Will you have live bunnies?
As Easter approaches and I am setting up for Easter photography sessions, a part of me preemptively dreads the inevitable question asked by many parents: "Will you have live bunnies?" As a photographer who is eager to provide a positive, fun, and memorable experience, I feel that I disappoint the parent before they even meet me. I really don't like that feeling! But, the fact is that I do not use live bunnies or chicks in photography (unless, of course, if those just happen to be the client's pets) for a very long list of reasons. If you have a minute or are curious why using live bunnies or chicks in Easter photos is a bad idea (or at least, why I don't use them), check out this blog:
Bunnies and Chicks and Children, Oh My!
By Marcelle Raphael, Fine Art Newborns Photographer
Yep! It's that time of year again! EASTER! And, along with this holiday every year comes the question, "Will you have live bunnies?" I can hear the exasperation in the parent's voices when I have to tell them no, but there is a reason.
Actually, here are 12 REASONS why I do not offer this service:
1. The use of a live animals (mammals) in photography requires a license from the federal government’s USDA. See compliance under Licensing and Registration Under the Animal Welfare Act. Different states may have different licensing and inspection requirements as well, however, even if it is just one animal, a license from the USDA is required, regardless of State requirements.
2. A part of the permitting and licensing process includes an inspection by the federal government’s USDA offices. This is mandatory, even if your state does not require a license or permit. The inspectors may also be required to be present during the photo session. If any animal is hurt, injured or killed, the fines are serious and they can ban the photographer from actively doing business permanently.
3. Animals are often brutalized by pulling, choking, squishing, yanking and being sat upon by little clients. This is obviously no fun for the little animal.
4. Rabbits are delicate animals whose spines can snap just from being held improperly and their legs and ears can be broken or severely damaged without much effort at all. Although fowl (chicks, ducks, geese, etc) are not regulated, keep in mind the legs and wings of chicks can easily be pulled off and broken by a child who does not know how careful to be. Some rabbits become so stressed they will die of heart failure right on the spot. Having an animal injured or dying during the session does not produce the best childhood expressions to capture.
5. Animals often panic when handled by children; a frightened rabbit or chick can bite and scratch, causing lacerations, deep scratches and puncture wounds to your clients children. These can lead to infections, skin rashes and other diseases.
6. Bunnies and chicks can carry diseases such as Salmonella which can be devastating to small children. Here is a link for signs and symptoms of Salmonella.
7. Tularemia or “rabbit fever” is even more dangerous. Check the link for signs and symptoms of Tularemia.
8. PETA actively engages in looking for these activities during the year, especially on Facebook. They have successfully (and rightfully) lobbied the largest photography studios like Sears, JCPenney and Olan Mills to stop the use of live animals. PETA is on the look out for photographers who post questionable images and will call, check licensing and file complaints against the photographer. It’s as simple as calling the USDA and asking if a photographer is licensed. Individuals can also report animal cruelty on PETA’s website. Whether it’s relating to photography sessions or not. No animal deserves be to abused, neglected or mistreated, even if accidentally.
9. PPA, Professional Photographers of America, the largest association of photographers in the world, takes the stance that animals must be treated ethically and according to law. The industry widely does not accept the use of animals and is considered rather non-professional as a photographer. (Please note there are many photographers who appropriately use and photograph animals. I am specifically discussing the inappropriate, unlicensed use of animals for Easter portraiture here).
10. You can be sued for injuries, infections and damages that occur to anyone in the session. Don't forget some people may have allergies or asthma, too! Animals can be triggers for serious allergy and asthma attacks, including anaphylaxis, which can cause death. I personally have to carry life saving Epi Pens and so does one of my children. It's not a fun experience.
11. The shoot can become quite haphazard if your little clients are chasing bunnies and chicks. That means you are chasing your client. This, along with the frustration of the child because the animal is not cooperating, the frustration of the parents because the child is not cooperating and the frustration of the photographer because NO ONE is cooperating is not conducive to the best shots ever. Plus, editing out scratches on the face and body parts of your client is an added workload.
12. Feces! Animals can leave droppings everywhere. On your little clients, on their new Easter clothing and on your backdrops and props. EWWW!
Often, you will see photographers in parks around Easter, using “live” animals as part of their sessions or appointments. Family pets may be incorporated into photographic sessions without a license. But, the pet owner must be the person/people being photographed. There must be an established pet ownership relationship. For example: The photographer may not sell a pet to the client for the length of the session and then have the client sell the animal back. It must TRULY be the pet of the client. They can not be rented animals, either. Also, simply completing a setup in which the animals are not handled is not in compliance either. A license is required even without anyone handling the animal. While there are legal and health related issues for not using live animals, in general trying to capture the images of so many activities is time consuming and difficult, when it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of very real looking props that can be purchased if you would like to incorporate an animal look into Easter sessions. There are also MANY great photographers out there who absolutely CAN provide you with amazing images for your family. Please check that they are licensed, well educated and authorities on working with animals. Please report any animal abuse to your local authorities, local humane society, PETA (report to PETA link), your State Department’s of Agriculture or the USDA. Each locality and state will have different ways of dealing with this. Usually a pretty hefty fine, often in the thousands, and jail time if the abuse is repeated or severe. The USDA can be reached at 844-820-2234 and complaints can be filed at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/complaint-form
To see if your photographer is licensed according to the Animal Welfare Act, you can go to the USDA – APHIS databank. While there are legal and health related issues for not using live animals, in general trying to capture the images of so many activities is time consuming and difficult, when it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of very real looking props that can be purchased if you would like to incorporate an animal look into Easter sessions. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/SA_Regulated_Businesses
*****UPDATE***** 02.14.2018 I called and spoke with the USDA today. They still require the use of a permit in any commercial activity with regulated animals. You may review the information at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_welfare/content/printable_version/awlicreg.pdf at page 15 under Promotional Exhibits. I am awaiting additional information or any information that requires my article to be updated.
*****UPDATE***** 04.15.2015 The USDA has NOT removed this requirement for photographers. However, regardless of regulation, the other issues still apply.
*****UPDATE***** 03.13.2015 It is rumored, but unconfirmed, as of this date that the USDA is going to remove the USDA licensing requirements for the use of mammals in photography businesses. Until I get confirmation from the USDA that this has changed, all information above will be kept the same. There have also been questions as to whether the licensing was ever required. Please note that I researched this and wrote this article with the assistance of the USDA originally.
Photographers, feel free to SHARE this article, but plus notify me of use at firstname.lastname@example.org. I recommend posting a reminder to clients before your Spring Sessions begin each year. By use of this article you agree to post IN FULL as educational material for your clients. Partial edits or any other edits or excerpts are not allowed for any reason. Article must be presented in full by LINKING and crediting to Marcelle Raphael, Fine Art newborns with a link to http://www.fineartnewborns.com/blog/2012/2/bunnies-and-chiclets-and-children-oh-my You may not claim this article as your own. Originally published February 2, 2012 © by Shuttermouth | Southern Belle Studios | Marcelle Raphael. All Rights Reserved. Please email me at marcelle@fineartnewborns with notice of your use as copyright is strictly enforced. If notification is not made, please note you risk DMCA removal. Thank you.