Last Thursday, my daughter's chinchilla Noel passed away. It was the worst day of her life and the hardest day I have had as a parent. We're not exactly sure what happened, but it appears as if her liver failed. We are still reeling from this as a family, and my girl is still grieving the loss of her baby. I made the mistake of referring to Noel as her pet and she corrected me- "Noel was not my pet, she was my baby and my best friend." And she is right, of course.
Noel was still very young. She would have turned 3 next month. She was just 2 months old when we brought her home, a Christmas gift for my girl. She was instantly in love and took great care of Noel. She hand tamed her and talked to her all the time. She read out loud to Noel and confided all her secrets to her. She was a very lucky and so very much loved chinchilla.
About 2 weeks ago, my girl told me that Noel wasn't acting like herself. As we tend to do with our kids, our pets and especially ourselves, I told her she was probably okay and would probably be acting like herself again soon. Here is where my guilt sets in, because this response was purely money driven. In order to take a chinchilla to the vet, you have to find one with experience dealing with exotic animals. And then you pay for that specialty. And again, as with ourselves and sometimes our kids I hated the idea of taking her in and then paying a ridiculous amount of money to find out that she was fine. Big time regret here. My girl trusted that I was probably right and expected that Noel would bounce back. She didn't, obviously.
On Tuesday of last week, my girl told me that Noel was worse and she NEEDED to go to the vet. I went in to check her out and realized that something was definitely wrong. She wasn't bouncing all over her cage like normal and when I reached in to pick her up, she just sat in in my hands and then my lap. She was thinner than before too. I held food up to her mouth and she ate a few bites so I felt better about that, but still worried. Since it was late, I decided to call around in the morning to find out what I should do. I found a vet who could see her, but he was only working the walk-ins that day so I couldn't make an appointment. The girl that I talked to listened to the symptoms I told her and we decided that I could bring her in after work as the vet would be there until 6. Relieved, I went about the rest of my day. I left a little early, went home to pick up Noel, swung by to pick up the kids from choir practice and then headed to the vet's office. Noel was more lethargic now, but I was hopeful that the vet would be able to help us out. Unfortunately, he had decided to leave early for the day and since we weren't an appointment and they didn't have our information there was no way to reach us. We weren't sure what to do. The only other exotic vet in our area was already gone for the day and couldn't get us back in until 8am the next morning. We had the option of going to an after hours hospital, but none had doctors familiar with exotics. After talking about it, we made the very hard choice to take her home and go back to the other vet at 8 the next morning. I didn't sleep very good that night, afraid that she would die and my girl would find her in the morning. Every time I checked on her, she was always in the same spot and still breathing, but it was very obvious that she wasn't doing well. When it was time to leave for the vet, we took her out of her cage and she just laid down in the box. My girl asked me if she was dying and I told her that I thought so. She asked if we could still try to take her and I told her of course. As long as she was alive, it was worth trying. We drove as fast as we could, both of us crying the whole way there. They took her back as soon as we walked in and within 10 minutes we got a room and the vet was giving us his assessment. She was still alive, but her body temperature was very low and she was dehydrated. They needed to put her in an incubator to warm her up and would give her fluids. If she responded to that, they could examine her. But as for right then, she was too unstable even for that. He would call in a few hours and let us know how she was doing and then we could decide what to do from there. We left knowing that she was being taken care of, but were scared. We knew it didn't look good, but felt she was in good hands. I took my girl home by her request and I headed to work. I figured I could work until the vet called at least. Less than an hour after leaving Noel, she passed away. Shell called me right after she got the news from the vet. I could hear my girl crying, wailing was more like it. It ripped my heart out. She got on the phone and through her sobs asked if we could go back and see her. And if we could bring her home and bury her in the backyard. I left work and headed home. We took a plastic box with us that she put a pillowcase in and brought Noel back home. She carried the box with her baby in it around for a few hours and so many tears were shed. I dug a hole in a nice spot and she wrote a letter to put in the box as well. Between bouts of crying, we talked about memories of Noel and there were many. I think it helped her to focus on the good and not only the bad. After my boy got home and was able to say goodbye himself, we sealed up the box and my girl placed it in the ground. My boy filled in the hole part way, as did I. My girl wanted to finish and through her tears, she did. We spent a lot of time that night and in the days since talking about what happened and the what-ifs. We both feel guilt and regret, but we're working through it. She is very glad that Noel is at home, so she knows where she is and can visit her. She sits in the backyard every day and talks to her and has started to read to her. She goes out every night before going to bed to say good night.
It's been less than a week, but while my baby is still very much grieving for her baby, I see little bits of healing happening as well. She is smiling more and crying less. This life lesson is such a hard one to learn, and while I wish she never had to learn it I am proud of how she is coping. Shell, hoping to ease her pain, asked if she wanted to get another chinchilla. My girl said that it's too soon. She's not ready. But maybe after the first of the year she'd be ready to think about it some more. She wasn't ready last weekend, but I think that this weekend we'll take the cage out and clean it up. My girl asked if she could keep it in her room for a while, so once it's clean and dried out, it'll go back there. A couple of days ago, she took what was left of Noel's food to my mom (she has 2 chinchillas) and threw out the remaining hay. She's making baby steps, at her own pace. It breaks my heart and fills it at the same time. She is a loving, sensitive, caring, empathetic and compassionate person who usually wears her heart on her sleeve. This has been a devastating blow to her, and I am so proud of her grace and strength. She is an amazing person and I am lucky to get to witness it every day. And Noel was lucky to have her as a mom, even if it was for too short a time.