Who would have thought a 6 oz. ball of living, whistling fluff could teach me so much?
Last November we told our daughter, who loves pets, that she would be getting a guinea pig for Christmas. In retrospect, we should have surprised her. From that point on, she was obsessed. A journal was devoted to possible names; Squinky, Jackson, Penelope, Tucker… She sketched out play habitat. She talked of little else. We were all so relieved the day the guinea pigs came home. (Surprisingly, her dad decided she should have two.) Finally her faith had become sight!
By the end of the first day, she was in tears. “Mom, my guinea pigs don’t like me!” she wailed. What living thing could possibly live up to her expectations? If a guinea pig’s hair could be blown back by love, this was the case. “Killed with kindness” comes to mind. To add to the trouble, the poor things had come from a home where their owner had long ago lost interest. They were fed and watered, but no one really cared for them like a 10 year old girl full of unfulfilled animal fantasies. They needed some time!
And time worked its magic. Eventually they warmed up to her cuddling, her “fun” cardboard mazes (fun for whom?), and the constant cage rearranging. Abundant treats likely made up for the burdens of her “love.” They developed a happy equilibrium.
Sadly, a short four months later, Cinnamon went to guinea pig heaven. Having bought her and Sugar from private owners, we weren’t sure of her age, but Sugar was the baby and she the elder—likely older than we thought as she simply went to sleep one day and didn’t wake up.
Assuming Sugar would be lonely, we soon found another female guinea pig at a local pet store. Only 6 weeks old, Rosie was a lively, playful guinea pig. But attempts to introduce Rosie to Sugar did not go well. Sugar attacked and Rosie ran for cover. Tears flowed as rescue ops were conducted. Clearly these two were not going to be friends.
Reluctantly, we secured a second cage. Not what I had in mind, to say the least. But that wasn’t the end of the trouble. We discovered brown goop encrusting the inside of Rosie’s ear. Way back at first hamster, my husband made it clear that we were not paying $50 vet bills for $5 rodents, so we decided to return Rosie to the pet store so she could get the treatment that she needed—which didn’t allow us to keep her. We tried to think of what was best for her.
That same day we had received a call that another young female was available from a private seller. I was relieved. I returned Rosie at noon and we picked up the new guinea pig by sundown. While I shouldn’t have been surprised, everyone was a mess. My daughter cried all the way home, grieving for Rosie. And the new guinea pig, Snowy, whistled plaintively the first 5 miles then fell silent. Both daughter and pig wanted what was familiar. What a somber road trip.
The next few days were more of the same. Snowy refused to drink and sat in her house quiet and unresponsive. I worried for her well-being. My daughter grieved for Rosie and tried to give Snowy treats and water. She cried and I held onto her until she fell silent and then we talked. It was a bittersweet bonding time. We became more comfortable sharing sadness together.
Snowy is doing fine these days. She started drinking, playing and whistling happily on day 3. Sugar still isn’t accepting a new companion, so the second cage is likely here to stay. While two guinea pig cages are not what I envisioned, I can live with that.
Until recording the Pet Chronicles, I never understood how pets teach us about life’s realities–poop, pain and pleasure. The guinea pig journey my daughter and I have taken together has been difficult, but our relationship has grown in ways I’ve wanted. I just didn’t guess that a pet would provide the path.
-posted by Donna Detweiler, whose love for pets is growing as she understands how their value to her family far outweighs the inconvenience.