One reason I started a blog was to share my love of reading with others. Another reason was to allow me to publicly share my writing. Sometimes I’m just in the mood to spill my thoughts to the Internet, and today is such a day. For the past several years, I’ve been watching my way through vlogbrothers videos, and today I watched Hank’s video “Thanks, Lemon,” about the death of his dog. His central concept is that while she was just a dog, she had value to him and changed his life in many wonderful ways. This is one of the things I find most amazing about pets. They have such a great impact on their people.
Over Christmas, I went home to visit my dad, which is a 12 hour drive from my house. One day, he agreed to drive 4 hours each way with me to a chinchilla ranch. I’ve done research over the last year about these animals and decided to get two. The ranchers had chosen a handful of chins for me to look at, and I left with two beautiful boys – a dark standard and a white mosaic.
The standard cried on the way home. Neither of my boys had been outside the barn in which they were raised. Neither had ever had a treat before. Neither had been handled much by strangers.
We set forth on our long journey the next day, arriving safely home. My first act the next morning was playtime! I quickly got to know the personalities of my boys, and assigned them each a name. The standard became Fog, and the mosaic became Flurry.
Fog was always curious but pretty calm for the most part. He would let me scratch underneath his chin, and loved to hop up on my leg when I was sitting in his playpen, stretching his front feet toward the sky. I considered this our circus training. He also wasn’t opposed to the occasional snuggle.
Flurry, on the other hand, was always more of a handful. He struggled more when I tried to handle him, and spent nearly all of playtime trying to escape. He chirped in fear, and tried to bite.
About two weeks after I first got my boys, we had our routine playtime. As I sat in the playpen, Fog scrambled up to my shoulder, a new trick he enjoyed. Before I knew it, he had jumped off and escaped. I chased him down and let Flurry have his turn. Fog started walking like he was drunk, and letting me handle him with no resistance whatsoever (even on his back, which is abnormal for any chinchilla). I rushed him to the vet ER, where they tried to run through possible causes. I sat in the exam room (which had no tissues) and cried, mopping my eyes and nose on my shirt.
I went to work, and they filled Fog with narcotics to manage the pain. They took x-rays and asked my approval for a CT scan. As they laid him down for the scan, he began to die. They called for permission to euthanize him and I went to pick up his empty cage, crying all the way. I went from hoping it was a simple fix to mourning his loss in the course of six short hours. The necropsy confirmed that the cause of death was brain and spine trauma, probably as a result of misjudged distance when he jumped from my shoulder.
I think many people wondered how I could possibly be so deeply impacted by an animal I only had for a couple of weeks. But these fluffs are my kids. I watched them grow less scared and more curious about their world. I spent long hours holding my hand in their cage with a treat or some hay to build their trust. I cleaned their cages, bought them toys, washed the fleece that lined their playpen, spent an hour with each just watching them play. I talked to them, sang them a theme song I wrote each day when I came home from work, and invested my heart in them. Watching Fog struggle to move and the fear and guilt as I rushed him to the vet were incredibly challenging. The vet made me a set of his pawprints to remember him by. He died just two days before his first birthday.
My handsome, sweet boy.
Some people said, “He’s just a rodent.” Yes, but he’s my rodent. I gave him value by learning his quirks and personality, and working so hard to give him the best possible life, even if it was for such a short time. Even in the wake of grief, at least I still had Flurry.
We’re making progress in our relationship. I’ve had him for almost two months, but about 80% of the time he lets me catch him, he’ll take treats from my hand, and sometimes if I’m very very patient he’ll let me scratch him. Our bond has taken work to forge, but I’m so thankful for my little fluff. Never ever take yours for granted.