Posted by Bronwyn
Normally when I walk into my son's room with a basket of laundry
or a pair of sneakers, I am greeted by a cheerful, high-pitched
cheeping known to the guinea pig initiated as wheeking. From her
spacious cage on my son's dresser, Twinklebeam, our fluffy orange
and white guinea pig, will dart out of her little plastic igloo and
run to twitch her adorable little nose at me, wheeking away with
Not today. Today, I see only the tip of a pink nose peek out
from the igloo and can barely hear a low-level, muttering cheep.
Her cage is not up to her personal hygiene standards and, like
everyone else in the house, Twinklebeam assumes that I am the
person to apply to if she wants it fixed.
The guinea pig is angry at me.
I didn't start out with the plan of having a guinea pig. I grew
up with dogs and cats and have almost always had a pet. But my
brother's early experiences with gerbils (RIP Tiger, Fiddle and
Faddle) didn't lead me to feel particularly fond of rodent pets, or
very confident about their potential survival. What happened to
Tiger in 1980 when he got out of his exercise ball and was
apprehended by both our dog AND our cat is a gruesome Christmas
memory that made an unforgettable holiday impression.
Besides, it isn't as if we were short of pets. When I got
divorced a few years ago, my son W and I took with us my older cat
Merle. Soon Merle was joined by the young Joey kitty, so W could
have a pet 'all his own.' Next Hoho the goldfish came along,
courtesy of the school carnival. (Thanks a lot, school! Whose
brilliant idea was that?). W and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment
in a no-dogs building at the time and daydreamed about being able
to move and get a dog.
Fast forward a few years and we move in with my terrific fiancé:
stepfather extraordinaire, P. In addition to being a fellow dog
lover, P is actually a sort of animal whisperer and as soon as he
sits down, any pet in the area is magnetically attracted to come
and get hair on him and beg for his attention. We bought a house
together with a little fenced yard in a great school district and
planned gleefully for a dog.
P had fond memories of him and his two brothers playing with
their big basset hound Muscleman when he was a kid and we went into
research mode. For the record, basset hounds are great with
children, have terrific tempers, funny faces and habits and are
very strong. Sort of like low-slung tanks with long floppy ears and
Soon we became the proud forever family of Eli from Guardian Angel
Basset Hound rescue. A few months after that, Eli the hound was
joined by Oreo the cattle dog, who we just seemed to keep running
into at Animal Care League adoption events until I felt
Divine Providence was trying to send us a message and figured we
had better take her home, too.
Merle died last year at Christmas time, but we honored his
memory by going out to the DuPage County animal shelter and coming home
with Stringer Bell, the yellow cat. I am a strong believer that
your pets 'find' you and it does always seem to work out that way
for me, although it may be more of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Quite honestly I felt we were pretty much full up in the pet
department and had no plans to add to the family. Then of course, W
came home from a classmate's house, filled with admiration for
their guinea pig. I gave him an unequivocal "No" and reminded him
of just how often P ended up walking the dogs in the morning so W
wouldn't be late for school and that he had plenty of chores to do
But he persisted, singing the praises of the guinea pig, even
looking them up online and dropping fun guinea pig factoids into
our conversations. Gritting my teeth (I am *not* one of those
push-over moms, honestly I'm not!) I appealed to P, certain he
would back me up on our household's no guinea pig policy.
To my surprise, I was blindsided by my own fifth-column. P
informed me his brother had guinea pigs when they were growing
up--with the hilarious names of Pork Chop, Hambone and Rump Roast,
lol--and that they were terrific pets. I was skeptical, but a
little bit nudged.
A few days later I was having coffee with my friend S, a mom of
two boys, one gray cat and a cocker spaniel. Looking for backup, I
brought up the guinea pig issue. S enthusiastically told me they
also had a guinea pig (Peter Pan, in case you want to know) and
that it was really cute, not that much work, etc. You see where
this is going, right?
So my next hurdle was that the movie G-Force was coming out. I
told W&P that we were not going to contribute to a national
craze by joining hordes of irrational parents running out to buy
guinea pigs for their kids, only to lose interest in them a few
weeks later when they figured out that real guinea pigs do not
talk, drive cars or shoot guns. Remember the 101 Dalmatians
They counteracted by finding a Guinea Pig Rescue Web site
online. Don't laugh at the thing about parents running out to buy
their kids guinea pigs with unrealistic expectations and then
ditching them. Visit www.crittercorral.com and you will see HUNDREDS
of cute little guinea pigs, all abandoned.
The really sad thing is how many of them now say that they are
'not good around children'. I mean, a.) Don't you think that's
because someone's kid poked and prodded and dragged the poor thing
around until it finally had to defend itself? I would have bit a
few fingers, too. And b.) How many people out there WITHOUT
children are searching the internet for a pet guinea pig?
Critter Corral was a good hour or so away from us, allowing me
to put off making a decision. Then I got a fateful phone call from
S. She had just seen a newsletter from the Oak Park Animal Care
League and they had a guinea pig. Feeling the inexorable pull of
fate, P&I drove down Garfield Avenue in Oak Park on the way
home from work and stopped in.
Twinklebeam (they named her, not us) had been found by an Oak
Park resident wandering around on their lawn. Animal Control picked
her up and took her to the Animal Care League. She was orange and
white and fluffy with a little ruff of hair standing up on her
head. (yes, a lot like the one in G-Force) She was nervous, but
allowed herself to be coaxed out with some treats. When P deftly
scooped her up and handed her over to me, she snuggled into my arm
and started purring. Yes, that's right, guinea pigs PURR. Who knew,
right? She was homeless, adorable and, since we had previous
adoption history with the Animal Care League from Oreo, she could
be ours immediately for only $15. A real bargain, compared to the
$35 or so they charge for guinea pigs at PetSmart.
A few days and about $75 in supplies later Twinklebeam was part
of the family. I really had no idea guinea pigs had so much
personality. She recognizes each of us when we come in the room,
greets us with wheeks and runs joyously back and forth in her
Chewable Tunnel (known to us as 'the chube' or, using the verbal
form, as in 'Mom, come quick, the guinea pig is chubing!")
She begs for treats, bites of strawberry or apple, hopping and
jumping straight up into the air in the adorable action known as
'popcorning'. (Seriously, I dare you to see a guinea pig popcorn
and not be charmed by it.)
She runs on my son's bed while we clean out her cage and is a
sunny, cheerful presence. Recently when W had a nightmare, I was
able to get him to go back to sleep, by pointing out that guinea
pigs were nocturnal, and therefore Twinkle was awake and able to
keep an eye on things while he went to sleep.
I suppose the only downside is cleaning out the cage. Guinea
pigs poop a lot. But they are tiny, dry and not very stinky. I had
been worried about a smelly cage, but long before it bothers
me, Twinklebeam lets us know that the housekeeping is not
to her satisfaction. W&P both help with the cage, so I don't
even get stuck cleaning it every time.
Eli, Oreo, Joey and Stringer mostly ignore Twinklebeam. A few
times I have caught Joey up on the dresser, but the cage is secure
enough that I don't worry too much about it. Once I even found the
cat and guinea pig touching noses in a friendly way through the
bars. When I came in, they both turned and looked calmly at me, a
Peaceable Kingdom in miniature.
W's best friend J can't have pets. He has three siblings and one
sister and their dad have allergies. His sisters love to come over
and feed our cats if we go out of town and have shared W's dog
walking chore with him many times. When we got Twinklebeam, it was
an occasion for celebration, visiting, presents--almost like
bringing a new baby home, except no one made me a casserole.
But as W and his friend played on the bed with Twinklebeam, J
turned to me and said "You guys sure do have a lot of pets now." I
smiled and said that we sure did. He grinned back at me as
Twinklebeam purred in his arms. "That's really cool. I love coming
here. You're like the Pet Mom or something."
I smiled back and thought, "Yeah, I am like the Pet Mom or
something." And you know what? I am just fine with that.
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