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Rescuing and adopting chinchillas

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Everyone loves a chinchilla, right? Winsome and cute, the (typically) gray, rabbit-like creatures have an unusually soft and dense fur, making them magnets for human affection and devotion. But according to Lani Ritchey, president of California Chin and Chinchilla Rescue, chinchillas, like rabbits, are frequently abandoned by their owners. Ritchey says that in recent months, the need for Chinchilla rescue has grown substantially. In California, where she is based, the downturn of the housing market is a major factor.

"Evictions and foreclosures are hurting all the rescue groups. Not just chinchillas,'' she said. "We have the usual -- death, divorce, disability, moving, going off to college, teenage owner, allergies -- given as reasons. That ... didn't change. But in February 2008, the Sacramento section had to get 16 chinchillas from an eviction situation. The landlord found the animals mid-month and they had not had food or water for a while. Not all the animals made it to the Rescue foster home ... I (had) two animals picked up by Wildlife Rescue in one month. People obviously just dumped them. We are also getting sicker animals.''

The other problem, according to Ritchey, is that pet stores fail to educate new owners adequately about the needs of their animal. So her group is called in, either to take the animal, or to provide information and training. "It takes about an hour or two to cover all the things people really need to know about chinchillas,'' Ritchey said.

Know thy pet

It's important to understand what to expect when adopting a chinchilla. Here are some basic facts:

  • Chinchillas are nocturnal and do not like to be disturbed during the day. Moreover, they can be skittish and generally do not take well to being held.
  • Because of their high-strung disposition, chinchillas are not considered good pets for small children.
  • If handled with care and patience, a chinchilla, particularly one without a cage-mate, will bond with an owner.
  • Male chinchillas tend to be easier to manage because they are not subject to temperament fluctuations caused by the estrous cycle.
  • Chinchillas can be quite vocal; they might utter a calm chirp to a potential mate or a loud, aggressive bark when threatened. Chinchilla kits often greet their parents with a very high-pitched chirp, which lets the parents know they need to be fed.
  • If irritated or frightened, female chinchillas may cluck loudly and spray urine at the offender.
  • Taking on a chinchilla is a serious commitment; typically, captive chinchillas live 15 or even 20 years. As of 2008, the world's oldest chinchilla is 27 years old and resides in the United Kingdom. The oldest chinchilla in America lived to be 26.

Making matches

California Chin and Chinchilla Rescue addresses the plight of abandoned chinchillas in several ways. Its goal is to place chinchillas in happy, loving homes to live out their lives as cherished members of a family. The organization aims to make the most appropriate matches for both human and chinchilla and will not adopt chinchillas to young people unless the whole family is committed to providing a forever home.

The first step is to arrange a time to visit one of their foster homes in the San Francisco Bay area and meet the chinchillas that are available for adoption.

California Chin and Chinchilla Rescue recommends allocating at least two hours for the visit. This will allow time to see and handle a number of chinchillas, and to absorb "Chin 101,'' a basic training course that includes basic health checks, feeding, grooming and housing. Potential adopters must be aware that adopted chinchillas are not intended for breeding purposes.

Given the growing need, adopting a chinchilla can be a humane, compassionate and deeply satisfying experience as a pet owner.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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