Friday, July 11, 2008

About Chinchillas

There are those who dismiss the entire rodent family as 'vermin' or 'pests' and those who love and cherish all animals as well as keeping 'rodents' of various kinds as pets. Among the latter are prisoners who have obtained much consolation from the company of humble rodents like mice or rats in their cells as well as Beatrix Potter, who allowed mice to keep house in her own home, finding artistic inspiration in their lives.

Among the rodents kept as pets, the Chinchilla certainly ranks as the aristocracy. Raised still for the quality of their fur on 'farms', they command a high price even when sold by breeders as pets. I rescued two from a fur farm a few years ago and found that they were wonderful pets, intelligent, clean and not as frenetic as some rodents can be. They are extremely soft, small and lightweight, almost as light as a powder puff.

I always have found tails to be beautiful and the Chinchilla's curved tail is one characteristic that makes him more attractive in my opinion than a hamster or guinea pig. The fact that they love to bathe is another positive quality. They bathe in sand rather than water and watching a Chinchilla perform his toilette is quite entertaining. They are very precise in their movements, and their little hands are very adroit.

Chinchillas actually clean their teeth in the old Islamic fashion using a stick. I never have encountered any rodents more concerned with cleanliness. My first Chinchilla used to take his little stick and bang on the bars of his cage, very much like a prisoner in a cell, when he was bored and wanted to be let out to play.

This post is dedicated to Kiffle, a little Chinchilla who has become a recent member of my family. Cats may be my favourite pets, but Chinchillas are fairly high on the list and I am delighted to be able to interact with one again.

Kiffle is a very young Chinchilla. I even wondered if he actually still should have been allowed to stay with his mother a bit longer, but when I acquired him, he had been removed from his birth home and sold to a pet shop...

One can buy a large plastic ball for a Chinchilla, rather like those sold for hamsters. When locked inside the ball, the animal can roll freely about the house. I initially thought it might constitute a sort of torture for the hapless creature, but in fact, Kiffle appears to love the ball. He was intelligent enough to understand immediately that it would not lead to freedom. He appears to love the exercise as well as the ability to explore his surroundings from the safety of the ball. It is highly amusing to watch him rolling about from one side of the room to the other. One can go about one's own chores without worrying that the Chinchilla will get into mischief while enjoying his companionship.

I have included a photograph of Kiffle at his toilette, although the little bathhouse could use more sand. As you can see, Chinchillas have gorgeous large dark eyes.

Chinchillas can be very energetic, especially during the night hours, but if a Chinchilla is handled daily, he will learn to sit quietly in the owner's lap. They are sensitive to light and noise and can be frightened easily but their natural intelligence will teach them to distinguish between ordinary noise and extraordinary noise quickly. They are very social creatures and I have no doubt that Kiffle would be happiest if he lived with another Chinchilla. Perhaps one day he shall...

Studies have shown that the simple act of holding a cat can reduce stress. I expect the same is true of any pet. Holding Kiffle is a contemplative act. One has to let go of all other considerations, putting all chores and household tasks into abeyance while one simply spends time with the little animal. A cat actually requires less attention, but if Kiffle were to wander off, God only knows what would become of him, so one has to be alert, even while one can relax to some extent while holding him. There is something very satisfying about the trust of a pet in his owner. One has to earn it and once won, I believe it deepens the love of the owner for the pet.

I think the world is divided between those who view helpless creatures as a means of inflating their own sense of control and power and those who only wish to cherish and protect them. I find power and control to be a burden, but one that can be assumed cheerfully when motivated by love. Perhaps that is the 'maternal instinct'. I have seen the other side of the coin many times and it always horrifies me. There are those who actively seek control and power both over human beings and animals and when they have it, use it to torment or further subjugate the helpless creature. This is true not only with respect to children and animals but adult partners as well. Abusive marriages are founded often on the desire of one party to exercise power over the other.

My attitudes, however, are not politically correct where historical institutions such as slavery are concerned. I feel that slavery is not the greatest evil instituted by humankind. Any relationship is based on mutual duties, obligations and benefits. The duties of the master/mistress were similar to those of a parent. The more helpless the creature, the greater the duty to protect. In terms of the American War between the States, I was more horrified by conditions that existed in the industrialised North in factories as well as the insitution of indentured servitude than by the slavery that existed in the South. Again, though, relationships that bestow great power on one person often attract the sadistic and power-hungry and when abused, do constitute a terrible evil. That is true whether it is a slave-owner or a corporate executive.

Freedom is not always positive. If I were to turn Kiffle loose, he probably would not survive. It is far better for him to be pampered and cherished. Extremists in the area of animal activism probably would argue against the institution of 'pet ownership' or whatever, but there are far worse fates for an animal than living in a gilded cage.

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