Requiem for a Guinea-pig

Wednesday July 8, 2020

It was my daughter’s tenth birthday – six years ago now.

What she really, really wanted for her birthday was a guinea-pig.

She had been asking for the last eighteen months; she had presented to her father a six-page document on why she should have one – with detailed research on breeds, housing, costs, husbandry routines etc. This was not a passing whim; our animal-mad daughter really, REALLY, wanted a guinea-pig.

And yes, for all you who know about guinea-pigs, you know she had asked for two, not just one: guinea-pigs are herd animals – they need companionship.

So, there we were, almost six years ago, peering into a sawdust-filled cage at four baby guinea-pigs. Three of them were brown and white and one of them, smaller than the others, slower than the others, was a ball of soft golden fur.

Oh, we tried to get her to choose the matched pair of harlequin patched boys, but no - her heart was set on the little gold one.

So, we took Nugget home, And Patchy – because you must never keep just one guinea-pig.

It soon became clear that Nugget was a “special” guinea-pig. One eye bulged more than the other and he was obviously blind in that eye. One ear was limp and floppy, and he couldn’t hear on that side. He grew slowly and had poor muscle tone: he was a learning-disabled guinea-pig. We took him to the vet, who smiled with sympathy. “He was probably starved of oxygen when he was born,” she said.

“So – what should we expect?” we asked anxiously.

The vet kept a straight face. “I don’t think you should expect him to learn his ABC,” she said, “And higher mathematics will probably be beyond him.”

It took us a moment, and then we got it: Nugget was a guinea-pig – it didn’t matter that he was “special”; he could just be a guinea-pig and we would love him all the same.

And we did; for nearly six years.

Last Thursday we had to say goodbye to our special boy. He had a stroke in the night and the vet said there was nothing she could do. The only thing was to let him go in peace and with love. Guinea-pigs live for between five and eight years; he had done well – especially for one with his condition.

We buried him in a corner of the garden with honour and with tears. He may have been “just” a guinea-pig, but we loved him.

And, life goes on. Patchy, his hutch-mate, misses him. As I said above, guinea-pigs are herd animals and so we need to find a companion for Patchy. Of course, the new guinea-pig will not be a “replacement” for Nugget, but we will find a new place in our hearts for him or her.

I think this is the message Nugget has for us: life goes on. Patchy needs another hutch-mate. We need another guinea-pig to love.

We go on.

And we love.

A Moodscope member.

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