Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Waukesha Chinchillas

I suppose now's a good time as any to share my thoughts on this.  If you're in some of the select facebook groups that have 500-comment threads on this right now, you know what I 'm talking about, but in case you aren't, 330 chinchillas were seized from a home in Waukesha, Wisconsin.  24 were dead, and the rest were in poor conditions.  The house had such strong ammonia that it was declared unliveable. 



http://www.wisn.com/news/waukesha-woman-considered-hers-business-a-chinchilla-rescue/32116076 -- with video

I have the unfortunate experience of knowing who this is, and it is Tricia Rees.  When I first met her, she told me she had 10ish chinchillas, and they were pets.  She had come to me to adopt a trio of chinchillas.  The family seemed very nice, and really, 13 chinchillas for one person isn't all that many, in the scheme of things.  I remember, they were going to Ryersons and the Lemler's on the way here (well, to my parents' house, as that's where I was living at the time) and asked if I needed anything.  They picked me up O-rings from Ryersons (and something else, but I don't remember what) and a little pink white female that I would later name Gypsy from the Lemler's.  And their parents had a winery so I purchased some wine from the parents, and they brought it to me.  One of the bottles had a chinchilla label on it, which they gave to me (and I still have, with wine still in it).

Anyway, so they seemed perfectly normal at the time.  The woman had told me that the reason she stayed home (and was able to care for all the chins and pets) was that she had a disability.  That's all that was said about it, and I'm not one to be nosy (curious, maybe, but not nosy), so we left it at that. 

So the family adopted those chins.  Fast forward to the following year, and I had a chinchilla surrendered with a bad leg injury, Rochelle.  Before she was even healed, Tricia had volunteered to adopt her, and I still had no reason to think anything negative, so she adopted her.

And maybe a year or so after that, all hell broke loose.  Tricia had been asking me about breeding when she was at the rescue, and so I showed her some of the show chins and explained what the difference was between those and the pet chins.  And I showed her examples of good fur, bad fur, etc.  So I knew she was looking into getting breeding chins, but we had talked and she knew she was not to bred those rescues she got from me, and I did believe her that she wouldn't (and would like to still believe her, but I just don't know).

But anyway, about the time she started openly purchasing breeding chins, she started complaining about her health.  Now, I knew she had health problems, but she had never felt the need to share them with me, which was fine.  Until one day she just randomly started posting on facebook about how she had all these health problems.  Next she had narcolepsy.  Next she was dying.  Next... whatever.  Well, then came Nationals that year, and she was getting blue diamonds and sapphires and violets from some big name breeders.  Well, she showed the ones she got, along with a few of her chins, and none of them did very well.  As in, 4ths, 5ths, and I think some got "no award."  I believe she came to another show that year, and then I didn't see her again until the following Nationals. 

In between, she decided she wanted a chin store, and started selling wood, supplements, all sorts of things.  And getting all sorts of complaints.  People were getting unclean wood, gunk in their supplements, and so on so forth.  I suppose, looking back, it might make sense that this stuff was not clean, based on the home situation.  After all, hindsight is 20/20.  But at the time, rather than assume it was her house that was the problem, people were just assuming her products were not up to the standards that we hold in the chin community. 

The following Nationals, she did no better in terms of ribbons / awards, but continued her "omg poor me, I'm dying" campaign.  Until it just sort of randomly stopped.

I hadn't seen a post in her group pop up on my newsfeed for months, and hadn't seen her say anything for months either.  Another sort of "odd" thing was that you would never see her sell any of her chins.  You'd here her say that she got this chin or that chin or whatever from some breeder, but she never had any for sale, you never saw someone comment about how they got some awesome chin from her.  I suppose, again, hindsight will say, this should have made people wonder about where they were going.  But then again, maybe not, because some chins that I have here never actually are listed, due to people calling and wanting something, or due to being on my waiting list for something specific (I get it in, let them know, it appears like the chin was never here to an outsider).  Well, that's possible, but it's also possible that's why she had the 300 that she did.  While they don't breed fast, by any means, if you're never selling babies, you could definitely end up with a good amount more within a year.

The last time I saw her, two Nationals ago, I believe she told me she had 150 chins.  That was March 2014.  Even if you figure only half those breed, and give you one kit each, you're still looking at 75 extra per year (and in reality, probably more than that). 

I, and some others in the chin community, wondered if we'd see her this year at Nationals.  She wasn't there.  I wondered about it, but didn't really think much of it.  Considering she hadn't done well at show, it really wouldn't have surprised me if she'd gotten discouraged and gotten out of breeding/showing.  Clearly, little did I know.

Well... until this happened.  I was out in Ohio when I was facebook tagged in a post by one of my friends.  It was a link to the first article.  Well, I immediately texted them and asked if they thought it was Tricia... and obviously it has turned out to be her.  And they're thinking about pressing criminal charges.  Oh boy.

Ok so anyway, this would be hoarding.  It's unfortunate that it got this bad, and I feel bad for the chinchillas.  Thankfully, there are some knowledgeable chinchilla people right in this area who have been helping out the humane society.  The latest post I saw regarding that was that the humane society has said that they are throwing away any food given to them that contains the fruits / nuts / veggies / seeds.  So this is already progressing way better than the Valley View PETA situation from a bit ago. 

People in the chin community have mentioned that Tricia was inquiring about buying chins as recent as a few days before this article aired.  Holy cow.

Sadly there's really not much to say about this actual situation.  If she was looking to buy more, she clearly saw no problems with how everything was right then.  And they said the house was UNLIVEABLE because of the high ammonia levels.  From the pictures and videos you can tell there was just filth everywhere.  It would be one thing to say, she got in over her head, but then, you'd hope she'd go down to lower numbers.  But no, she wanted to get more.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are lumping together what she does and what all rescues and breeders do.  In different places, she listed herself as a rescue and a breeder, and I suppose she did probably believe she was both.  What is likely to happen, though, is that people will see this situation, and think that all breeders are hoarders and all home rescues are this badly kept.  In reality, that's not the case.  I have nowhere near this number of chins, but just to keep them fed, watered, cages clean, takes hours per week.  If I don't change out a fleece liner, I will at least make sure to vacuum out the poos.  Sweep the floor.  Even if you came to the rescue right now, there's a big bag of trash in the middle of the floor, but it doesn't smell and the floor is relatively clean.  Some shavings, sure, but not poos everywhere.

Just because she had that many animals (or anyone who has that many chins) does not, by any means, automatically mean they are not well cared for.  When we show our chins, they have to look good.  You can tell the care given by how the chins look.  If they're dirty, that can be due to the chin laying in its own pee, but it also can be from the owner not cleaning the cage often enough.  If they're not dusted often enough, it shows in the way their fur looks.  Some of you know I've been out in Ohio helping out at one of the large ranches and those chins are cared for better than half the pet chins I get in at the rescue.  And there's thousands of them, yet they're fed daily, cages cleaned once weekly, medicated if necessary, etc etc.  Versus half these pet people who surrender a sick chin they can't afford or bring a cage with that's got 2" of stuck down feces.  I would actually venture to say that many times, these big breeders and ranchers actually care for their chins better, and more consistently, than the average pet owner.  Now, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good pet owners who care for their pets well.  But keep in mind, I also deal with all the people dropping off rescues, plus all the people who contact me who never actually drop off a chin, and those people are the ones I'm talking about. 

What definitely does not help the image that we're all hoarders is the way chins breed.  Ok, let's back up for a sec.  Breed two rats.  What do you get?  In 30 days, 12-20 babies.  Breed two guinea pigs.  In 60 days, you get 3-5 babies.  So for a lot of those, you don't need a lot of animals to get a lot of babies.  Say you want 50 babies and you have one pair of rats / guinea pigs.  That's (roughly) 3 months for rats, 10 months for guinea pigs.  Now let's think about chinchillas.  Say a chinchilla gets pregnant today.  120 days from now, give or take, it will deliver.  That's 4 months.  The babies will stay with mom an extra two months before they're weaned.  So that allows about two litters per year.  They typically have 1-2 babies per litter, so at 1-2 babies per litter, you're looking at at least 12-13 years to get 50 chinchillas out of one pair (and that's assuming you have two per litter -- which breeders know, getting 1 per litter is just as likely).  And, for chinchillas, the mortality rate hovers around the 20-25% range, so about that percentage of babies will either be stillborn or won't survive.  The thing is, if you want to show, you have to have something to show.  And many people feel it's not worth it to bring one chinchilla to the show -- and it's really not -- you can't compete for breeder awards and you can't showcase what you've worked so hard for.  But every baby that's born is not going to be awesome.  Even if you put two grand show champions together and they breed (ha! as if) and have a baby, it could still be pet quality.  So, to have enough chinchillas born that are good enough quality to show... takes having a lot of chinchillas.

One last thing.  I've seen a lot of comments on the cages shown in the video.  The cages aren't the problems.  The standard looking ones are called "runs" -- I have 8.  They are super useful when breeding and are standard in the chinchilla industry (though they may not all look the same, the idea is the same across the board).  The problem here isn't the cages though -- it's the fact that these chinchillas were allowed to live in filth.  Not be cleaned.  In the one video, it shows that she had 2 feet, TWO FEET, of chinchilla poos piled against the foundation of her house.  Now, I'm not even sure how she got JUST the poos, unless she wasn't using any shavings (very possible, I suppose), but if you have that much... there's a problem.  I hope that Tricia gets the help we all know she needs (and have known for quite some time, though not to this extent), but really, I feel bad for the chins.  Because while she chose to live this way, they didn't.

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