my opinion at NO fault of the little ones. Some small children are simply too young to understand how to hold tiny animals, especially if they’ve never held one before. And because there is no way to know or regulate which children know how to handle live animals and which ones don’t, we have decided to not take the risk.

3. It’s not safe (for the kids).

Unless the photographer using the live animals has taken each of the animals to the vet to have them checked out, and examined, there’s no way to know if the animals are healthy. And even if they are healthy, often times small farm animals can carry any number of germs and communicable diseases. Tularemia or “rabbit fever” is common in bunnies and almost all farm animals carry salmonella in their claws.

And not only diseases but small untamed animals can physically harm participating little ones. Bunnies are easily startled when handled by children. They can panic, especially if they are not pets that have been properly handled. When they do panic, they scratch and it hurts something fierce. With a scratch and the combination of salmonella in bunny toes, your little one could end up with an infection. And out of 10+ children holding the same bunny in the same day….it’s only a matter of when someone will get scratched, not if.

Also poop. It happens. Everyone has to go and there will be poop at some point during someones Easter animal session. Animal feces also contain germy germs and unless that animal is pet living in your home, you’re being introduced to the possibility of some not so nice bacteria. Something to consider.

4. They add to already overcrowded animal shelters.

Each year at Easter, animal shelters like the Kokomo Humane Society see a large increase in the amount of surrendered animals and it’s typically small farm animals and bunnies. Easter photography sessions are only adding to this problem if the photographer using the live animals does not intend to love and keep them.

Where are the animals going to go when the sessions are over? Does the photographer have a plan? Ducklings and chicks are not allowed as pets within zoned city limits here in Kokomo and in most other city limits as well. They are meant to be raised by a loving family with a property where they can run free and live their fullest ducky chicky lives.

Bunnies can make great pets, but they require a lot of love, attention, and regular handling. They also require regular vet visits and have special needs just like any other pet.

5. I could be fined and lose my business. Even if I have a permit.

Even if I have an inspection and a license form the USDA, if any animals are harmed(God forbid), it’s considered to be animal abuse and there is a hefty fine. Not only that, the USDA can ban me from actively doing business permanently. It’s just. not. worth it.

So How Do I Still Get Those Cute Easter Photos?

1. Don’t hire a photographer using live animals. There are quite a few photographers that can photoshop in “fake” animals that can sit right next to your little one and appear real when they actually aren’t. Contact your photographer and ask them if they are using live animals or a “composite” of fake animals.

2. Find a photographer with an adorable animal free Easter setup that you love. They are everywhere. Easter is colorful and beautiful and bright, exactly as it is and gorgeous photos can be taken without animals ever being in the pictures.

3. If you really really really want live animals in your shoot, ask the photographer for proof of their license from the USDA, ask for proof of a healthy vet visit(even if they are pets), and ask the photographer what will happen to the animals after the session is over. Also require a signed contract for your session and ask how the photographer plans to protects your little ones and the animals throughout the session.

Happy Easter! Here are my own little sweet peas from last year’s Easter Sunday <3