By Karen Jasper

When Foster Critter Team Lead Danielle Hursh got a text message that twenty-one chinchillas had just arrived at the Seattle Animal Shelter one afternoon last April, she was sure the volunteer who had contacted her had made a typo. “You mean 1 to 2 chinchillas, not 21, right?” she texted back. No, the volunteer had in fact meant twenty-one.

The chinchillas had been surrendered to the Shelter by the family of an aging man who was being moved into an assisted living facility. His family had no idea he even had a pet, and certainly not twenty-one of them. The Shelter already had a pair of chinchillas waiting for a forever home—what on earth were they going to do with twenty-one more?

The Trouble with Chinchillas

In a scenario reminiscent of the classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” Chinchillas are able to birth up to six babies per litter; some females have two litters, each with only a 100-day gestation period. And they can begin reproducing when they are only eight months old. With this in mind, the Shelter immediately separated the male “chins” from the ten females.

The Critter Room was already full, which meant some of the chins had to be housed in crates within the Dog Isolation ward, which happened to be empty at the time. However, the bars of some of the crates were spaced just far enough apart for a chinchilla to fit through. After rounding up all the escapees—the last one was found hopping through a section of ductwork—the staff knew the females would need to be spayed as soon as possible.

The Shelter asked for donations specifically for chinchillas and was overwhelmed with help from generous supporters. Even more amazing was the group of eight Shelter foster families who stepped forward to take in the chinchillas and nurture them. With the exception of one household, everyone was new to caring for these special little animals, and had a challenging learning curve on feeding, housing and medicating them.

Tink-Maxie_Web

Tink, along with her friend Maxie, is looking for a home.  Learn more

Chinchilla 101

What’s it like to foster a chinchilla? Most important to note is that they are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn. In other words, when most people are either just falling asleep or not quite ready to wake up yet, these quirky little mammals are ready for action.

Chinchillas like to hop and climb, so they need a very large cage: the recommended size is six feet tall by six feet wide by three feet deep. They also take frequent dust baths to keep their fur and skin healthy, and require a special diet. And they sleep during the day, which makes it difficult to evaluate their alertness and activity in the daytime shelter environment.

Chinchillas are very social animals and form strong bonds with one another. One foster parent says that her chins’ loud “barking” vocalizations woke her up the first night they were in her home; when she turned on the light she discovered the smaller of the two had escaped from the cage but the other one couldn’t fit through the bars, and was crying for his escaped friend!

Extra TLC

Although the twenty-one Shelter chinchillas were well socialized and easy to handle, they were in poor physical health: all were malnourished and had patchy fur; several had infections and some were suffering from bloat. Fortunately, there are two experienced chinchilla veterinarians in the area: Dr. Dan Lejnieks at Bird and Exotic Clinic of Seattle and Dr. Elizabeth Kamaka at Kamaka Exotic Animal Veterinary Services in Mountlake Terrace. They separately conducted exams and spayed the females.

The chinchillas’ poor fur condition was the result of barbering, which is when an animal chews on its own fur because of dietary imbalances and/or stress. The foster families learned how to feed the chinchillas an appropriate diet—lots of hay, fresh vegetables, and specially formulated food—and to weigh them regularly.

However, bacterial infections and other health issues arose. Again, the foster families rallied and learned to give antibiotics and extra TLC. While one chin—sweet little Pixie—sadly passed away from complications in spite of her family’s best efforts, the rest of her friends pulled through.

Sunny_Web

Sunny is looking for his forever home! Learn more

More Happy Endings

Thanks to the amazing efforts of the foster team, Shelter staff and volunteers—not to mention coverage by KING 5 News—many of the chinchillas have found their forever homes. Still waiting for theirs: the boys Sunny, George and Franklin and the girl pairs Pascale and Ariana and Moxie and Tink.

After everything they’ve been through, these very special animals need families who know how to take care of them—especially because, with excellent care, they can live to be fifteen to twenty years old.

Potential adopters are encouraged to visit the Shelter’s adoption page.

 

The Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation helps to support the critters of the Shelter by funding supplies, adoption events, foster care and more. Please consider donating to SASF today.