After 13 years of having first hamsters, then graduating to rats, it was time for a change. Dealing with at least one loss every couple of years in a regular cycle had taken its toll. I realised rats live precisely long enough to absolutely break your heart when they leave. No pet ever lives long enough but 2-3 years maximum was just too little time.
In January '09 I was down to one rat, his one-time cagemate had passed a month earlier and Russell was nearing the end too. My 12 year old talking budgie, Finlay, had passed the year before. He had literally kept me sane during bad points in my life and I had known he would be my last budgie and I knew Russell was the last rat. But where to go now? I have never not had a pet.
The block of flats I live in doesn't allow dogs. I'd thought for a while about a cat but, as it would have to be an indoor cat, I realised after cat-sitting for a week (with the rats locked away in my bedroom) that my flat is just too small. A rabbit then? I did some reading and decided they weren't for me. The tendency to moodiness and destruction didn't appeal. I know not all bunnies are like that, but you have to ask yourself if you can handle the worst before diving in. So, what about guinea pigs?
I had a guinea pig called Pugsley when I was 12. I'd fought a war with my parents to get him. They said I could have him if he lived outside, I said I didn't want him if he wasn't in the house - preferably my bedroom. I won. He lived to be 5 years old and the more I thought back, the more I remembered his funny popcorning, wheeking and supreme cuddliness. I missed having a cuddly pet. Rats are hugely interactive, but I never had a cuddly one, mine were all Much Too Busy. I'd also taken in a neglected guinea pig, Basil, from my boss 10 years before. She only lived a few weeks with me before having to be PTS. She was terrified, malnourished, had mites, fungus, and a URI that turned to pneumonia. She didn't have the reserves to fight it. I never really bonded with her, but I gave her the best chance and care I could. I still had an indoor hutch thing I'd kept her in...
I did more reading. Ok, guinea pigs it is. Times had changed since my initial piggy days and I knew I'd have to get a pair. Where apart from pet shops (I had many run ins with pet shops during the rat days and really did not want to go down that road again) does one find guinea pigs? I tried googling for rescues but that only came up with Thistle Cavies (which is a long drive from Edinburgh and I can't drive) or various breeders. On to Gumtree I went. Within a day or so, 2 male pigs with what I thought then was a massive cage (ha!) were being offered for £30. I emailed and waited. Days passed with no reply. No more pigs came on to Gumtree. So I started googling again and reading forum threads and found one mentioning Paws Here. Perfect! So there was a small animal rescue here all this time and I never knew! Moreover they do boarding for holidays - something I'd always had difficulty finding. I emailed and waited again.
The waiting was killing me so I phoned after only a day. Yes they had piggies, they had reservations about my hutch thingy being big enough but if the pigs were able to free-range by day it could be made to be suitable, pop in and have a chat and meet the pigs. I got to reading as much as I could on pig care overnight. I was too excited to sleep. Bright and early next morning, I arrived at the rescue eager to start my pig adventure. They had 4 pairs of boars. Luckily I had my heart set on boars, if possible. Merely because I like people-names for pets and boy names are more fun for me. One pair was reserved and another were young and had been fighting so were being held back to see if they could live together or needed new cagemates. So only two pairs to choose from, much easier.
The first pair were roughly 3 years old. A blonde sheltie (with the cutest face!) and a chocolate crested who looked annoyed, as cresteds do. They were gorgeous and very tame, content to be held etc. They'd been outgrown as kids' pets. I kind of like a challenge and worried they might be too easy. Also my reason for changing species was to have longer with my pets and these guys were already middle-aged. Then again, they deserved a new home like anyone else and they were utterly gorgeous. Argh, I dunno, let me meet the other pair. So two wriggling, jumping, squealing 8-week-old youngsters were brought out. The white one was clambering all over me, scratching the hell out of my neck looking for a 'safe place' behind my neck and the strangely tufted agouti was frozen in fear. The white one eventually settled on my lap with his front paws on my hand and the agouti seemed calmer with his friend calm. I lifted the white one from my lap to see his face better and burst out laughing. There was something just comical in his expression. Then, because his friend was no longer beside him, the agouti let go a ginormous fear-pee all over my crotch making it look like I'd wet myself which made me laugh again. Two laughs in two minutes? These were the boys for me. I felt bad for the other two though and asked to hold them again. I expressed worry that they would be harder to home than youngsters. I was assured that I should take whoever spoke to me and felt right, not just because they made me feel guilty and that however long it took, they'd be cared for until the right home would come along for everyone. I couldn't deny it to myself. I'd totally fallen for the young 'uns.
I'd intended reserving that day and coming back the next to collect them once I'd made full preparations at home, but I couldn't leave without my new boys. I was in love, smitten, with a grin on my face and had stars in my eyes. So I bought hay, bedding and pellets at the rescue and nipped to the nearby greengrocers for veggies. I already had bottles and bowls cleaned and ready at home.
Let the new chapter of my life commence!
Seeing how small they were compared to the toilet roll tube cracks me up now. I wish I'd taken more baby pictures. They were sooo jumpy at every move I made though.
Here are their first mugshots taken the day after I got them.
Within seconds of me taking the picture, Stephen made a mad scramble for freedom and tried to kamikaze off the sofa. I caught him in time. Then he wriggled free when I was kneeling to put him back in the hutch. Half an hour of trying to appear calm while actually being hugely flustered ensued as I tried to get him out from under the sofa. He often sat like a gerbil or squirrel to escape should the evil Hands In The Sky try to molest him and would leap directly upwards to escape.
By sitting very still and becoming a nom-nom dispenser, they soon learned I wasn't that bad though.
But what to do about the hutch. It took me less than a week to be completely exasperated with it. It was front opening so every time I opened it, panicked piggies would send clouds of bedding and hay all over the floor, it needed cleaning daily (I had forgotten how much pigs poop and pee), I couldn't see in properly and most importantly, from the juvenile rumblings and scuffles I could hear - IT WAS NOWHERE NEAR BIG ENOUGH. I knew large rabbit cages cost a lot, but it was also my birthday in 3 weeks time and I knew if I wanted something really expensive, friends and family would contribute. Time to get window shopping. Well, we all know what site comes up when you google 'guinea pig cage'. I had never seen such fabulous cages. Even if they cost as much as a pet shop one, I wanted one of those C&C whatsits. They looked fantastic. Then I found out the price of making one. Hallelujah!
"If I sit very still it might leave me alone."
"What's that thing? You're going to eat me aren't you?"
I ended up giving over my birthday to the pigs that year. My main gifts were a set of grids, some fleece, some old towels and some 'acquired' estate agent boards. All of which I got early because the pigs needed them. The coroplast (correx as it is here) couldn't be delivered until a few days after everything else so I fashioned a temporary 2x3 in the meantime. And that was when my boys truly showed who they were. Stephen's busy, curious yet nervous nature became apparent as did Alan's confidence and laid back attitude. There were zoomies, popcorns and much excitement. Then when they got worn out they had a nap. I had never seen piggies sleep properly before, I was like a kid watching them. Due to the cages I'd had before, you disturbed the inhabitants by trying to see. Watching my boys snooze is still one of my favourite things to do. I bought them a bunny bed from the petstore-that-must-not-be-named. To my delight they immediately knew exactly what it was for. Well, Alan did and Stephen followed.
I'd been all over GPC poring over photos and info and had seen piggies in that pose, but that photo of Alan was my very first experience of the saxxy leg.
Within a week I had built my cage properly. Oh how I cursed and swore at the coroplast. Due to the size of the sheet and my lack of outside space, I had to move all the living room furniture to have room to work with it.
The boys first day in the pigpen.
My cage cost a mere £38 to make. When I finished, I emailed photos to my Dad so he could admire my handiwork. Back in the day, he had made me a two-storey cage for Pugsley that we thought was the bee's knees. It was, at the time. When he saw what I had now he got straight on the phone. He thinks it's the best thing ever. We both feel guilty about how little space old Puggles really had back then, but we did the best we knew at the time and he was the only guinea pig I knew who even lived indoors. I just have to remind myself of that sometimes.
I decided to take photos of their birthday tea. I should have thought that through. It's dark here by 4pm just now (they get fed around 6), the lighting in my flat is terrible for photos, I forgot to borrow my mate's camera so I had to use my phone and pigs + food + terrible camera = blurry photos. Doh! I figured it'd be cheating to do it another day so I soldiered on. I'll get better shots for their adoption anniversary in February.
This kind of set the scene for the level of cooperation they were willing to grant me. Then Stephen chewed a hole in the card. *sigh*
"Mum, you've kissed a dent in my poor widdle head."
"Yeah, I dunno how I got so cute either."
Their birthday 'cake'. Alan ate both 'candles'.
Eating. Serious piggy business.
A short video of much contented munching.