Located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia Beach, VA.
Founded in 2008, our mission is to provide a safe haven for unwanted, neglected, or medically fragile chinchillas. Our goal is to rehabilitate and socialize in preparation for adoption. We gladly open our doors to those interested in learning more about these unique pets. We are available for temporary foster care, education, supplies, and networking with other local rescue organizations.
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A Day in the Life at Whimsy's
I woke up late at 6:00 this morning to find another dozen or so emails awaiting my response. Not unusual for my day’s beginning. But one subject title caused my heart to drop into the pit of my stomach: “35 Chinchillas in Need of Rescue”. Here we go again. I opened the email to find yet another situation where a backyard breeder fell into dire straits and left the animals suffering. Supposedly, there were several in immediate need of euthanizing due to mating fights and most likely, fights over lack of food and water.
Ours, like nearly all legitimate animal rescues across the United States, is full to capacity. Over the years we have managed to expand when the influx caused growing pains and each time I thought we simply couldn’t handle any more surrenders, we’ve somehow managed to fit them in and find homes (eventually). We have had to make some pretty radical changes to accommodate. We’ve swapped our hot water tank for an external unit And gotten rid of our clothes washer and dryer to make room for another wall of triple stack cages. On one hand, it sucks to be so popular…
Our home based rescue has consumed our lifestyle. What was once a sweet little homeschool endeavor has become a full time job. Today is Saturday. Saturday means cleaning cages, top off food and water, meet with people who want to adopt, meet with people who want to surrender, answer 50 or so emails inquiring about adoption, surrender, random chinchilla questions, orders for supplies, and…well…now that I think about it, Saturday is no different from every other day.
This weekend we’re focusing on matchmaking. This is an unpaid, often unacknowledged stressful few days of emotional manipulation where we do our best to arrange friendships with compatible (same gender) animals. It’s one way we help find homes for the unwanted animals. Successful matches make it worth the effort. Chins who have lived in isolation often tend to forget how to chinchilla. Our job is to coax a bond between a pair or more to help them live happier, longer lives.
I step away from the computer to check on the visiting chins. All is well. It’s time to move to the next step in the process, which means I have to clear space in our living room to set up the playpen. Move boxes, move furniture, check the schedule for our first appointment of the day. Somehow I need to work in time to finish the corners of the 30 loft ledges we assembled yesterday.
Return to the computer to find half a dozen more emails. Someone asked where their package is (they ordered two weeks ago, but didn’t actually pay for the items until 3 days ago). While we’re not responsible for the mail carriers, the increase of shipping charges comes with tracking on all packages now. It was a nice trade off with the postal service. Another email asks my opinion on the best cage bedding. IGNORE. This question has been answered ad nauseam on our website. Another email asked if we have any baby chinchillas for sale. I am so thankful people cannot see my occasional eye roll. Yes, today is a bad day. It’s what I call a “people hating day”.
I allowed the kids to sleep in until 8:30. “Time to wake up! We have lots to do today!” has become the typical morning alarm. One day my youngest muttered that every day we have lots to do and that there is nothing special about today. I didn’t mention the email about the 35 chins. That would mean they’d have to give up their bedrooms for a while (kidding).
We see so many situations and conditions where people surrender their unwanted animals. It’s strange, but I actually get excited when we see chins that are otherwise well taken care of. Most of the time they are ignored, forgotten and in deplorable cages…if they have a cage at all. Many times we tell the surrendering family that a hamster cage is not suitable for chinchillas. While we require the animals come with their belongings, 90% of the cages end up donated to the wildlife rehabbers or fixed up and sold as rat cages. And speaking of cages, it’s time to start cleaning. Ha! Who am I kidding? The kids do most of the cage cleaning. Thanks minions. ;)
Our new routine consists of cleaning two walls of cages every other day. That’s generally 18 cages each time. We have it down to a science though, so I’m thankful for our over-sized shop vac and chins who have been trained not to bolt when we open the doors. They stay in their cages while we work around them, most of the time they stay up on a lofty perch to survey the job. New chins and babies will sometimes come get a closer look. My son, who has autism, isn’t allowed to vacuum out those cages. I used to have nightmares about accidentally sucking up a chinchilla. It’s only 10:00 and I’m ready for a coca cola with lime. Caffeine carries me through the especially busy days. Today I need to focus on catching up in the workshop since tomorrow we have two people scheduled to adopt and one to surrender. Adoptions usually take about 2 hours minimum. We make sure to spend lots of unrushed time with each prospective adopter. Not only does this allow us to find just the right pet for just the right person, but it also helps us better understand their ability to care for their new chinchilla. We often find that people who have “done a lot of research” beforehand often come armed with information about dangerous care practices. One person thought raisins fed in moderation meant they could feed a small handful of raisins to their chin.
After cage cleaning I find another half dozen emails in my inbox; political cartoon from my father, emails that require a lengthy response and more store orders. They’re rolling in today. Uh oh…someone wants to order $23 worth of cheap, heavy stuff…pellets and hay…it’s going to hurt to tell them the shipping cost is more than the actual items. I’m seriously thinking of instigating a minimum order amount just so I can avoid explaining this to our customers who are obviously trying to save money.
Here’s another email from someone looking for advice. I just don’t have time for this! Now I fully understand why the “big name breeders” get such a bad rap for ignoring individual emails asking general chinchilla questions. I used to be appalled that they would ignore an email outright. Now I’m guilty of the same.
There’s a break in the weather today. The snow has kept me from cutting wood. If I can carve out an hour or two, I’ll have to refill my bins with supplies, finish the loft ledges and start on routering slats. The van has been in the shop for the past 5 weeks. Keeping up with our stock of lumber has been a challenge. Fortunately, my daughter’s little sedan has foldable seats that open all the way to the trunk, so we just make extra trips with smaller loads of supplies. It’s not as difficult as it sounds though. I hand select each board and it’s not always easy to find pretty wood, but when I do, there’s an audible gasp of ecstasy over the beauty of good grain. Yeah, I’m a wood nerd. A friend of mine caught me stroking a particularly pretty board and told me that I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to trees. No wonder I’m still single.
I drag out my miter saw and set up my worktable. Choose my boards of lumber, assemble the bins and start cutting. Just as I begin to get into a good groove, one of the kids comes to get me. A customer is here to pick up their order. Typical Whimsy fashion, I go to greet them covered in sawdust.
I am an introvert. A friendly introvert, but an introvert nonetheless. I like (most) people, but high doses of personal interaction is more exhausting than a full day working outside. My local customer just happens to be a person I greatly admire. This is a nice break. After about half an hour of chinchat and supplies gathering, I should go back to work cutting wood. The chins in introduction are now sleeping in their divided cage. This keeps them safe when I can’t be nearby to intervene. Check email, OMG! 8 more emails in the past hour. Let’s take care of these before going outside to get dirty again.
Oh sweet! Now these are the types of emails I like. It’s right after Christmas and people have either gotten a chinchilla, or want to spoil their babies. Lots of orders for fresh, new ledges, cage accessories and chew toys. I’m so proud to see my handiwork and other’s cage designs come together. What is most frustrating though is seeing how some people have copied my creations. Imitation is the best form of flattery. Yeah, well, it just irritates me instead, especially when people take my designs and sell them. What’s funny is that another chinnie vender complains all the time that people copy her designs, but then I see her copying mine. Hypocrite.
I call to my masterpackerdaughter that we have orders to assemble. Mandi, my oldest has a particular knack for fitting orders into just the right size and shape box. As always, her brother , who has autism, looms over her ready with the tape. Ziggy tries so hard to help. He takes the initiative to pack boxes too. Mandi’s job packing boxes also encompasses double and triple checking the contents to be sure her brother hasn’t included the TV remote or some other non-standard item. One day we received an email telling us that an old red oven mitt made it into their box. Another day someone received a measuring cup.
Pack, weigh, calculate, return email. Pack, weigh, calculate, return email. Pack, weigh, calculate, return email. Now let’s see who actually follows through with their order. About 10% of the orders end up in oblivion. People who place orders and fail to follow through are placed in the X-Files. What is particularly frustrating are kids who include me in their dreams and email orders in which they don’t have the means to complete. SpongeBob would say their email is imagination… I actually had one kid email a request for store items and made at least a half a dozen changes. Then he finally told me that some day when he gets a chinchilla, this is what he would want to order. *headdesk, facepalm*
The kids are eating again???
Oh, it’s lunch time.
Perfect time for a Coke with lime
Hey! I made a rhyme!
So I take a moment to stop for lunch (who am I kidding?) More emails have come in. There’s an emergency note from a complete stranger whose chin has loose stool. I have no idea who this person is, how they manage their animals or the history of their fur baby. She claims that her mother feeds a LOT of raisins to her chinchillas. Mystery solved. I shoot off a quick email to let her know that yes, the raisins are most likely the issue. My response is very short. Oh God I hope they see the seriousness through my rather flippant reply.
By now my caffeine high has kicked in. Time to restock the store. We’ve somehow run low on several of the most popular items. And the doorbell rings….D’oh! I forgot about this afternoon’s pick up order. The visit is short and sweet. The kids and I move on to getting our gear ready for our visit to the local high school. About eight times per month we pack up rolling bins full of supplies to work with the special needs students to assemble the chew toys for our support store. This means we have to have plenty of drilled pieces and wire hangers ready to go. Some of the students are more severely afflicted. Nevertheless, we always manage to find a job within the ability of each. The students get such a thrill when we come, and the pride and accomplishment of their finished product is intoxicating.
My second born daughter has a real eye for precision. She works a lot with the drill press. Off she goes to drill pieces for whirly wafers while the two youngest sort through vine thingies. My oldest and I start pumping out chinchilladas by the catering pan full. I love the sweet floral smell. Working with my hands and inhaling the aroma of sweet hay and herbs is like a soothing balm.
More emails have come in. I’m afraid to look.
I should have left well enough alone. The person with the question about loose stool is upset with the tone of my email. There’s really nothing like being the victim of a drive-by messenger shooting. I really, REALLY need to stop answering these random emails from complete strangers about their chins. Back to being a hermit. I’m going to check on the chins and try to wash the negativity away.
The chin room is clean. The cages smell fresh and the floor is spotless. Thank you, kids for being such troopers. Having a child with autism isn’t so bad. At least it means he’s focused on routine. I never get complaints from my son about chores. But then again, he really can’t complain. Aside from having autism, Ziggy was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He had to be resuscitated and the resulting brain damage happened in Brocca’s area: the portion of the brain responsible for speech.
By now, it’s late afternoon. I have just enough sunlight left to make a good dent in routering slats for suspension bridges. Those are tedious. We usually do one part of the process each day. Cut. Drill and double drill. Router. Sand. Assemble. Routering requires 4-8 passes with each slat. That’s about 1000 passes. It takes me several hours to finish and by that time my fingers are raw and my arms ache. At least we’ll be stocked up for a little while. I get about ¼ of the way through my pile and decide to stop. The chins are waking up and it’s time to work with the introductions. Also need to figure out what to make for dinner. The new introductions are going very well so they move to a neutral cage where I can watch them while I cook. We’ve all learned the artful dance of working around non stationary cages.
While I make dinner, the kids help pack orders that have paid or come in. Ziggy stuffs hay in each cage and tops off the food bowls. The chins are fully awake now and looking for treats and attention. I wander through the chin room as I’ve done at least 20 times during the day. Titus gets a scratch between the ears, Bucky and Abbott (like Tweedledee and Tweedledum) beg for the same. I pass out a special treat tonight. We have a box full of “ugly” 10 centimeter vine balls stuffed with herbal hay. Our chinnies get all the reject toys and parts, but they don’t know the difference.
It turned out to be a good day after all. I felt highly productive and managed to keep up with incoming emails. I’ve either started, or completed tasks and we’re all ready to meet with the students. The store is stocked up and we have prospective adoptions scheduled. I’m exhausted, but it’s a good exhaustion; a feeling of accomplishment. The day is nearly over which means it’s time to settle in for the night. But there’s an email from someone who wants to stop by to pick up supplies tonight. Tonight??? I respond back that if they can make it here by 6:00, then they are welcome. (Otherwise, my bra and make up are off and I’m horizontal). A twelve-hour day is reasonable, don’t you think?
Exotic Pets: Is a Chinchilla Right For You?
Fluffy, cute, bouncy bundles of awwwww. Who could resist the adorableness of a pet chinchilla? There are many things to consider when deciding if a chinchilla is a good match for you and your family. Handling, feeding, and other care requirements are chinchilla-specific and not necessarily rodent-general.
Handling a chinchilla requires some finesse. In general, a chinchilla is a hyperactive pet, not prone to cuddles. Their rib structure is especially delicate, so handling a chinchilla is more like allowing them to perch safely on a forearm rather than holding them close and tight. The best way to interact with a chinchilla is to allow them to use you as a playground, not force them into submission of snuggles.
As much as a chinchilla looks like a rabbit, the dietary requirements are radically different. A chinchilla’s natural habitat is the Andes Mountains in South America, which is a high desert biome. A desert biome is not necessarily hot, but it is dry. This strictly limited moisture means the vegetation that grows there is naturally bland, not lush. Therefore, a chinchilla’s diet should be high in fiber, low in protein with no fats and very little natural sugars. High quality pellets offer a simple, easy method of feeding, but are considered a “soft” food. Soft foods provide calories, vitamins and minerals, but do not offer proper wear for a chinchilla’s ever-growing teeth.
Offering fresh vegetables and fruits can kill a chinchilla quickly, as these high-moisture foods cause a gassy buildup known as bloat. Since chinchillas cannot pass gas, this buildup of pressure will literally cause the intestines to explode. Even offering vegetables in moderation is a very dangerous practice.
In actuality, dried hays like timothy, orchard and alfalfa are the ideal food for chinchillas. Hays and dried grasses offer these hindgut fermenters the fiber necessary for proper digestion, as well as exercise for their teeth and jaws. Because a chinchilla’s teeth keep growing, they need ultra high fiber foods and chew toys to keep them properly worn and trim. With this in mind, chew toys are necessities, not luxury items.
When contemplating a chinchilla’s habitat (cage) it is important to consider the size, shape and accessories. A proper cage setup should be quite large. The minimum cage size required for a pet chinchilla is 2’x2’x2’ or 8 cubic feet per animal. In their native habitat, chinchillas live in herds. For the benefit of the animal, it is best to keep them in same-gender groups. Single gender groupings discourage breeding and mating fights. Since a male chinchilla can smell a female in heat up to a mile away, it is ideal to keep just one gender of chinchilla in a home. Littermates usually make the best companions.
Chinchillas live more like mountain goats than ground animals, so a cage taller than its footprint with plenty of staggered ledges is most natural. This allows the chinchilla to choose a safe height from which to survey their environment. Cage ledges should be made of kiln-dried pine. Wooden ledges double as a platform and a safe chewing alternative. Plastic or metal ledges, shelves and ramps run the risk of an intestinal impaction or tooth break. Wire bottom cages or platforms also pose a risk of bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis) or leg fracture.
Another housing consideration; is your home equipped with air conditioning? Chinchillas cannot stand temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If they are actively playing, even 75 degrees is dangerously hot. Chinchillas overheat quickly which can cause permanent brain damage or death. Young chinchillas cannot regulate their body temperature as well as an adult and are especially sensitive to heating and over exhaustion.
Does anyone in your home have allergies to dust or pollen? Chinchillas are NOT hypoallergenic pets! One of the top five reasons why we receive chinchilla surrenders is due to allergies of their owners, or someone else living in the home. Chinchillas keep clean by rolling in special volcanic dusty sand. This material is highly irritating to those prone to respiratory and skin issues. Additionally, chinchillas require loose hays, grasses, herbs and other foods that tend to harbor a variety of pollens. Their bedding, if not cleaned at least weekly, is a breeding ground for bacteria and molds.
The last two care requirements are perhaps the most important; can you provide the funding for emergency vet care, and is your temperament compatible with a chinchilla’s? Chinchillas are highly sensitive animals. Being an exotic pet brings with it exorbitant vet costs. The average cost of a vet visit ranges from $75 for a wellness check, up to several thousand dollars for a leg amputation or casting, tooth trim with x-rays, or other emergency such as surgery to remove an intestinal impaction, spay for a retained placenta or dead kit, or intervention for a rectal or uterine prolapse.
The personality of the potential owner is a very big indicator of whether a chinchilla is a good choice of pet. Are you responsible? Can you keep a commitment? Are your feelings easily hurt? Do you have the dexterity to catch and handle an energetic pet? Do you have the patience to work with an animal that is typically not one that enjoys handling? Have you considered that the life span of a chinchilla is up to 20 years? Can you accommodate the needs of a live animal long term?
Chinchillas can make the most amazing pets, but they are not ideal for everyone. Pet chinchillas are at the mercy of their owners to provide them with adequate handling, nutrition, housing and attention. If you feel you are a good candidate as a chin parent, we would love to help answer your questions and match you up with the perfect new pal. This is Whimsy, and I approve this message. ;)
About the author:
Amie Leigh V. (AKA Whimsy) is a single mother of four children, one of whom has autism. As part of her children’s’ homeschool curriculum they began a home based shelter affiliate and website devoted strictly to chinchillas and their care. Whimsy has owned chinchillas since her teen years and, with a natural love for animals and teaching has become a worldwide resource for chinchilla owners, vet clinics, pet stores and other outreach and education opportunities. Whimsy holds several college degrees in Psychology, Speech/Language Pathology and Special Education with an emphasis in Autism Studies and Behavior Management. She and her children volunteer at Princess Anne High School with the special needs students where together they make chew toys and cage accessories to fund and support the chinchilla rescue. Visit our website at: http://whimsys-menagerie.com/
There are several considerations one must take when designing a cage home for chinchillas. Chinchilla starter cages in pet stores are just that: starter cages. They are intended for one baby chinchilla with the expectation that as he or she grows, they will move into a more permanent home. Do not fool yourself into thinking that if the pet fits, that it is sufficient. Chinchillas are high-energy creatures that require lots of space.Size and cage shape are very important. In their native habitat, chinchillas live more like mountain goats than ground squirrels. This dictates a cage that is taller than it is wide. Height is more imperative than floor space since chinchillas feel most safe up high where they can survey their surroundings. A pet chinchilla should have a cage space that is a minimum of 2’x2’x2’ in volume, and bigger is definitely better with height being the most important factor.
When decorating a cage it is also essential to consider the chinchillas’ natural instinct to chew everything. A good, sturdy wire cage should contain ledges that are safe to chew. Remove all wire and plastic ledges and ramps. If your cage has a wire floor, remove that as well since wire is very harsh on little chinnie paws. Wooden ledges are more flexible in design and serve as a chew toy. *double win*
Ledge placement is critical! Even though a chinchilla can jump up to 5 feet, that doesn’t necessarily mean your domesticated chin is able to. When chinchillas are confined to a small cage, they do not develop proper muscle strength or coordination. Just because a chinchilla can reach a particular ledge, doesn’t mean he or she safely can. When placing ledges in your cage, it is best practice to align them in a stair step fashion so that your pet is able to reach the highest ones safely. With safety in consideration, you should place ledges in such a way that no jump is more than 8” to the next closest perch. Some chinchillas can be particularly clumsy. For this reason, we recommend a good 4” thick mass of clean aspen pine bedding over any other kinds of cage litter or liner. This provides a soft, thick cushion just in case your chin falls.
Also, keep in mind that ledges are intended to be consumable items. Every so often, it may be necessary to replace severely chewed and worn perches. We go through our 50-something cages monthly and replace ledges as needed. A good rule of thumb is to have at least five ledges per each single chin section. So if you have a double sized cage, ten ledges would be the minimum number required. And don’t forget the other fun items such as an exercise wheel, hammocks, swings, bridges, hidey tubes and houses. :D
A good cage is necessary for the well-being of your chinchilla. A great cage goes a long way to provide environmental stimulation, safety and security. A cage doesn’t have to be a sad prison. Deck it out! Make it fun! Decorating a cage for your pet can be one of the most rewarding ways to show your love. And it’s fun to watch them explore each and every new change.
The way we store chinchilla supplies is critical for our fur babies' health. Certain items require storage in a cool, dry, dark place, while others need to “breathe.” Some chinchilla products have a shelf life, while others last indefinitely. Feed pellets are one of the more common foods about which people tend to have a laissez faire attitude. Pellets are relatively cheap when purchased in bulk, but begin to lose nutritional value after 3 months. Products that claim to have a 1-year shelf life do not address the fact that the nutrients gradually dwindle over that period. These should be stored in an air-tight container.
We often receive raves about the freshness of our pellets where people claim that their chins shun pet store pellets, but love ours. This is mainly because we open and use our supplies within a very short time. This results in an ultra-fresh, bright green pellet that is nutrition dense. It is wise to only purchase as much pelleted feed as your pet can use within two months or less.
Another very important food item that requires specialized handling is dried hay. This item should be stored where it is allowed full air circulation, but is out of direct sun or bright light. This allows excess moisture to escape without causing the product to mold. If hay is stored in an airtight container, the anaerobic environment allows moisture and bacteria to accumulate and begin the process of decomposition. Sunlight and direct artificial light also leaches the chlorophyll and other vitamins from hay, resulting in a product that is no more nutritious than straw. Good hay depends on the growing season, cultivation, harvesting, and storage techniques.
Loose wood, properly prepared, is another essential food item for chinchillas. However, proper preparation is critical in knowing how to process wood safely. The most important considerations are: is the wood organic? Has it been boiled to kill off parasites and allow for excess dirt and foreign growth removal? Has it been slowly dehydrated to ensure even drying? Quick “roasting” or “baking” at high temperatures for short periods of time is not adequate for wood processing. This method cooks the outer bark while leaving the middle damp. Mold spores are deadly to your chin! These can cause loose stool and potential death.
We slowly convection dry all our hand selected woods for a minimum of 24 hours. Thicker pieces can take up to 5 days of continuous dry time to reach perfection. You can rest assured that we take care and caution when preparing our chinnie foods, treats and chew toys. Our reputation, and our chins, depend on it!
Chinchillas are naturally very clean animals. Their feces are hard, dry, and odor free. Even their urine is mild. That is, unless you let the cage go too long between cleanings. Bacteria on wet bedding will rot and spread over a fairly short time. We’ve gotten in a number of complaints recently about foul odors and chins who have started urinating out the sides of their cage walls. If this is a problem for you, there are a few things you can do to address the issue.
First, clean the cage! A chinchilla cage should be cleaned at least once per week. This includes removing all bedding and wiping down all surfaces with a vinegar and water solution or other safe cage cleaning product. If you notice a white crust forming on the bottom cage pan, you’re not cleaning thoroughly or often enough. The crust is a protein buildup, evidence of urine left to sit too long.
The scatterguards on our cages make it so that a slide-out pan is not easily accessible. We use a shop vac to remove the old bedding. It takes less than a minute and the chins are so used to the process that they usually watch from an upper ledge.
If your chinchilla has learned the nasty habit of peeing out the sides of their cage, know that this is a learned behavior that is a result of living in a chronically dirty environment. It is their attempt to keep the immediate living space as clean and dry as possible. This is a difficult habit to break! To retrain your chinchilla, first you will have to retrain yourself to be consistent in the task of providing a clean, healthy home for your pet. Cage cleaning doesn’t have to be a chore! It is a prime opportunity to interact with your chinchilla and show your care and concern for their well-being.
Next, you’ll have to redecorate your chinchilla’s cage to make it impossible (or at least difficult) to continue the wall urinating habit. The ledges should be short and spaced so that none of the sides of the ledges come close to the side of the cage. Space the ledges so that the chinnie cannot back his or her tail up against a corner. If the ledges are so long that they can pee on an edge or corner and perch a little further down, this will only serve to reinforce the bad behavior. Our 6” Leaping ledges and 8” Lookout ledges are perfect to accomplish this task.
Some chins urinate on shelves regardless. This is another reason why wiping down the surfaces of the ledges is so important. The slight amount of moisture left on the shelves with the vinegar and water solution will not harm your chin and will air dry without any additional concern. There is a mistaken assumption that dampness in any form is a hazard to chinchillas. This is simply not true. Chinchillas are not Gremlins that will suffer irreparable harm if a single drop of water touches them. While it is true that they shouldn’t receive a water bath, a good cage cleaning is harmless to the chin, and beneficial to their environment.
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