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Exploring The Wilderness Of Kalihi

Domestication has changed our pets, so they are no longer creatures of the wild.

What does this mean? Well, it means horses now are available in miniature size too small to ride, cats forgo the hunt and eat from a bowl, and birds are not allowed to fly. Though this might seem sad, life is rather cushy for our household friends: no predators, warm shelter and meals like clockwork. Would they even survive the trials awaiting them in the wilderness?

This is a story about a pet who found his window of opportunity and lived to tell the tale.

“Well, Doc, somehow Frankie escaped his cage and disappeared for a few days.”

Mrs. Howell brought her 2-year-old male chinchilla in for a visit. Chinchillas usually have fur that is fluffy and begs to be touched. Frankie, however, looked like he went through the wringer.

“What happened to Frankie?” I asked.

“Well, Doc, somehow Frankie escaped his cage and disappeared for a few days. He’s usually indoors with the other chinchillas, but sometimes I give the gang some fresh air and put them on the patio.”

Shaking her head, Mrs. Howell continued, “I must have left the door ajar, because when I returned, Frankie was gone.”

I slowly took Frankie from his cage and started my exam. Meanwhile, Mrs. Howell continued with her story.

“We searched for him for days, and just when we thought we would never find Frankie, my husband decided to look at a nearby stream. Lo and behold, there he was sitting on a medium-sized boulder.

“How does he look?” asked Mrs. Howell.

“I think he’ll survive,” I joked, “but he did lose a little weight and seems more nervous than usual. I don’t think he’ll be too eager to leave the comfort of his home anytime soon.”

A few weeks later, Mrs. Howell returned with Frankie and pointed out two areas on his body that had flaky circular lesions. Using a special light called a Wood’s lamp, I examined the lesions and diagnosed ringworm.

“Although we use the term ringworm, Frankie’s skin problem is caused by a fungal infection that he probably got from running around by the stream. There is an ointment that you can use to take care of his condition. By the way, do you think Frankie still dreams of exploring his neighborhood?”

Smiling, Mrs. Howell replied, “On several occasions, I left Frankie’s cage door open and watched from the window to see what he would do. I’m happy to report that he just looks at the door and stays put. I think he had a rough time in the wild — no food for days, and I have a feeling he may have seen a feral cat or maybe a large rat by the stream. His days of exploration are definitely over.”

Frankie had his chance to conquer the wilderness known as Kalihi and realized he was not equipped to handle the great outdoors. His ancestors may have once braved the Andes Mountains in South America, but alas, South Honolulu was too much for him. A lesson well-learned on The Wild Side.

Dr. John Kaya is director of Windward Community College veterinary technician program and associate veterinarian for VCA University Animal Hospital.