A Day in the Life (Happy March!)

For the month of February, seven (7) chinchillas were surrendered and eight (8) chinchillas were adopted.  This month is far more typical than last month. But have you ever wanted to know what a "typical" day is like at Whimsy's? Now is your chance to be a virtual fly on our wall.  ;) Thank you Lila B for sparking this creativity in Whimsy. 

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?