Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rabbits, and Turtles and Chinchillas, Oh My!

One of the things that suprises many people when they visit HAWS for the first time is the large number of animals we have that are not cats and dogs. We have a whole room that always has rabbits and almost always has other types of animals as well.

Currently our "Small Animal" room contains rabbits, chinchillas, turtles and doves. If you were to stop by another time you might find gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats, ferrets, snakes, iguanas, lizards, parakeets, cockatiels, love birds, finches and anything also that can legally be kept as a pet.

When I do education programs for children I like to bring some of the more unusual animals for the children to meet and learn about since some of these animals aren't easy to keep as pets, and some have behaviors that you wouldn't expect by looking at them.

Chinchillas in particular are extremely cute -- with their soft gray fur, large ears, and inquisitive looking whiskers. However they are also very skittish animals -- prefering not to be picked up or held and won't willingly sit still for petting by strangers. Unfortunately many chinchillas are an impulse purchase -- their new owners being taken in by their cute, cuddly looks and then being disappointed when they find out that chinchillas would really rather not cuddle. HAWS currently has three chinchillas from the same home -- the previous owners couldn't afford to care for them.

Girl Scout Troop #2309 visited HAWS last week for a tour. After the tour they had an opportunity to meet the chinchillas. The girls sat in a pen while the chinchillas zipped around -- only staying still for brief moments. Anytime one of the girls pet them, the chinchillas would race away.

I next brought out a puppy -- who joyfully ran around the circle of girls licking faces and enjoying the petting they were bestowing.
After I put the puppy away I asked the girls if they saw a difference between the behavior of the puppy and that of the Chinchilla. One of the girls commented that the difference was that the puppy actually liked them. It was a very astute observation, I thought.

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