I don’t want to post this. I’ve finally revamped this website and the last thing I want to do is post something negative as one of my first posts since the overhaul. My heart is hurting and I need to get this out.
Every year, this time of year, thousands of photographers set up Easter Mini Sessions including chicks, baby ducklings, and/or rabbits. Is this legal? Yes, but ONLY with a USDA permit. Are photographers getting this USDA permit? Very few. Per ppmag.com, when a photographer uses these animals legally, they must request a licensing and application kit, pay a fee, talk with an APHIS inspector, have an inspection with this inspector. In addition, photographers may have to have permits through their county as well.
For years, I have seen these animals be used for photo sessions. Every now and then, something would pop up that peaked my interest:
- An assistant to a photographer reported rabbits were used for a twin baby session and the rabbit scratched the babies and bit them, drawing blood.
- A photo surfaced of a toddler’s tore up and bleeding legs where a rabbit scratched them.
- Photos surfaced of rabbits being held by the ears (NOT OKAY! – This is how a rabbit can break its spine – if you’ve seen a rabbit with a broken spine, it is horrifying) by children during photo sessions.
- Photo of rabbit being thrown by a child.
- Photos of a very young child trying to suck on the rabbit’s fur while holding it precariously.
- Photos of children squeezing and throwing several-day old chicks (they are tiny kids and don’t know any better but the adults around them do and they were laughing at it).
- Photos of children holding ducklings by the neck and throwing ducklings one at a time off of a studio prop pier that had shallow water (probably a shallow pan of water) beneath.
- Photo of toddler squeezing a chick and killing it (photographer voluntarily released that information).
- Photo of child squeezing ducklings head.
- Photo of a newborn baby placed on the back of a horse (not photoshop).
- Photo of a very large snake curled up around newborn baby (not photoshop).
Many years ago, a client showed up at a session at my studio with her 2-year-old and asked where my horses and chickens were and she was disappointed as she had seen on my personal blog that I have some farm animals and expected that her 2-year-old could be in pictures with them. I do understand that not everyone is educated on animal behavior, and that’s okay, but I would like to bring up a few things for educational purposes.
Animals can hurt children or even themselves during photo sessions.
Rabbits are defensive. They will scratch with their powerful hind legs when trying to escape harm. If you see a rabbit that is completely still, feel its heartbeat. If it’s racing, the rabbit is using another defense mechanism… it’s hoping that the predator (you or your child) will not see him or think he’s dead by not moving, so he sits really still. Rabbits are spastic. Some will jump and scratch without warning. Speaking of jumping, if a rabbit jumps out of a child’s arms, it can break it’s back. This is due to how powerful their hind legs are. When they kick against nothing (like if someone holds the rabbit by its ears or neck or upper body), it can launch force through its body and break its spine when kicking out.
Because I actually own a rabbitry (yes, all these beautiful sweet bunnies, and I do not use them with customers…..) with my 18-year-old daughter, we both have gotten scratched up over the years. Yes, rabbits that are handled daily will still get spastic and scratch. Here’s my daughter’s hand just the other day.
The proper way to hold a rabbit is to support its upper and lower body at the same time and hold close to your chest. Without this support, the rabbit or your child could get hurt. Rabbits do bite. Keep that in mind. Some give warning and will growl first. Others do not.
Chicks and ducklings are extremely young when used in these pictures you see. Chicks start to get their real feathers at around a week. If you see a fuzzy little chick, it’s usually under a week old. Chicks that are not feathered can definitely die from being cold – I have incubated and raised chicks. Ducklings start to feather around 5 or 6 weeks old, so if you see fuzzy ducklings, they are probably under a month old. Ducklings are not supposed to be placed in water early on. These are BABIES (and need to be kept under heat lamps!)… and allowing them to be man handled by children that do not know any better, well, children can kill these animals completely unintentionally. It is up to the adult in the room to show children how to be gentle and not squeeze, hold by the head or neck, or throw these babies. We should also be teaching children how to be kind and gentle to animals. This could be a great learning opportunity for little ones. Chicks and ducklings can also carry salmonella. I had salmonella when I was 17 years old, it was horrendous. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’d give you details, but no one wants to read that!
Horses, dogs, cats, etc. As a photographer, I don’t use any of my pets in pictures with children. However, I may use a composited photoshop picture (a picture that is not real – in other words, a stock photo of mine I have taken of my horses, for instance, I may use that in the background of another image of a client because I have used photoshop to combine these). I’m often surprised that the general public doesn’t realize how dangerous horses can be. Horses generally do not lash out at people. However, a toddler running under a horse could result in a kick to the head – from a horse startling, thinking it is another horse, or the horse kicking at a fly. Accidents that happen with horses tend to not be the horse’s fault (with the rare exception – there are some nasty horses out there)…. but the horse just going about its normal day. I’ve been bitten by a horse (drew blood) that was trying to bite at another horse (this is natural behavior) because I stepped in between the feuding horses. My husband was bit by a random horse that was simply nuzzling his hand (drew blood and could have broken his thumb if he didn’t act quick enough). I have also been kicked on the shoulder by a horse when I was sitting on a stool – a little lesson pony at that that was very used to children. The pony had no idea that I was sitting there and when I went to stand up, I startled her, and she kicked me, square on the shoulder. Hurt like crazy, but six inches higher, and I would have been dead. Animals are not as safe as you think. My daughter has worked with horses since she was 7, and has had both feet broke and multiple toes broke. She even had eight breaks in one leg at once when her horse fell on her – a complete accident. See our Pixie up there – she wouldn’t hurt a human intentionally. She’s 1,000 pounds of muscle, and when she plays, she likes to kick out at the other horses and be a toddler herself. If someone was standing between these two, and she didn’t realize they were there, they would be seriously injured. Adults and children have died by being kicked in the chest, kicked in the head, or having a horse fall on them.
Do you photograph pets and children? I do photograph family pets with children. However, I am in the client’s space, and the children have been raised with this family pet. They have been taught by the parents how to treat it, and the pet is familiar with the child. However, when photographing, for instance, dogs and babies, I very often do a photoshop composite. I will put the baby on/in an item (like a basket or box), take the picture, and then I will take a picture of the dog near the basket/box or put a treat in the basket/box after baby has been removed. I will then merge these images together with photoshop. Dog and baby were not actually in the same picture until I edited them together. I also photograph my own pets all the time. They are very loved and cared for, but I will not use them as props for my photography business. This image here was taken inside of my client’s home…. any trained professional photographer can zoom in and notice that the seam between the basket and the dog isn’t quite perfect and the actual plane of focus is in two different places (typically, I would have moved basket closer and into the same plane of focus as the dog’s eyes; however, that would have left the composition being quite odd). That’s how you can see the two images were combined. Dog was lying far away from baby but in the same light, so that’s how we combined.
Animals are not Disposable
What do photographers do with these chicks, bunnies, and ducklings when they are done with the Easter minis? Does your photographer own a farm? Well, if so, he/she is probably keeping them; however, most photographers do not own farms, so…….
- Some surrender them to the SPCA (this is a major problem that the SPCA is very clear about)
- Some donate them to farms as they have made prior arrangements
- Some just throw them outside to fend for themselves.
A Note to Parents: I understand that pictures of your kids with cute little animals is adorable…. while I personally do not take part in the Easter minis due to my own ethics on business, I do see the draw in adorable images like this. My plea to you is if you see a potentially dangerous situation for your child that you immediately stop the photographer and just say no. You have every right to protect your child. I also beg of you that if you see photographers mistreating these animals or encouraging mistreatment, you tell them to stop, report them, and teach your children how to be kind and gentle with animals. If you want to know if your photographer is legally using these animals, please go to this website and simply find out..
A Note to Photographers: I get it, you like cute children and cute baby animals. Please make sure you have insurance and are doing this legally. You need to acquire licensing from the USDA especially for rabbits. Also check with your county for permits related to animals used for commercial production (including portraits). Please keep our industry to high standards! If you do not know what is safe to do with these animals, please reach out to people like me. I would be glad to help. I have an animal behavioral ‘specialist’ right in my home who frequently cares for orphaned and ill animals. I feel like I have a lot of knowledge on animals, but she has even more. We are here to help! You can reach me here or at My Faux Farm or Anomaly Rabbitry at any time. If in doubt, protect both kids and animals by keeping them safely apart, but allow to gentle pet, etc. for pictures, or do some photoshop composites – they are really not that hard, and I am teaching them at Newborn Photography Today in the coming months.
Disclaimer: The images you see below of animal cruelty are not mine. I’m only showing these because —They were made public by photographer(s) that see nothing wrong with this practice. I could post a link to the images, but I am also trying to protect the photographer(s) identity in hopes that he/she will come to their senses and stop doing these things. I’m also protecting the clients’ names that were included with the images. I did the best I could keeping everything identifiable out so that I can show examples of what is really going on out there (not by all photographers of course). I have approached photographers in the past due to my personal love of animals, and unfortunately, much of the time, my pleading with them to stop falls on deaf ears. I’m showing these only because I feel that the public really doesn’t know the horrible ugly truth behind some of the images they see online. These are not all the same hands, by the way.
We need to teach our young generation compassion. With all the horrible things in the news these days, PEOPLE need more compassion. I can tell you from my own personal experience, teaching children and modeling to children, respect, compassion, and kindness toward animals actually creates children, teens, and adults with big compassion, kindness, and empathy toward others. I’m sorry for any typos in this post, I was physically shaking when I saw the images that I did today and seeing people laughing at the torture done to these animals.
Jodie Otte is a Maryland professional photographer and designer.