When people ask me to describe a chinchilla, the best response I have to sum up this crazy little creature is that it’s like a live-action Disney animated fluffy forest thing.
In 2008, I’d just moved from 425 square feet in L.A. to 1,260 square feet in Denver, where I was online opinion editor at the Rocky Mountain News. So I went down to the animal shelter — the Dumb Friends League — to add perhaps a guinea pig (I didn’t add the caucus until moving to D.C.). The staff steered me toward a chinchilla after I’d rattled off some nerdy factoids about their origin and care — I’d always been curious about them, but being close to the coast in L.A. I had no air conditioning other than the Pacific, which means a keep-it-68-degrees creature was out of the question.
The chinchilla had been purchased at a PetSmart and then turned into the shelter by the family. This wasn’t surprising as they’re not kids’ pets: they’re exceptionally soft and cuddly but don’t like to be cuddled, they’re strong and amazing jumpers but have a delicate bone structure that means you can’t squeeze or drop them, and they’re up at night. The shelter staff took us into one of those “get acquainted” rooms, and let the chinchilla out of the carrier. She began zipping circles around the room, ricocheting off walls and making everyone dizzy trying to catch her. I finally cornered the chinchilla under a table with the help of another staffer, and reached out to gently pet her nose. After acting zen for a few moments, she leaped between us but I caught her against my shoulder and held her there. She came home with me. I named her Chinderella because she was clearly a total diva.