Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Our Rescued Cavy Herd

Part of our mission here at CLAWS is providing refuge for animals that there are no established rescues for. The exotic pet trade in this country is booming. The internet has made it very easy for anybody to end up purchasing species from all over the world. Some can live comfortably and happily in the right homes, others are extremely difficult to properly feed and have habits that are unacceptable to live with for many people. Many become unwanted very quickly with no place to go.

Breeders and sellers will often tell people that these animals are easy to feed, train very easily, can be litter box trained, anything to make the easy sale. Often times none of this is true. We have sat and listened to sellers tell people that foxes or even sugar gliders are litter box trainable, neither are. Many of these animals are anything but easy to feed, requiring such specialized diets that it is almost impossible for most people to provide a healthy diet.

Most of these species have no place to go. You can’t drop them at a shelter, or they will most likely be euthanized simply because shelters do not have the means to care for them. There are few rescues that can handle such a variety of animals. For this reason, these are the animals that CLAWS is dedicated to helping.

When we take in a new species, we spend hours and hours researching on zoological and science sites, speaking to zoo nutritionists and exclusively exotic animal veterinarians to determine how best to feed and care for them. And once they are here, comfortable and settled, we research some more.

One such species is the Patagonian Cavy; a 25 pound rodent, from the South American grasslands in Patagonia. The word rodent means “the chew” or “to gnaw”, and these cavies are no different than any other rodent, only they have two inch long teeth with which to chew, which means the destruction to a home can incredible. They can also jump six feet into the air, and dig very long tunnels, so keeping them enclosed outside is expensive, to say the least. Yet these animals are sold on the pet market every day, for less than most mixed breeds of dogs are sold.
The first Patagonian Cavy we rescued was one named Mischief. Mischief was raised by a “road side zoo”, kept in a medium sized cat carrier except when he was taken out to have his picture taken with paying customers. He was purchased by one of these customers, when they could not bear watching him live in such conditions. They knew enough to know that he would not be a “good housepet”, and contacted us to see if we could provide him a home. He wound up loving going out to do educational program, made friends with many of the other animals here and generally turned into a very happy, healthy boy.

Next came Sam. His owner actually owned many exotic animals. But, when she moved, Sam’s sibling, and lifetime companion died and she had no place to safely house Sam. So, she asked us to keep him for four months. During that time, she planned to get her USDA permit and build an enclosure appropriate for Sam. She told us that Sam had been kept with a kinkajous and they ate the same food, even though their dietary needs are extremely different. Sam was very thin and his fur very brittle. After four months here, on a good diet, his began putting on weight and his fur grew in much healthier. Four months came and went, then six, then eight, etc., we tried many times to reach Sam’s previous owner, but their number was disconnected and they stopped answering email. Over a year after agreeing to “babysit” Sam, we were notified that the previous owner had left the state and did not want Sam back. Sam isn’t very people friendly, but is now healthy and very much enjoys living with our small herd of cavies.

Last came Miss Pris. Miss Pris was purchased by a young adult in New York, who lived in a small apartment. A 25 pound rodent doesn’t do well in a house, much less an apartment. As time went on, Miss Pris spent more and more time in her crate. Finally the young woman’s mother contacted us about putting her with our herd. It was a tough decision for this girl, she really did love Miss Pris, but she also realized that Miss Pris would be much happier living with her own kind, outside, in an enclosure where she can run, jump and play. Miss Pris loves living in our herd, and also loves humans! She is leash trained and goes to programs to help educate people quite happily. She has also been known to follow any small child who shows interest in her.

If you are considering getting an exotic pet, please do your research. Talk to more than just the person selling the animal, talk to a few people who have rescued some and find out why they are most often sent into rescue. Often you will find that they are not nearly as easy as sellers tell you they are to care for, or their personality changes so much as adults that living with them becomes unbearable for most households. We recommend working with a rescue who cares for the species and going at different times of the day. An animal who appears friendly and docile at 2pm can be aggressive and very fast at 10pm. Know exactly what you are getting into before getting a "pet", for your happiness and theirs.

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