We entered, and at the right, at the children's books section, there was a cage and on the base of it were words which spelled out, "Starshine The Library Guinea Pig". In the cage was a black and brown creature. I (I believe my sisters, too) came over to the cage to pet this guinea pig. It came right up to our fingers, very friendly and wanting to be stroked. I petted it, felt the soft fur, and I was immensely attracted to this little creature that was smaller than the two cats we had at home, but bigger than our two gerbils.
The librarian told us Starshine was a girl.
Well, of course, I told Mom and Dad I wanted a guinea pig. They said no.
I checked out several books from the library (the same one with Starshine) about guinea pigs, and how to care for them. I read and read and learned about the small animal with the rectangular body and floppy ears. I learned that guinea pigs needed regular teeth trimmings, that pellets with seeds and corn were essential, that alfalfa hay was wonderful, that it was best to house guinea pigs in a tank and you could use aquarium gravel as bedding.
Mom and Dad liked that I researched on guinea pigs, but they still said no. I put "I want a guinea pig" on my Christmas list, adding "P.S., if you get me one, can you get one with spots?" When Mom and Dad read that, they smiled at each other at their child's preciousness. I grinned at them and asked if they would get me a guinea pig?
They said no.
Around eight or nine years old, my interest in guinea pigs waned. I stroked Starshine The Library Guinea Pig whenever we came to the library (and that was often). But having one at home? Nah. My interest had turned to snakes. I read stacks of books on snakes, and put a snake on my Christmas list. Mom made a 'yuck' face, and my sister quavered (she used to be deathly afraid of that certain reptile), and Dad just laughed. So I knew my dream was doomed. My interest turned to dogs. Fortunately my family also loves dogs, so the rest is history.
So, we now had two cats and a Labrador (the gerbils had since passed away), and fish that kept coming in and out. Guinea pigs were not on my mind.
Until I was twelve. I began itching for a new pet. I wanted another dog, but this was met with a flat-out NO.
My knowledge of them was rusty, so I decided to check out the ever-reliable books at the library. I read and read. I checked the publication dates of the books. All the books were from the '80s and '90s. I think there were a couple from the '70s, too. I thought to myself, perhaps the information were a tad out-of-date?
So I turned to the internet.
I got on a few sites, and I read and read and learned. Aquariums were not advised. Cages were best. Timothy hay was recommended. And wherever I looked, I couldn't find any information on trimming guinea pigs' teeth, so I forgot that idea.
Mom and Dad had noticed me reading the books and spending hours hunched over the computer learning about guinea pigs, and they were impressed by my determination and caring. I never asked them whether I could have a guinea pig- they had said yes before I could.
And so, after months of research, and writing lists of what I would need to buy, and doodling guinea pigs, and dreaming, we (minus my dad) were at Petsmart, looking at the Small Animals section. There, below the hamsters and chinchillas, was a tank with two guinea pigs. I read the little sign pasted on the glass which said GUINEA PIG, female. Tidbits of information followed, such as that they lived 5-7 years, and they were ideal pets for children 8 years or older. And it also said, VET-GUARANTEED!
So, both of the guinea pigs in the tank were female. I squatted (really very uncomfortable) to eye level with the tank, and I studied the two guinea pigs. One of them was full-grown, and long-haired, orange colored. I passed that one- I didn't want a long-haired. I turned to the other one. This one was teeny, red colored with a white blaze and a dot on the top of its weeny head. She was short-haired.
I asked, by pointing, the Petsmart worker standing by (hey, you people who have bought animals from Petsmart, haven't you ever noticed how the workers hover over you, grinning, telling you how their animals are top-notch and encouraging you to buy, buy, buy? Aren't they kind of.... too eager? Too perky? Too creepy?) to hold that guinea pig.
She reached in the tank, and after a brief struggle, caught the furball. She handed her to me. I held her with both hands, as the websites had instructed, against my chest. Mom and my sisters oohed and ahhed. They said how CUTE she was. The pig held stock-still, not moving a muscle. I don't think even a hair stirred. Only her nose and whiskers twitched. Her black eyes popped.
My sisters wandered off to check out the hamsters. I kept on holding this guinea pig. I asked the grinning, perky Petsmart worker how old the pig was. She told me this pig was four weeks old.
Mom asked me, do you want her? I said yes.
I was in love.
Mom and I both nodded to the worker. She was delighted. She took the pig from me, and I felt like I had just suffered a loss. She put the pig in a cardboard box, which as somebody on the forum once pointed out, looked like a McDonald's lunch box. The worker punched out airholes and gave the box to me. I put it down onto the bright red Petsmart shopping cart. I could feel her little feet scrabbling in the cardboard.
Upon arriving home, I began setting up the 2- feet long purple cage I had bought from Petsmart moments after purchasing Pooka- that was what I had named my pig- in my bedroom. I lined the cage with newspaper and filled it up with carefresh, which all the sites had praised, and poured Kaytee forti-diet pellets into a purple plastic bowl. I tried to fit the purple (it's my favorite color, all right?) igloo in the cage, but it took up more than half the space, so I put it aside. I filled up the screw-top water bottle (which later leaked, by the way), and I put handfuls of Kaytee hay in the cage. The hay was curiously straw-like, and dusty.
Pooka's palace was ready.
I gently pulled Pooka from the cat carrier I had brought along in the car. I put Pooka into the cage, closed the door, pulled up a chair, and watched my new pet huddle in a corner for, I think, a half hour.
I would've stayed longer, but Mom called me down to dinner.
I loved Pooka. And gradually, Pooka began to, if not love me, accept me. She became used to the new surroundings, but she still ran from my hands. I didn't mind. I knew guinea pigs were flighty creatures, and I hadn't chosen the pet for their cuddliness.
Some time, I think weeks, later I was surfing the net for more guinea pig sites. My desire to learn more, to understand guinea pigs more was not fulfilled by the websites that sounded professinal, formal, cold. I already know all the INFORMATIVE sites, I thought. Now I want to find sites that LOVED guinea pigs.
On a random search, I found a link to a site called GuineaLynx.
Overwhelming. I think that's basically the word to describe my feelings, my mind as it processed all the this new information.
Guinea pigs needed to be kept in pairs!
I had fed Pooka the wrong vegetables! Carrots, cucumbers, apples! They were only supposed to be given as TREATS.
Cages? Petstore cages were, in short, a sin.
Then I clicked on the link to CavySpirit.com.
If GuineaLynx was overwhelming, this site was mind-blowing.
I think the screen reached out and slapped me when I clicked on the "why I should not breed" page, and I never once even thought of breeding Pooka.
I went into the sister site, CavyCages.com.
This time, I fell out of my chair.
I went upstairs and after grabbing Pooka, I hugged her.
Wow. I wasn't dismayed. My spirit soared. I was delighted. I had, at last, understood guinea pigs.
After weeks of reading and reading and learning all over again, I decided one thing. I needed to get Pooka a friend.
Now this was a bit of a dilemma. Cavy Spirit and GuineaLynx screamed you must ADOPT, not BUY. I looked around, checked the yellow pages, and there wasn't a shelter in my area. So, I decided- cringing inside- to buy (it had become a curse word by then) a guinea pig from a pet store.
I printed out the "why your guinea pig needs a friend" pages from CavySpirit. Armed, I approached Mom. I literally went on my knees (she was reclining on the couch, so this isn't as dramatic as it sounds) and handed her the golden pages.
When she finished reading, she stared at me. I don't remember her exact words, but I think it was something like "all right" and "we'll have to show Dad this" and "we'll see" and "yes" all at once.
I don't remember Dad's reaction either, but I think he basically shrugged his shoulders, whatever, and went on eating dinner.
This had gone on much better than I had anticipated.
First, we went to a local pet store. There were about five cages full of guinea pigs. There were also chinchillas, ferrets, hamsters, rats, and hedgehogs, but I wasn't interested in any of them.
The worker (she was less annoying than the one at Petsmart, but she was still too eager) told me which two cages were of females. I spied an adult, calico (all right, E, a tortiseshell and white) and very fat. I asked to hold that one. The worker handed her to me. I held her. My sister and Mom petted her. I petted her.
The worker told me she was pregnant. She also told me her age, but I don't remember it.
I was not interested.
I shook my head at Mom.
The worker hastily wrote that I could buy the pig, take her home, and after she gave birth, I could give the babies back to the pet store.
I shook my head and gently lowered the pregnant guinea pig back to her cage. Her roommate came over and sniffed her.
The worker looked deflated.
I was ready to go.
Some time later, perhaps a week or so, we were at Petsmart.
Before, I had entered this store (any pet store, actually) with a sense of excitement. I loved the smell that hit at the entrance, the smell of animals and pet food and new dog toys. I loved to press my nose to the tanks full of small furry animals. I loved looking at the colorful birds. I observed, fascinated, the hundreds of different fish, big and small, colorful and plain, swimming serenely in the tanks, completely satisfied with the world, with their three-minute memory span.
Now, though, my stomach sank as soon I went through the doors. I was disgusted with the people pulling along their dogs. I stared at the brats tapping the glass tanks, making the fish jerk. I studied the zombie workers, with their eagerness and perkiness. One thing I looked away from, though, and always had, even as a little kid, were the adoptable cats looking depressed and bored through the bars of their cages.
We were at Petsmart. We headed towards the small animals section. Before, I loved looking at them. Now I couldn't even glance their way without feeling guilt and pity.
There was a very large tank of guinea pigs, still all-female, still all Vet-Guaranteed. There were couple of pigs milling around that I could see. There were also two igloos. I could see there were some pigs in them, so I turned to the hovering worker, who, I was pleasantly surprised to discover, could sign. That is, he could do American Sign Language. My family and I are deaf, so this would make it easier to communicate. Saves paper and pens' ink, yeah?
I asked the worker to lift the igloos. He did so. Guinea pigs spilled out. There were must have been more than a dozen. From the looks of it they all had been crammed together, one stacked atop another in the igloos.
I looked at all of them, feeling a bit overwhelmed. Before, I only had to choose between two, and the decision was a piece of cake. This time, there were so many, most of them small. There were some adults though, which looked sluggish, being hunched over. I immediately dismissed them as potential friends for Pooka.
My sister pointed out one. My other sister pointed out another. Mom stood by. I looked, and my eye caught a particular pig. This one was tiny, white, with brown spots.
( "P.S., if you get me one, can you get one with spots?")
I pointed to that one. The worker, reached in, grabbed a wrong one. I shook my head no, keeping on pointing. He tried again. This time, his target was the right pig. He grabbed, the pig slipped out and sailed around the cage, dodging his hands, pushing past the other pigs, tipping over igloos, and kicking up Carefresh bedding as she went.
I was liking this pig more and more.
Eventually, though, human intelligence won out in the end, and Pixie (I had already named her in my mind) was caught. He handed her over to me. I held her. She was like a feather, she was so light. Unlike Pooka who could have been a wax statue for all she had moved, Pixie ran out of my hands, over my shoulder, and she tried to go around my neck, but I caught her in time. I held her firmly. I asked the worker her age, and he said that she was six weeks old.
My sisters wrinkled their noses. They pointed out other guinea pigs to me. One of them was touched by a gray pig with red eyes. She said to me, trying to win me over, that no one else might want her for her eyes' color.
I shook my head and my grip tightened on the trembling Pixie. I said to Mom, I'm getting this one. She looked skeptical. She asked me if I was sure.
I bought a bigger cage, another water bottle, new hidey (which they eventually grew out), another food dishes. The works.
When we arrived home, after flashing Pixie at my Dad, holding out the carrier for our dog to sniff, I went upstairs to set up the whole thing in my sister's bedroom.
I had to leave the next day for a weekend sleepover at my friend's, so I entrusted Pixie's care to my sister.
After six days of quarantine (I was too excited to wait the whole two weeks. Two weeks are, believe me, an eternity to wait when you know both of your pigs are lonely!) I introduced Pooka and Pixie.
I laid out towels in a (empty!) bathtub, and put a bunch of timothy hay- still Kaytee's, I'm afraid- in.
The stage was set.
Now to add the pigs.
I held Pixie, my sister held Pooka. I told her to put Pooka in first. After she did, I put Pixie in.
Mom leaned forward on the toilet, as excited as I was. I sat on the edge of the tub. My sister stood by.
The show- and that's what it was, a show- had begun.
CavySpirit's "introducing your pigs" pages were on the sink counter, by the way.
Pooka, always the one for food, edged over to the hay. Pixie followed. There was the general sniffing and circling around. Pixie shook her bottom a lot. At one point, she mounted Pooka. I about fell off the edge of the tub. Pooka ran out under her. Some more sniffing. Then they decided the other was quite uninteresting, and they dove in the hay.
I now could breathe normally.
Eventually, I found out about Craig's List and Petfinder. Like everyone here who has bought from a petstore says, regret for buying, but no regret for getting your guinea pig.
Now that Pooka and Pixie were together, their personalities began to show more. Or at least, Pixie's did. She began to be more affectionate, revealing to be a nipper and a licker. She purrs and rumblestrutts all the time. She demands attention, standing up on two legs, front paws curled over the bars, pink lips wanting to be kissed. This came out even more since I got them a C&C cage. Pooka, however remains the same since the day I first held her at Petsmart. Still, steady, eyes popping. Pooka licks my finger more often now, though. And sometimes Pooka will look up at me, seeming to ask to be petted. Of course, whenever I reach in, she ducks back into her igloo.
Over the past three years, my care has changed gradually, matured, you might say. Their petstore cages are now looked upon disdainfully, and are replaced with a 2x3 C&C cage (I love you, Teresa. We guinea pig lovers must erect a statue in your honor) with a 1x1 hayloft. Cute, I know. I'll be expanding soon.
The kaytee hay was tossed, replaced by Kleenmama's drugged hay (I suppose you'll have to have your own statue. Or perhaps you'd rather have your face carved on a mountain?).
I cut out pellets entirely, and feed Pooka and Pixie only the finest, greenest lettuce and assorted veggies. Carrots, cucumbers, and apples are now fed on a minimum.
Carefresh is out, and I now use pine bedding. I moved the cage down to the living room.
One thing has remained the same, though- and always will- my love for Pooka and Pixie.
One more thing- Starshine The Library Guinea Pig has passed away. I can't remember when she did. Years ago, anyway. Now there is a male, a longhaired white-gray with pink ears. He bites whenever I stick my finger in to pet him. His cage says Sammy The Library Guinea Pig.
I think I'll go and hug Pooka and Pixie now.
Motaro, as I said, I don't regret my getting my much-loved guinea pigs, but I do regret buying and supporting a petstore. It's a wonderful feeling, their licking and nipping. But a bit weird, yes, to think a creature's tongue can be that teeny. :)