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  #1  
Old 06-27-2013, 08:02 AM United States
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Default Chinchillas as tech pets

And you wonder why the rescue group and myself had to part ways......


http://www.sfchronicle.com/style/art...ts-4614909.php
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Old 06-27-2013, 08:43 AM Canada
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Can't see the article. Just get : To continue reading this story, you will need to be a digital subscriber to SFChronicle.com.
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Old 06-27-2013, 08:50 AM United States
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Chinchillas: real tech pets


By Nellie Bowles

6:47 AM

Russell Yip, The Chronicle

Chinchillas, or chins, are crepuscular rodents from South America originally brought to the United States for their fur-farming potential. Luckily for them, the fad faded. With their ability to live in vertical cages, they are well suited for someone who lives in an apartment.


The Potrero Hill Petco doesn't carry gerbils. There aren't any rabbits. It doesn't even have a ferret.

But it does have chinchillas.





"It's like having a large rat, but they take dust baths, and they can live 20 years," said Petco employee Quincy Pham, who recently completed a corporate chinchilla training course and said the rodent's popularity has been surprising. "They really grow on you."

Long prized for its fur, the chinchilla, or chin, is gaining considerable traction as a pet. Rescue centers are reporting booming numbers of chins going, especially, to young single people and, occasionally, to tech companies as office pets. And they're scurrying in an enormous prominent enclosure by the Petco registers.

Weighing about 1 pound and measuring between 9 and 11 inches long, the famously soft rodents have long bushy tails, big ears and friendly dispositions, in contrast to the more taciturn rabbit. Able to live in vertical cages and most active at night, they're a good fit for an apartment dweller who comes home late. With long life spans, they're an upgrade for those who may have had mice as kids.

And they resemble Pikachu, the beloved Pokemon hero.

"The Apple people came first, then people from Google," said the president of the California Chins Association, Lani Ritchey, who runs a rescue center out of her home. "They wanted some chins to live in their playrooms where the engineers go to lounge and have their junk food. They look like Pikachus, so they think that's cute."

(Google communications associate Jenna Wandres said she would neither confirm nor deny that they currently had chinchillas on campus; Apple did not return a request for comment.)

Live long, chin

"Now, we have the Stanford students and the professionals coming to adopt, and they don't even have any kids," she said. "But I get worried. I don't know if they know how long a chin lives."



Tosh Chiang, an exhibits and electronics engineer at the California Academy of Sciences, got his chinchilla with a friend over a summer vacation in college (it reminded him of the Japanese animation character Totoro) and let her roam free through the dorms - "I'd wake up and she'd be pushing things off the counters, but it's hard to be mad at Chinny. We just wanted her to be a free chin."

He's taken Chinny to almost a half dozen apartments since then. When he moved to a SoMa warehouse, he built her an extension tunnel so she could run around the perimeter of the room. Today, she has her own small bath house for dusting (chinchillas take dust baths to keep their fur clean).

"She loves to play - sometimes she runs at a wall and then bounces off like a bouncy ball would. It's like watching someone do parkour," he said, referencing the YouTube viral movement phenomenon.

When he bought her, he didn't know anything about chinchillas other than "that she was totally Totoro."

"They're a real commitment, which we found out later."

Though some apartments have been less conducive to having a chin, he hasn't been tempted to give her up - "Girlfriends like Chinny a lot. A cute, furry animal that has a lot of energy and is very charismatic? What's not to like?"


A crepuscular rodent from South America, the chinchilla was originally brought to the U.S. for its fur-farming potential (their soft fur is apparently so dense, it suffocates fleas). However, like ostrich and llama farms, chinchilla farming was often a pyramid scheme that left many would-be furriers broke, and the fad faded. But chinchillas stuck around.

The only strange maintenance for the Andean rodent is their need for dust baths. When a chinchilla sees a pile of dust, it runs at it, sniffs, leaps in and starts to spin - spraying out a fine layer of sediment.

"The dust bath is what makes them the almost perfect pet. If you want to wash them in water, you can wash them," said Ritchey, who fosters more than 50 chinchillas in her Menlo Park house at any given time. "There's nothing mystical about the fur, but it's so dense, it takes about an hour to blow-dry - and you have to blow-dry them or the fur will rot."

On a hot Sunday, Ritchey walked through her living room pouring dust baths for her chinchillas to the sound of tearing cardboard and fans (chins need to stay cool and, like rats, they chew to wear down their teeth). Through taking them to adoption fairs, schools, bookstores and farmers' markets, she finds homes for about 300 Bay Area chinchillas every year - "a lot fewer than the dog people, but it's definitely growing."

Three chins, Kura, Fish Stick and Hat (she keeps the names their owners give), notice the dust and run at it, spinning in the bowl.

Good dust

"I use cement dust, but you can use cornstarch or talcum powder," Ritchey said. "The commercial chin cleaner is made of pumice and chips their fur, which isn't very nice."

As burrowing animals, they sleep in boxes. They take to most toys - she had some sleeping in ferret hammocks, others chewing dog toys and licking bird mineral blocks. Their favorite treat, she said, are Craisins, which they eagerly ate, clutching two hands to a cranberry.

Are chinchillas like ferrets? "No. Ferrets are members of the weasel group. They would eat chinchillas."

Do they like to cuddle? "Some do. Some don't. You can usually tell real quick."

Ritchey thinks the influx of interest in the chinchilla is coming from people who grew up with guinea pigs.

"It's like an upgrade," she said. "And the fact that they can go in vertical cages, that's very convenient for apartments."

They're also low maintenance.

"You can go out all day and night, come home at 2 in the morning, and the chin will perk up to play whenever. They don't have nails to trim. All they want are treats, dust baths and cuddles."

Dylan Bergeson, a 28-year-old writer and editor, lives in Oakland with five of his friends and an adopted chinchilla named Claudio. He keeps an air purifier in the room to mimic the high-altitude environment where chinchillas originally lived.

"Everybody who gets into chinchillas, like there are a lot of us and we're all crazy people, so I'm aware that I've probably turned into one," he said. "But I've actually learned how to mimic some of their noises."

When Claudio is doing something bad (say, chewing on the moulding of the house or computer wires), Bergeson will "squawk" - a harsh and quick noise. When Bergeson makes the chinchilla "contact noise," a sort of staccato purr, Claudio will run out of his cage and jump on him to play. "I'm sure my accent is really bad, but I can tell he gets it."

He adopted Claudio from a friend and, though it was originally a temporary situation, couldn't part with him.

"Honestly, it's like having a permanent 2-year-old," he said. "But they're so rare, and they have that strange look, like cartoons, and you just fall in love."

Nellie Bowles is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: nbowles@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @NellieBowles
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Old 06-27-2013, 09:52 AM United States
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Cement dust!?!?!? WTF?
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Old 06-27-2013, 10:07 AM United States
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seachin - I was thinking the same thing. Could she have meant something that LOOKS like cement dust and they wrote it down wrong?

Why would Apple and Google have chins on their campuses? Chinchillas aren't like having an aquarium of fish. I've never heard of such a thing with the exception of maybe the odd vet's office that will have a chin that has ended up there, but that makes a little more sense.
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Old 06-27-2013, 10:09 AM United States
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Most likely. As for them in offices....I think it being an atypical office animal is exactly why they have started keeping them.
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Old 06-27-2013, 10:30 AM United States
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That seems like a not so great idea. I hope the chins are doing well. I'd worry about the chins getting too many treats, getting stepped on, getting stressed, or having someone not wash his or her hands before touching them... I know they are around adult humans, but all the same reasons why they shouldn't be in classrooms apply here, as well.
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Old 06-27-2013, 10:54 AM United States
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._. I hope she didn't mean cement dust and they misunderstood her. Cement reacts with water, so any particles the chinchilla inhaled would begin the chemical reaction. Cement isn't just ground up rocks, it's a chemically active formula!

I could see them being a pet in a office lounge, I don't think they would be held, more like fish just watched from a distance...
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Old 06-27-2013, 10:59 AM United States
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Quote:
"The commercial chin cleaner is made of pumice and chips their fur, which isn't very nice."
I honestly do not know what dust she uses, the chins get dusted every couple of weeks and I never saw it done. Commercial chin cleaner would appear to me to be actual chinchilla dust. I am suprised (snark) that doritios were not on the treats fed list, since I saw for my own eyes rescues being fed that and human oatmeal cookies. She tried to feed mine that at a event we were at, that was the last time I dealt with this rescue.
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Old 06-27-2013, 11:40 AM United States
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Dawn - I never understood why you associated with those people in the first place. They are the ones who said that some chins suffer from mental illness and that it's okay to have a chin in a room where the combined heat/humidity was okay as long as it wasn't over 150. So it could be 90 degrees with 60% humidity and that's okey dokey. I have always thought they had many screws loose.
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