memory

The World is a Beautiful, Maddening Place

Hello, friends and fluffs. I know it has been a long time since my last post here, approximately 5 years since regular posts of substance. That’s a hefty hiatus, one that was filled with human activity and unrelenting busyness. Work/life balance was a tough thing to achieve while working for global companies and living in New York City. I’ll admit: I thought about updating this blog with sincerity from time to time but was unable to commit for a bevy of excuses. But those excuses have entirely dissipated. Why? Well, for a reason that can only be described as unpredictable, unbelievable, and a little bit insane.

Here we are today, surrounded by a pandemic that is infecting and affecting our global citizens in an exponential manner. Here you are now, reading about it on a chinchilla education blog. I said it in the title and I’ll say it again: the world is a beautiful, maddening place.

I know you are all having immeasurable waves of great fear, feeling, and love for life right now, so I’ll keep it brief and intimate. This post is about humanity, togetherness, and responsibility. And, chinchillas. Let’s get to it.

First, I have a few sad updates for our followers. Koko Bear, a beloved and incredibly kind rescue that many knew as the sweetest extra dark ebony they’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, sadly passed away a little over two years ago. Her passing was sudden and unforeseen. I weighed her weekly, saw no drop in weight and no change in behavior, healthy water/food consumption, and normal stools. But to be honest, I knew deep down that there has always been something a little too sweet about her. Her little head used to shiver from time to time, a symptom of possible dental protrusions into the brain. I have a feeling that the very thing that brought such joy to the world could have been the very thing that took her from it too.

I should have updated you – and I wanted to – but her passing was a shock and devastation to me. It took me the better part of a year to process her loss and embrace the spirit of joy she brought to our lives, and even still, a part of me doesn’t want to let her go. But it’s time to share that truth with you, even though I intend to continue sharing adorable photos and videos of her on our platforms. At the time of her passing, I brought her home to Connecticut and we buried her under a young fruit tree – she was my little fatty pear.

She touched the lives of all my family members, so we held a memorial for her and shared beautiful stories of our time with her alongside a meaningful slideshow. She isn’t gone, her spirit lives on in all of us. Koko reflects that part inside each one of us that shines with pure innocent love, joy, and positivity. I truly believe that.

After Koko departed the physical plane that we share, I went though quite a few life changes and personal adjustments. A year later, after extensive consideration and research, I decided to rehome Lulu and Fifi to Forever Feisty Chinchilla Rescue, where Andrea has done a beautiful job of keeping them happy, healthy, and together. I’ve always known that the mosaic ladies have each other, and in turn, always needed me a little less than the others.

I cannot stress enough the amount of consideration and research I conducted to ensure that they were placed in a safe and educated environment. There were phone calls, extensive emails, and referral research sessions. I drove to Connecticut to meet and discuss the ladies and rehoming process with Andrea in length before deciding to sign them over and donated whatever I could to see that their transition was made safe and easy. I also changed my Amazon account’s Smile function to support her nonprofit, and I encourage you to do so as well (this charity function is at no cost to account holders whatsoever, so do it now). She’s a bonafide chinchilla expert and doing amazing work with these spectacular animals, and any amount of charity helps. I’ll continue to do my part for that.

I encourage every owner going through difficult times and diminished care capacities to weigh the gravity of rehoming your loved fluffs and act responsibly when doing so. As an owner, you should already know how unique and specific these animals’ requirements are – so selling them quickly or passing them along to uneducated new owners should be considered a heinous crime.

Perhaps with these few paragraphs, you can understand why it was difficult for me to come here to post, especially when my heart was longing for the truth of the situation to be as it once was – I wanted my personal truth to be different than what the reality was.

But those desires now pale in the immense impending pain that we will be touched by. The stark reality of our current global pandemic has changed the narrative for me, as it has for millions around the world. I’m currently working from home in NYC to help slow the spread of this disease (although I’m not currently infected, we all need to be proactive to help our communities) and spending more time than ever bonding with Mittenmaus and Mufftoneous.

Mitty is my standard boy and Muff is my black velvet boy. They were the original bad boy duo of LY Chinchillas. They lived in a shared cage but experienced a broken brotherly bond when Lulu and Fifi moved in. They currently live separately, each with their own double unit Ferret Nation 182 setup, but reside together in one (very air-conditioned) room.

It is during this trying time that I am reminded of the sheer magic of chinchillas and the real power of peace that they can bring into difficult times. I am reminded why we should all take the time to reflect and cherish the relationships we have with them and with each other. I want to strongly encourage each one of you to further build your connections with your respective fluffballs, too.

Mitty and Muff have been there for me at the start of my NYC journey: I credit them for getting me through my younger years of hardship and heartbreak, life changes and paradigm shifts. Becoming an adult and functioning part of society in the greatest city in the world has been an upward grind; something I’m proud of now but has not always been easy. Of course, those growing pains dissolve in comparison to the life and death perspectives we are seeing around the world. In the face of immense hard-to-understand adversity, where can we turn?

For me, it is again to Mitty and Muff that I look to for some answers. What do I find? True resilience, beautiful individuality, and strength in independence. Chinchillas are incredibly intelligent animals with highly specific needs, but they can live for over twenty years when cared for properly. They are so hilarious and spunky, each with their very own personality that they develop out of that fun nature/nurture mix. And they are daringly independent but caring. They can live perfectly happily alone for their entire lives, as long as they have the occasional company and love of a caring human.

There is something to be learned from our chinchillas at this time in history. We may never return to life as we knew it, but we can build a future that resembles the strengths that our chinchillas carry throughout their lives and the strengths that they, in turn, bring out in each one of us. There has never been a better time to be thankful and present than right now, my friends. I look forward to seeing you and your loved ones safe and healthy on the other side of this pandemic, chinchillas in tow.

I’ll leave it here for now, but I’ll be back in the coming weeks with some helpful tips on how to stay connected to loved ones, continue your chinchilla bonding process, and all kinds of quarantine tips and games you can get into with your beloved fluffs.

Stay safe. Stay home. Sending love.

How To: Build Pine Litter Boxes

Litter training a chinchilla is possible, but success depends on your chinchilla’s personality. A chin that likes order in their home will typically be well-receptive to training, whereas the more throw-caution-to-the-wind personalities might not take to litter boxes quite as well. Still, there are a few tips that may help the success of training – the most important of which is the litter box, repetition, and consistency. Of course, the training we’re talking about is for #1 only! 😉

Boxes

So, while I’m in the process of changing cages (yes, it’s happening and no, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it yet), I decided to re-imagine my litter boxes. In my custom cages, I had pseudo litter boxes, sectioning off a corner of each cage with pine frames and filling it with chinchilla-safe bedding. My favorite bedding is Eco-Bedding: a safe, recycled bedding that resembles crinkled recycled paper (or, actually, that’s exactly what it is). The chins have been using it for so long that they no longer have any impulse to snack on their bedding. Anyway, I’d decided a while back to construct pine litter boxes in place of the faux box structure, and this is what I came up with!

Litter Box

Step 1: Tools!

  • Kiln-dried pine. For each box, I used 2 pieces at 6.5″ x  .75″ x 1.5″ and 2 pieces at 8″ x  .75″ x 1.5″ – however, any lengths that will form your desired shape (triangle, square, rectangle, etc) will work. Try to make sure the surface area is high in relation to the height, so that it would be very difficult for your chin to flip the box over. Use a jigsaw to cut the wood to your desired lengths.
  • Drill & Screws
  • Cardboard & Box Cutter
  • Staple Gun & Hammer
  • Eye Hooks / Alternative: Machine Screw, Wing Nut, and Washer

Tools Box

Step 2: Construct!

With a drill, screw your pine pieces together to create your desired shape. It’s best to use a countersink method, which better hides the screws in the wood. After creating your shape, outline the box’s perimeter against a piece of cardboard and use a box cutter to cut the shape out. Use the staple gun to adhere the cardboard to the bottom of your box, using as few staples as possible to achieve a secure bottom. I use one staple in each corner and then hammer them in to make sure they are secure and impossible to remove without a screwdriver and some leverage. Finally, I use a drill to make a small hole on the side(s) of the box and insert the eye hook(s), which keeps the litter box secure to the cage corner. I use potential plurals, because cages can be different and may need more than one hook to stay in place. I have found that one hook works fine in my cages, because the bars are 1″ and the hook width-wise is 1.25″, meaning the hook would have to be turned vertically in order to be removed from the cage. However, an alternative is using a wing nut, washer, and machine screw – a common technique for removable shelving and other chin items.

Hooks

Step 3: Set Up!

The best way to introduce a litter box is to secure it to a corner of your cage, filling the box halfway with clean bedding and topping it off with soiled bedding. Since chinchillas have excellent sense of smell and smell is tied heavily to memory, the scent of their soiled bedding will encourage them to return to the same place to urinate. Of course, some chins will dig all the bedding out and trample all over it – the best way to move forward is simply to place the bedding back and continue to encourage the use of the box. It may take a few weeks, and it’s possible that it simply may not work for your chins, but the only way to know for sure is to keep going and display consistency as an owner. The cardboard will have to be changed out every 1-2 weeks, but it serves as an absorptive layer that retains scent and reinforces the training – and also tracks progress. Of course, you could use wood as a bottom, but all organic materials will also require changing out over time. To start off and build a new habit, the cardboard is a great and inexpensive way to encourage repeat behavior. A side note: please watch for cardboard ingestion. At the dimensions and with the installation of my litter box, it’s not possible for my chins to flip the box in order to reach the cardboard, but depending on your shape and method of adherence to your cage, cardboard ingestion could be dangerous and lead to blockage.

Koko Cutie

Step 4: Monitor!

Accidents will happen, that’s expected. When they occur, be sure to clean up the area well enough to remove as much of the scent as possible. Keeping all soiled bedding in the litter box will be the key to eventual success! Of course, there is no one solution for individual chins, but this method has worked for most of my chinchillas, and is continuing to show signs of potential success in the stubborn ones (cough Fifi and Muff). 🙂

Fifi Smiles

Have a great week, all! I’ll be writing about my transition into Ferret Nation cages as soon as I’m able to formulate a solid opinion on the change. 🙂 Cheers!

April 2015 Update: I have switched the cardboard bottoms out with kiln-dried pine! Over time, it became clear to see that the maintenance of cardboard was too frequent to be efficient. Pine will have to be switched out every several months, as opposed to every week with the cardboard bottoms. 🙂

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