Friday, May 6, 2011
I confess: I may have been wrong. OK, let’s strike “may have been.” I was wrong.
About two years ago, I stumbled upon a cavy convention in downtown Macungie, a gathering of individuals (mostly middle-aged women who eschewed Michael Kors for elastic-waist shorts) doting on dozens and dozens of guinea pigs. They dolled some in clothes, led some on leashes, prepped ‘em to strut their small-mammal stuff down the cavy walk.
It was a Twilight Zone experience, to say the least.
Walking away, I couldn’t help but shake my head, roll my eyes.
You see, growing up, I never was an animal kind of girl. We bred spaniels, and I owned a few box turtles, salamanders, a hermit crab. But fluffy animals that wore tiny hats and vests? Creatures that I’d be more likely to eat than treat? It wasn’t happening.
Fast-forward 18 months. Christmas, 2010. Annie’s friend couldn’t afford to regularly pay her heating bill. Thus, Michelle began seeking temporary homes for her collection of pets, lest they freeze in her frigid apartment. Somehow, I was selected for cavy duty.
Within two days of my reluctant shrug, Mr. Cuddles arrived in his cage. I snarled at the package and made the girls double pinkie-swear that if I paid for the rodent’s food and bedding, they were wholly responsible for his feeding and upkeep.
Yep, they agreed.
Their promise lasted a week.
Soon, I began to notice Mr. Cuddles’ little turds pile up. He ran out of water. He started squealing for food. I felt as though I was continuously texting Annie: “Clean the animal.” Somehow, she was always busy. She’d promise to stop by the next day.
But the truth is that the next day rarely came, and I have a highly sensitive sense of smell. I can detect a noisome aroma with the smallest of whiffs. And damn, I could smell the lingering and festering stench of the hay that lined the bottom of the cage.
I closed the door to Annie's room, but I knew the truth.
I had to clean his cage.
And on that first day of mucking the stalls, the chocolate-brown ball of hair ran in crazy circles. It skittered away, kicked the mess on to the floor, head-butted my hands. This went on for weeks. It bit me whenever it could, and so I started to despise it. I cajoled the girls into giving it carrots, just so that I wouldn’t have to see it. They agreed, but the novelty soon wore off. I’d have to be the Queen of the Cavy.
By February, I stopped referring to the critter as Mr. Cuddles. My nose and I became so frustrated with the situation that I couldn’t even remember that it was a guinea pig. “Guinea pig” sounded so cute and playful. By March, I was calling it “that rat.” By April, I referred to it as “that thing.” Sometimes, I called it “that hairball.”
His newness disappeared; no one paid attention to it. Slowly, however, I began to feel bad for it, especially after Annie said that no guinea pig had ever lived under Michelle’s care as long as Mr. Cuddles had.
So one day, I tried to pick him up. He panicked. In circles he sprinted as I tried to grab his silky body. Finally, I spooked him into a corner, scooped him up, brought him close to my chest. He began to purr as he closed his eyes. It wasn’t too bad, I figured. I looked for some advice online. I asked for ideas from a friend whose sister has a bevy of cavy. I offered it kale. (He turned his nose.) I offered him treats. (He pushed them aside.) I offered celery. (Major snub.)
I even took the advice of cleaning the cage more often, in a way I never imagined I would: scooping out his daily droppings with a plastic spoon. How did I ever end up here, scouring Timothy hay for morsels of waste? Heck, how did I even know about Timothy hay?
I don’t know.
But I think it started the day when I was petting him and he turned his head, as if he wanted his ears scratched. And so I gently scratched them. Then he turned around, as in “rub my rear.” And so I did. He lifted his hind quarters in seeming bliss. After I stopped that day, he ran to the side of the cage, stood on his hind legs, and watched me leave. When I was just out of view and nearly out the door, he began squealing loudly. As I peaked back in, he stopped. We played this back-and-forth peek-a-boo for a few minutes.
I knew then that I love this cavy.
Now, five months after his arrival, I hear him call me as I lumber up the stairs. (Yes, he knows it’s me.) And I’ll peak in. And he’ll stick his front paws out of the cage, beckoning for ear scratching and rump rubbing. And I’ll give in like the ladies at the convention, doting on him for all of his fragility, his quick feet, his warm eyes.
Granted, I won’t be dressing him up in a cowboy hat and vest, but I will love this little man until I can love him no longer.