I have four chinchillas (Odin, Edwyn, Wilbur, and Hopi), an iguana (Spunky), and a leopard gecko (Geco, yes I know - so original) that currently reside in my care. In addition, pets that have already passed on include another iguana (Kiwi, @ 14 years old), and two other chinchillas (Zeus and Earl, @ ages 3 and 7 respectively).
When I lived in Arizona, an ex and I had 11 snakes and 7 lizards of various species at one point, and we started raising our own rats to feed them all. (Sometimes I look back on that time period and wonder who the hell was living in my body.)
From my youth, I can add to the list a parade of gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, a short-lived pair of mice (man, do they stink!) and 3 dogs (one of which is Mark's, but I lived with her for 5 years so she counts).
Suffice it to say most of my time on Earth, I've been surrounded by a small zoo. I must’ve missed my calling as Jeff Corwin’s wife. Darnit.
Anyway… I’ve certainly learned a lot about the husbandry and medical analysis of exotics, with an unintended emphasis on South American animals. Maybe I should've been a zoologist. It’s never too late of course, but at this stage of the game I don’t think I’ll be going back to school. Maybe in my retirement, if I’m not too busy running the coffee house.
I hear you thinking, "What? No cat?" The only reason I've never had a cat is because 30 minutes after entering a kitty-inhabited house, I can no longer breathe without the aid of steroids (rabbits, same thing). It’s unfortunate that I’m so fond of air.
Actually, I was owned by a cat once (most cat owners will agree it's decidedly NOT the other way around) - a great orange beast we called Pumpkin. He was a stray that showed up at our door one evening meowing so loudly I thought he might be Conan O’Brien in feline form. He was amazingly persistent. I finally fed him, and he came back every night after that at the same time – 6pm sharp – and loudly announced his arrival and request for dinner. (I’ve known people like that too.) You could’ve set a clock by this guy. I would talk to him while he ate, then give him a good scratch all over and he would purr like a Chevy. He slept on our back porch in some old towels I set out, and disappeared every morning by the time I woke up. Eat, scratch, sleep, rinse, repeat every evening for over a year. This was well after we’d moved in, so I don’t think he belonged to a former tenant.
I found a new Human Slave for him when we moved so he wouldn't starve. It was really hard to give up his company when I left, but I couldn’t take him out of the territory he knew. He never came in the house. Best cat ever - no litter box required. That’s my cat story.
I am so totally off the topic I was thinking about though.
Hopi is our only girl chinchilla and she came to live with us about 5 ½ years ago. Originally I didn’t want any girls because I’d read about them spraying (standing up and shooting pee at you) when they’re pissed off (no pun intended) and I didn’t want my walls or my clothes painted in rodent urine. We were looking for a new cagemate for Odin after Zeus died tho, and I had an ad up at Petsmart. A lady (read: the original stereotype of a “Jersey Girl”) called from the ad saying she had a chin named Po that needed a new home. She assured me Po was a boy and explained he was a rescue she had taken in, but she had to find homes for all her rescues (including dog, cat, bird, and rodent species) because she was a mother-to-be and didn’t have time for the animals anymore. Hmm. Some “rescue.”
We agreed to meet at Whole Foods since she seemed reluctant for me to come to her house, and she thought mine was too complicated to find. (Whole Foods was two turns away from my street.) As soon as I saw Po, I knew there was no way that was a boy. Females are generally much larger than males in this species, and this was the biggest fuzzy rat I’d ever laid eyes on. I hefted Po out of her cage and checked underneath, but the sex is not always obvious with these guys, especially not for someone who’d never seen female chinnie parts before.
I asked the lady if she’d verified Po’s sex with a vet? No, she didn’t have the money to take it to the vet, but she was SURE it was a boy. Alarms are going off in my head at this point. I probably should’ve made an anonymous call to the SPCA to check her out, but I didn’t think of it at the time.
I figured the worst that happens is I take Po with me, confirm he’s a she, and locate a good home for her. I figured the animal had to be better off with me than this… ahem… “lady.” So Po, her cage, and all her belongings were transferred to the Jeep, and off we went.
When I got home, I unpacked the big black trash bag that was Po’s suitcase. There was a brand-new hamster wheel that was too small and unstable for her to run on (nice try), a dusty bath house (ok, at least she was getting a bath even tho it surely didn’t look like it), a bag of typical pet store hay, a couple miscellaneous chew toys (which were plastic and went right in the garbage), a cloth sleeping bag for her to hide in, and the piece dé resistance… a BOX OF BIRDSEED.
I called Jersey Girl to find out if she mistakenly packed the birdseed and would like it back. She chirped, “No no! Po loves that stuff! That's what he eats!”
Are you kidding me? I know you can’t tell boys from girls, but surely you can at least tell she’s not a BIRD?! At least that explained the crappy condition of Po’s fur.
Chinchillas have very delicate digestive systems and normally if you’re going to switch a chin’s food, you must mix the old food with the new food for a few days until they get used to it. This was an extreme case tho, so we went cold turkey from birdseed to Mazuri pellets. I kept the hay consistent for awhile, then switched her to the brand the rest of my babies eat. Obviously, she survived.
Po wove a web of chinnie charms around us until we were easily swayed into keeping her. This is what these guys do – if you look directly into the cuteness, you’re done for. We changed her name to Hopi because it was more girly and the sounds are close to Po.
Since she’s our only girl, and because she’s got a bit of an attitude (she literally grabs treats from your hand, demands to be petted, and grumbles loudly if you do something she doesn't like), I’ve taken to calling her The Princess. She absolutely adores being scratched behind the ears, under her chin, and she’ll gladly lift her arm up so you can get “the good spot." Here is the “Look of Chinnie Bliss”:
When we moved here, I ditched Hopi's latest cloth house because it was so gross and there was no way I was putting that in my washer. I replaced it with a wooden house like the other chins have. When there's enough commotion from the other cages, she's taken up Zeus's old habit of sticking just her head out the top of the house, sleepy and bleary-eyed with twitching whiskers, to find out if anything warrants her attention (read: TREATS). She'll sit that way until she decides if the shenanigans are worth further investigation. If they are, she MAY drag the rest of her fat butt through the hole (which she had to enlarge to fit through - many nights of hard construction work I tell you, when your only power tools are big pointy teeth!), but mostly she just looks annoyed that you woke her up, and she'd prefer if you would just open that door and give her a scritch already so she doesn't have to go through all that extra trouble of actually coming out of the house. I mean seriously, she was SLEEPING. Do you think it's her JOB as a PET to give YOU attention? Pahleeze.
Oddly, Zeus used to do the same thing with sticking only his head out the top of the box:
Her repeat performance earned her Zeus's old nickname of "Head in a Box," but tonight I realized her own name is already an acronym, I was just missing the last letter:
I mean seriously, there has to be some advantages to being the only girl with three brothers, right?