Loss of a Pet

People love their pets. Sometimes, we like our critters more than most people. They don’t lie or cheat, they have no hidden motives. They just love us with an innocence and purity that has to be experienced rather than explained. These creatures, whether bearing fur, feathers, fins, or scales – have a way of claiming a piece of our heart… and never letting go.

It is, their owners, who are inevitably faced with the challenge of having to let go of them. This piece is incredibly hard for me to write. I’m not sure how helpful it will be, or if any dynamic words of wisdom will flow, because my heart is broken – and I keep succumbing to tidal waves of pain. You see, I just lost my beloved chinchilla, Serendipity. And there is a hole in my heart and world that only time will heal.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with chinchillas, they are these adorable rodents indigenous to South America. Chinchillas have gained popularity over the years as an “exotic pet.” Of course, because they have the softest, most luxurious fur, they have always been prized for their pelts. They were hunted and trapped almost to the point of extinction in the wild. Hundreds of these tiny creatures are raised and killed every day, in order to make a single full-length coat. Serendipity was one of these creatures born to die on a pelt farm, but I rescued her. As beautiful as she was, her fur wouldn’t pull top dollar to be made into a death-wrap, so she was no good to the rancher for breeding or pelt. I bought her life for 50 bucks, and that is where this love story began.

Special needs
Serendipity was my second chinchilla, because after losing Max, whom I had for 13 years, I realized I couldn’t face life without one. Buying her from a pelt farm was a gamble, because they are bred for fur – not for health. They aren’t loved and played with because the pelt ranchers are looking for profit, not pets. Because more people are turning to synthetics over natural fur, many pelt farms have shut down over the last decade, with the chinchillas being sold off for breeding or as pets. Many of these rescues are likely to have inbred genetic troubles, and the tainted bloodlines disclosed and continue to produce chinchillas with genetic maladies. Serendipity was such a victim. Her eyesight was bad, her balance not up to chinchilla standards, and she had her first seizure within hours of me bringing her home. I knew then that she was in trouble and would most likely die young, but she was mine and I was determined to give her the best life I could.

It took months of working with her every day to tame and train her. She came from a horrible place where she heard the screams of other chins being slaughtered, and was very timid and shy. As she began to trust me, her personality just blossomed. She was feisty and opinionated, loving but high-strung, and loved to play tug-o-war with a leather cord. She knew that early evenings were playtime, and would comically let me know that she knew when I was running late. She grew to be such a happy critter, and quite the “talker.” She developed an impressive repertoire of sounds: chirps, chatters, squeaks, growls and grumbles. She had a way of making herself clear, and inspired gales of laughter when she would literally flirt with my husband. Her name fit – she was a total joy. Because of her comedic and somewhat accident-prone nature, we usually just called her, “Dippy” for short. It fit.

Unconditional love
When she turned five, her health problems began to increase. With exotic pets, you need exotic vets, who aren’t always the easiest to find. When one vet softly suggested that I consider putting her down, the flood of tears that came from me inspired her to consider other options. She gave me the information for a specialist – but he was in another state. Dippy was suffering from malocclusion, a chronic and genetic disease of her teeth and jaws. There is no cure, but things can be done to try and correct problems and control the progression. I was warned that her prognosis wasn’t good. My husband, (oh, the things he does and endures for me) took time off work to drive across state lines, in the snow, for Dippy to have a surgery she wasn’t likely to survive. I had to do something – even if it was wrong. I would rather she die because I was trying to help her than have her suffer or just put to sleep. I cried when the vet called to tell me that my spirited little girl pulled through! When we picked her up, she was just as happy as could be. My joy overrode the fact that I just maxed out my visa, and could have bought a hundred or so other chinchillas for what this little endeavor cost. She was worth every cent, including all those dollars I didn’t have.

Because of her condition and the successful surgery, many vet visits followed. Every couple of months she would need teeth pulled, medication for infections, and stints of daily pain medication while she healed again. She was a trooper. She endured it all, and was happy and affectionate, even though she voiced her distaste of some of her medicines. Much of my life was arranged around taking care of her. Her malocclusion progressed to a point where she could no longer comfortably chew hard foods or hay, so she had a prescription diet that she ate via a feeding syringe. She loved that stuff, and really enjoyed the extra attention of feeding time, sometimes snatching the “magic tube” from my hands and running around the room with it. It was too cute, because the 35cc syringe was almost as big as she was! Once again she beat the odds, staying fairly healthy for over a year and a half. She never ceased to be happy or playful, and continued to take advantage of every opportunity to flirt with my husband.

End of borrowed time
Last weekend, my baby girl’s body failed her, but her spirit did not. This poor, innocent creature had a zest for life and wanted to live, but she simply wasn’t meant to. She didn’t want to go, but the choice was out of her hands… and mine. She was born to die within the first year of her life, but because we found each other, we blessed one another with seven years of loving fun and co-dependency. I may have saved her life, but she definitely impacted mine.

I know this is the natural order of things, that death is only a transcendence of planes. I know that she is healthier now than she ever was in her physical form. I know she loved me, and I know she knows I loved her. I’ve felt her here with me since she left, and I know I will see her again.

Dealing with loss
Serendipity found her freedom, and I struggle each day waiting for mine. Some moments are harder than others. I’m so angry that a spirit so sweet was a victim of unethical breeding practices. It’s just her shell I put to rest, because her spirit is renewed and free.

I’ve cleaned out her cage, disposed of her toys, medicines and feed. I have a picture of her by my desk, and I “pet” it when I feel the need. The first few days were hardest, because I gave myself permission to hurt. By embracing the pain I remember the love, and constantly remind myself that the only way out is through. Today is the first day I haven’t cried – yet. As much as it hurts, I have to move forward in my life. I know that time will lessen the pain and soften my sorrow.

I face each day knowing she is gone, and it is hard and painful, but there are things to do that only I can get done. So I do them. I try and keep my focus on the here and now, because that’s all I have. My life changed the moment I got her, and changed again the moment I lost her. But all the time in between is frozen in memory and fluid time. Those are the moments I keep, the memories that will survive. I am better for having known her, wiser for having loved her, and grateful that she was a happy girl, all the way up to the very end.

I will get another chinchilla. Just as Serendipity could never replace Max, whomever enters my world will not replace Serendipity. I love my pets for the individuals they are, and feel so blessed by the way they love me. Losing them is hard, but never having had them would be even harder – at least for me.

Take responsibility
Whatever animal is your passion or your joy, love them while they are here. They ask very little of us, and give without limitation. Show your appreciation to these dependant creatures by loving them responsibly. They are our furry children. See your vet for proper care, spay or neuter your cats and dogs. There are so many unwanted animals starving, and starving for your love – always check with your local animal shelters first. If a pedigree is a condition of your love, please, PLEASE research the breeder. There are so many unethical, money-hungry mill runners out there that many of us are faced with pets whose lives are limited or shortened because of unsafe breeding practices. Let’s all step up and put the puppy, kitten, bird, rat, bunny, chinchilla… ALL of the pet mills out of business! For the profit of a few, these animals – and we, their owners – end up paying the highest price.

In loving memory of Serendipity 2001 – 2008.

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