Surprise! Guinea pigs… (the end of an era)

Almost 7 years ago (August 18, 2007), I returned from a business trip to find a guinea pig in my living room. My significant other at the time, Kay, had wanted to rescue a guinea pig or three. We had talked about it and I was willing, but wanted to talk about it more. She figured why wait. So upon returning home… surprise! Guinea pig. This turned into a steady stream of adoptions that led me to have a herd. This is an important distinction in the guinea pig world. One or two pigs can bond with their human if given a lot of attention. They will happily sit in their human’s lap and look forward to it every night. When you have more than two though, especially a lot more, they will revert to their more natural herd mentality. This is considered to be healthier by many people, but is not favorable to many owners. Why? Because pigs are prey animals, and you are perceived as a threat to them. You don’t get to bond with them and they do not enjoy being picked up. But, if healthier for the pigs, that is important so we had a herd. A few years later, Kay and I split and I decided to take the pigs. While they were her idea, it was clear that I was a better and more consistent provider for them. Even when given the opportunity to come over and help with cage cleaning, or even keep me company while I did it, she rarely showed. Eventually, she became a completely absentee parent, leaving me to care for the pigs. The following is a list of the guinea pigs adopted, in the order that they moved on. While I cared for all of them equally and to the best of my ability, two of the nine were ‘mine’ in some fashion.

The first was ‘Snickers’, aka A156576, a female Abyssinian adopted from the Boulder Valley Humane Society. One of my hesitations on adopting is because I had not taken the time to read up on them, but Kay had. Our first pig ended up not being the typical adoption. Only four years old, she had serious hair loss and complications due to a life of poor nutrition. Snickers reminded us that guinea pigs are frequently not cared for properly. I wrote a brief summary of her adoption and what was going through my head at the time. While she was not with us long, she opened the gates for more adoptions.

‘Pringle’, originally named Cerra aka A253868), a female American shorthair adopted from the Larimer Humane Society on March 9, 2008. Estimated to be around 4 years old, she was picked up and found to be extremely skinny (660 grams). She was surrendered to the shelter with no history other than “good with kids”. Based on her weight and appetite the first night, we’d guess she was not given hay or veggies very often. Once home, she took to most veggies instantly and slept by the hay bowl half of the night. By the next day she was energetic, standing on her rear feet wheeking happily for veggies and sleeping all over the cage. Better, she was already up to 730 grams. Her first vet appointment confirmed that she had mammary tumors which were removed successfully during surgery with a very fast recovery. After the surgery, she proved she was the perfect pig in temperament and demonstrated how pigs can recover from the worst of environments. Pringle passed on April 15, 2009 due to masses on several internal organs. She was also experiencing very minor weight loss and potentially had neurological issues (serious spasms when she slept sometimes). She went peacefully in her sleep, head on a pillow.

JuineaPig, originally Ginny aka A419947, was a female Abyssinian adopted from the Denver Dumb Friends League on December 29, 2007. When we went in, she was described as “problematic” and it took over 30 minutes for the staff to catch her because “she bites”. Given up for adoption for “recently starting to bite”, despite being almost two years old, once securely held she seemed to do fine. Due to her behavior, the DDFL had decided to pull her adoption information down and were going to declare her unsuitable for adoption. Once we gave the rundown of our current herd and ability to properly take care of her, they agreed that we could provide a good home for her. In the months after adoption, the only time she would bite is if she felt directly threatened, and even then, only warning nips. It was immediately clear that her previous owners had not given her any veggies as it took several months to get her to eat a wide variety. Since adoption, she was nothing but a sweet pig and clearly not a biter. JuineaPig passed on May 20, 2009 due to many internal complications including cancerous tumor, kidney issues, bladder stone, GI obstruction, and more. Her last two days were not very happy, but she fought as best she could.

snickerspringlejuineapig2

Figlet, originally Willow aka A762196, was a female Abyssinian (likely with a peruvian mix) adopted from the Humane Society of the Pike’s Peak Region on June 20, 2008. Originally down there to adopt another ‘female’, we found two large males with health problems. Despite correcting the shelter on the gender of the pigs, they didn’t appear to care or update the web page days later. Figlet was in a large cage by herself (good), but with half of it covered in water-soaked litter and no water in her bottle. Almost unable to hold her, we managed to get her in the carrier and bring her to the pig mansion. She integrated into the herd within hours (after quarantine) and did great. Clearly younger than advertised, Figlet was the most energetic and spastic pig we had. Even six months after adoption, she was almost impossible to hold for more than a few seconds as she tried to escape and find her own footing. Fearless doesn’t begin to describe her. Figlet passed on Oct 15, 2009 due to complications during surgery to remove a mass causing Hyperthyroidism, a rare condition in guinea pigs. A full write-up of diagnosing and treating her was created to share information about this rare condition in pigs. Figlet was ‘my’ pig and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was wrong, and went to great lengths to try to help her live a happy life. After losing her, that convinced me that I was not going to rescue any more pigs myself; rather, I would continue to support shelters and rescues.

Nugget, originally Nibbles, was a female American shorthair adopted from the Denver Dumb Friends League on November 2, 2007. They believed her to be about four years old but we suspected she was a bit younger. She was our first shorthair guinea pig with a great personality and strong love for hay and veggies. The DDFL said she was “surrendered because the previous owners couldn’t afford to maintain her” which is sad, as a pig is relatively cheap to house and feed. Nugget was hands-down the most mellow guinea pig and frequently ends up being a vet buddy when one of the other pigs needs to see the doc. Nugget passed on Oct 31, 2010 from natural causes. She was a senior piggy and lived a glorious three years with me. While I can accept that logically she had already moved on and was not aware of her surroundings or had any real mental faculty, the last 45 minutes of her life were spent in my lap at 3AM having spasms. That is very hard to deal with.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnugget

Zesty, unnamed aka A089150, was a female Abyssinian adopted from the Denver Municipal Animal Shelter (DAS) by Kay on September 7, 2007, one of three guinea pigs brought in that were apparently found near an auto repair shop, left to fend for themselves. The only female of the bunch, she was described by the staff as an ‘escape artist’ and estimated to be approximately one year old. We feared she was pregnant due to being housed with the two males she was found with, which was another reminder that despite the good intentions of shelters, guinea pigs simply aren’t well known. We soon learned that she was indeed an escape artist but fortunately not pregnant. She became the queen of the herd, and was certainly the most feisty guinea pig we had. Zesty passed on June 3, 2012 from natural causes. Based on her life history, she lived a long time all things considered.

Biscuit was a female Abyssinian adopted the same day as Zesty to provide companionship to the feisty beast. Oh, and she was ridiculously cute and mangled. Our third guinea pig at the time and first baby, adopted at only 5 weeks old, Biscuit knew no fear since she grew up in a happy home full of daily vegetable platters, endless hay, and a huge play pen to run around in. She was definitely the most tranquil pig, and knew absolutely no hardship in her life like the rest had. Biscuit passed on September 28, 2012. Sweetest of the herd, she lived a wonderful life.

zestybiscuit

Waffle was a female Abyssinian personal adoption taken in on November 16, 2007. She was ‘my’ second pig, adopted selfishly. Part of regrets that we got her from a pet store, but I wanted one guinea pig that we knew the absolute history on and who should have no health problems as compared to the hit-or-miss you get with shelter rescues. Despite that desire, she lived her life with some respiratory issues. It never affected her, but hearing her ‘hoot’ as if congested was a constant reminder of her being in the herd. Ultimately, she lived over 6 years and her frequent breathing issues had nothing to do with her passing. Waffle was the most distinct color we had seen, a great blend of white, grey, and black, giving a ‘peppered’ appearance. Her black feet were also quite distinct and made her stand out in the herd (and a pain to trim the black nails as we couldn’t see the quick). Approximately five weeks old when adopted, she seemed to live for fresh hay more than anything else. When she wasn’t bouncing around her home she would lay in one of the hay lofts for easy access to her precious hay. Waffle reached end of life on May 9, 2014 (today) due to an intestinal tumor.

At this point, it left me with a single pig (Tater) that had grown up in a herd and knew nothing else. When Biscuit passed, Tater did not handle it well. That point moved from three pigs to two, which is decidedly not a herd. After three weeks, Tater finally settled down and accepted the situation and fell back into a happy routine with Waffle. With Waffle’s passing today, I fear for the worst; that Tater will realize Waffle is gone (she hasn’t as of writing this blog) and freak out. Today, she has gotten a series of extra veggies, a cob of corn, and fresh hay. I have checked on her periodically to ensure she is doing alright. In the morning, I will be taking her to Cavy Care, the only all-guinea pig rescue in Colorado. I have visited the sanctuary several times over the years and love what they do. They treat their guinea pigs exceptionally well and screen adoptions to ensure it will work. Unlike pet stores who will sell pigs to anyone, even if it is not ideal for the animal, Cavy Care will make sure the would-be owners understand what they are getting into. Tater will be given a new friend, also a senior female piggy, to live with. While it isn’t the herd, she will have companionship like she has had for the last two years. As a now senior pig, it is hard to tell when she will move on. In the last few months, she has lost over 100 grams which is considerable for a pig, and a sign that health issues are happening. I hate to take a pig to a rescue that is already over-burdened, but they understand my choice, and Tater will come with a donation and all of my supplies to help the shelter. So more about Tater…

Tater is a female Peruvian Abyssinian Silky (longhair) personal adoption taken in on April 11, 2008. The runt of a five-pig litter, she was taken from a family that had pigs living in poor conditions and mostly neglected as they “didn’t have time for them any more”. If left in those conditions, she certainly would have been housed with mom, dad, and any brothers in her litter leading to a very early pregnancy. Said to be four weeks old, we believe she was much closer to two weeks old when we got her. It only took her a few days to become extremely lively, eat any veggie she was given, and develop a great personality. She integrated faster than any other pig had, likely due to being around many other pigs early on. She received hair cuts every couple of months as her coat was too long and bulky, dragging the cage and getting mucked up. While she whines during the trimming, she becomes considerably more energetic and seems much happier afterwards.

waffletater

For the last four to five years, I have been the only provider for my pigs. While Kay started the adoption spree, they lived a majority of their lives under my care. In that time I learned a lot about them. Everything from behavior quirks, to proper care, to treating odd conditions. I drove hours to ensure they received the best care possible. Every week for five years, I bought $20 – $40 of vegetables for them, special ordered Timothy Gold hay, and gave them a steady stream of chewable houses and items to keep them stimulated. I cleaned their cages every week when the herd was big, using bleach and vinegar to scrub down the ‘trays‘, washed their bedding, rotated their hay, and more. I adjusted my lifestyle and social availability to guarantee they got their vegetables about the same time every night. When traveling, they had in-home sitting most of the time, or twice-daily visits if not. When the air conditioning went out, I made sure someone was here to fix it within hours, as pigs can overheat easily. The temperature in my place very rarely crossed 76 degrees for their benefit. Every month or three, they got weighed to better determine they were healthy, as significant weight change is one of two ways to diagnose problems (the other being behavioral changes). I learned of common pig problems like cysts and little growths that can be removed, as well as common problems with senior female piggies like tumors, ovarian cysts, and unknown masses. When someone in a herd wheeks, I can identify it generally as it reflects on their emotional state. I have had to separate Zesty from the herd from going on a three-hour dominance mounting spree, ‘terrorizing’ the other pigs in her way. I have almost gotten kicked out of pet stores when I overheard a sales person spewing bullshit about guinea pigs. I have sighed casually and spouted back more disturbing facts than “you know some people eat guinea pigs?” to assholes trying to shock me (they were a lot more shocked than I was). Yes, I have read more books about guinea pigs than you have, about their history and indigenous lifestyle.

This is an end of an era in my life. Not having a huge guinea pig mansion in my living room, a few feet from where I spend a considerable amount of my life. Not hearing the happy wheeking, the frenzied wheeking as a pig tries to mount another, and the general chatter of guinea pigs day in and day out. Quarantining a newly adopted pig for 30 days before integrating into the herd. Bathing a guinea pig in some cases, no easy feat. No more setting up a play pen in the living room so they could run full speed, at least while they were young. No more watching Zesty jump over the guinea pig fence, and then laughing as Nugget observed Zesty and followed suit. I remember having to buy a new set of fences that were much taller to thwart the escape artists. Biscuit running in circles in the living room, entirely too fast for my camera to capture. The many nights I would take Figlet out of the cage and put her on the kitchen counter as I prepared veggies, giving her first shot to enjoy them without contest. The elaborate veggie platters I would make for the herd. Buying wheat grass for them to enjoy, because that was like crack to them. Cutting Tater’s hair, leaving a little sprout on her forehead because it amused me.

Despite the emotional turmoil in taking care of these critters, they were definitely worth it. If you have a bad day, you can look in the habitat and see the adorable guinea pig living their life. They have their own drama and dynamics, but ultimately it gives you perspective on your own drama. Picking up a guinea pig and getting nothing but an abject reaction reminds you they keep it real.

herd

3 thoughts on “Surprise! Guinea pigs… (the end of an era)

  1. Guinea pigs are awesome. Me and my wife (well, mostly her) have taken care of quite a few over the years. Never a full herd at the same time though. Every Thanksgiving since 2007 I always think about yours, with a smile.

  2. I’ll miss your pigs, though obviously not as much as you will. They were sweet creatures, and always a pleasure to see. I take a strange pleasure in finding you started this particular chapter in your life on my thirtieth birthday.

  3. I am a Guinea Pig love too, and they are so adorable and lovely. They are very easy to handle and pet, kids love them too. I hope more pet lovers take care them seriously and give what is suppose to be for them. Great article by the way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s