Pet Owners Gone Wild
Cats and dogs are fine for most, but some Westchester residents need pets other than your run-of-the-mill Lab.
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Charmed by Chinchillas
Photo by Chris Ware
Owner: Wally Wall, clock- and watchmaker, Yonkers
Pet: Sydney Fizzy, a three-year-old, medium-gray female chinchilla
What made you decide to get a pet chinchilla? I was volunteering at the Elmsford Animal Shelter, helping with the bunnies and guinea pigs. When I saw her, I wanted to take her home—I knew we could give her a good life. And she was really cute. I didn’t pay anything for her because she is technically considered a permanent foster animal.
How big is she? She weighs about one-and-a-half pounds and, standing up on her hind legs, she’s about eight inches tall, plus another six inches for the tail.
How would you describe Fizzy’s personality? She’s independent and doesn’t like to be handled more than ten minutes at a time before she squirms away.
Does she know you? Definitely. When my wife or I come over to her cage, she’ll come over to the front, wanting to be petted. And she shrinks away from strangers.
How does she spend her time? She has the run of the upstairs of our house. She has a lot of human contact and likes looking outside at the street. She gets lots of sunlight. She’s more active in the night—she likes to exercise then.
What kind of maintenance does she require? She’s very low-maintenance—I just spend about eight to ten minutes once a day cleaning her structure, a high-rise, four-level habitat or cage on wheels.
Do you consider Fizzy your child? Of course I do, because she’s dependent on me.
How long do chinchillas typically live? About twenty years. If she outlives us, we know people who will take care of her.
What do you think about people wearing fur? I don’t even like artificial fur or anything that resembles an animal. It takes something like over one hundred pelts to make one coat, so why bother?
Photo by Chris Ware
Owner: Alex Brantl, high school freshman, Irvington
Pet: Cookie, a six-year-old, black-and-tan shorthaired guinea pig
Other pets in the household: Rachel, a nine-year-old cat; Eva, a four-year-old bunny; and a Japanese fighting fish
Where and when did you get Cookie? We got her four years ago from the Elmsford Animal Shelter—now called Pets Alive Westchester—for a fifty-dollar donation.
Why a guinea pig? My sister and I really wanted a dog, but my parents didn’t want us to get one because they would end up taking care of it when we went to college. So we were looking into pets with shorter life spans. First, we were thinking of a dwarf bunny, but they have biting issues, so we ended up with the guinea pig. We thought they lived about eight years but, apparently, they can live to twelve, so my parents may still end up taking care of her after all.
How would you describe Cookie’s personality? She’s not the most active thing—she kind of lies around—but she’s very sweet. And when she sits in my lap, she squeaks at me and it’s like she’s talking to me. She allows all our friends to hold her.
What’s the best thing about having a guinea pig? They’re not a lot of maintenance and they are very cute in a rodent-y sort of way.
Where and how does Cookie spend most of her time? Most of the time, she’s in her cage, and there’s a hut in there that she goes into quite frequently. It also has little wooden sticks for her to chew on and her food and water bottles. Once a day for a couple of hours, she’ll come out for playtime—we’ll put her in a playpen-like structure with the bunny we also own, and they’ll both walk around and stretch their legs, but they really don’t interact and just ignore each other. She lets my sister hold her on her lap for an hour every day when she’s watching TV.
What’s the downside to owning a guinea pig? Once a week, you have to do a big cleanup of her cage and change the newspaper and cardboard, and that’s a lot of work. Also, whenever you sit with her, you have to have a towel on your lap because she might pee on you.
Does Cookie know you? I think she does—and my mom and grandma claim that she knows her name.
Photo by Chris Ware
Ower: Lori Faeth, personal assistant, Hartsdale
Pet: Scarlet Eve, an almost two-year-old, all-black, Rex rabbit who weighs about six pounds
Why a rabbit? I’ve always loved rabbits—they’re such cute, little, furry things. And you don’t have to walk them when it’s cold outside and they require less maintenance than cats.
Where did you get Eve? I adopted her from the Connecticut Humane Society in Westport when she was eight months old. I made a fifty-dollar donation that included the thirty-five-dollar adoption fee.
Describe Eve’s personality, please. I call her a little princess; she is just a little mush.
Where does she spend her time? She’s in her cage to sleep and when I am not home. But when I’m home and watching TV, she hangs out on the bed with me. She requires exercise—a minimum of two hours a day outside the cage, but she’d rather have four to six. She’ll run around and do a ‘binkie,’ where she pounces off her feet and changes position in the air—that’s her happy sign.
Would Eve run away if you put her outside? Probably, to hide and protect herself. It’s an instinct because, in the wild, other animals, even birds, go after rabbits; they’re pretty low on the food chain. They do make harnesses for people who want to walk rabbits, but I don’t use one. I think that’s a little bizarre.
Does Eve recognize you? She definitely does, because as soon as I put my hand near the cage, she comes running over to me, but, if someone else does that, she’s a little more hesitant.
Do you think she’s aware of things? I know that she knows that food comes from the refrigerator because she’ll come running over when she hears me opening it. And she is litter-box trained. Also, you can teach rabbits to do some tricks and go through agility courses, though I haven’t done that with her.
Does she like music? Soothing music. When she hears something like heavy metal, she gets very scared.
Any advice for future rabbit owners? A rabbit is such a bad gift to give—it’s a living animal that requires love, attention, and maintenance, and can’t just be put in a cage and tossed into the family room and ignored. And, while rabbits make good pets for older kids, they are not appropriate for very young ones—if you don’t hold them correctly, they squirm and kick and can break their backs, which are very fragile.
Would you eat rabbit stew? Absolutely not.
What do you think of people who do? To each his own, but there are so many other choices out there. They don’t have to eat rabbit or even meat, period. I try to be a vegetarian, myself.