Over the past few weeks, I’ve introduced you to some of the cats and dogs I’ve owned. Now it’s time to talk about one of my guinea pigs, and how my guinea pigs changed my life.
In 2001, a guinea pig became my first pet after moving away from home. In thinking about how best to tell Fruity’s story, I noticed some commonalities between it and the other articles I’ve written about pet ownership. They all seem to involve preconceptions, and they are all seem to revolve around how pets have changed my life.
“Guinea pigs don’t do anything.”
“Guinea pigs don’t show affection.”
“Guinea pigs are all the same.”
This is the kind of feedback I received when I told people of my desire to get a guinea pig, but my decision wasn’t one lightly made.
Although I had left my dog behind in Canada with my family, I viewed myself as already owning a dog. At that point, I had never cared for cats. Plus, just as many rentals refused cats, as well as dogs. In addition, I wasn’t looking for a pet with an expected lengthy lifespan, due to my not knowing how long I would stay in the United States.
Instead of one of these traditional pets, I started considering smaller “exotics”. After reading numerous pet guides, I narrowed my choice, and finally decided on guinea pigs because of their shy personality. This trait gave them something in common with me! Ironically, Fruity lived to just short of ninth birthday. That also ended up suiting me fine, because by then I had fallen for her and guinea pigs.
Every day with Fruity was a new adventure. I enjoyed introducing Fruity to new kinds of fruits and vegetables. Like other guinea pig owners, I quickly learned that lettuce is a mainstay. Fruity also liked carrots, peppers, celery, and cabbage. She seemed less fond of apples and oranges, often nibbling on them just enough to make a big sticky mess.
Although I never let Fruity roam freely from room to room—like some guinea pig owners let theirs—I did introduce her to the different areas of my duplex. I would put her in her carrier, bring her to a new room that I had guinea-pig-proofed by blocking off dangerous areas, and then let her out to roam. I found it fascinating how Fruity both explored right to the edges of her barriers, but also often bolted to the safety of her carrier.
My then boyfriend and now husband, Andy, and I built cardboard hideaways that we scattered about various rooms of my rental. Some of these hideaways just amounted to a box with holes that Fruity could enlarge through the art of chewing. Others were rows of boxes taped together, with connecting doors. Then there were the ones where we piled box upon box, connecting them to each other with cardboard stairs. Without fail, Fruity would gnaw the stairs until they were no longer usable. Finding creative new ways to put together boxes was always a fun way to spend a few hours. It was also an activity Fruity liked to watch.
As every pet owner knows, there’s also the fun of buying toys. Mostly I bought Fruity edible ones. I did once purchase a plastic guinea pig. Fruity sometimes butted it with her nose, but it never proved a great success. More popular with her were the simple things. That suited me fine, because these were also the economical ones. For example, Fruity liked to chew on paper and empty toilet paper rolls. She shared this in common with the guinea pigs that I later owned too.
The relationship we have with our pets is determined by the degree of our commitment to them. I always made an effort to spend time in my bedroom with Fruity, or bring her with me into whatever room I was in.
Fruity would scurry about my feet while I typed at the computer in the library. The sound of my voice on the phone caused her to jump with excitement. When I had a down moment, I often picked Fruity up to cuddle with her. My hair was a curiosity to her. Television (especially mysteries) would lull her to sleep in a blanket on my chest. I made it a habit to read to Fruity at bedtime, and she would tilt her head as if listening intently to each word. A pause in my reading might cause her to wheek, as if encouraging me to not stop.
Before Pudding came along, Fruity and I forged a strong bond. We had only each other. I was living alone at the time. I could lay her in my lap, on my stomach, on my shoulders, and she would curl up contentedly. In turn, Fruity at times showed a desire for me to stroke her nose and chin and even massage her stomach and feet. I felt fulfilled as a pet owner.
Guinea pigs, however, are known to be social animals. As the months passed, Fruity seemed to have days of feeling less than happy. Vet visits didn’t reveal any health problems, so I decided to buy a second guinea pig. I knew this might lessen my connection with Fruity, but I foremost valued her happiness.
Then there was the joy of making bigger and better homes. I researched online to find out how much space guinea pigs needed, and how to make a home-made cage. Andy and I made the girls a new cage that was about four times the size of the old one. At one point it had a second story. When Pudding died and Bumblebee came along, we created a divider so the pigs could be separated during feeding time to ensure each ate enough food. Each of my pigs loved scampering about their custom-designed home.
Fruity had shown me that even God’s smaller creatures can bring much activity and love into one’s life. With a second and third guinea pig I found that, contrary to what I’d been told by some, they each had a distinct personality . Over time I came to view Fruity as my laid-back senior lady. In contrast, Pudding had a tuft of hair that fit perfectly with her role tendency to be a scamp. But unfortunately a tumor ended her life at the age of five, and then came Bumblebee. Soon after Bumblebee’s arrival, I started to refer to her as my decorator. No matter how I arranged the cage contents, Bumblebee had better ideas about how the cage should look.
How did having guinea pigs change my life? As I noted earlier, I found it fascinating to watch Fruity. The same held true for my second and third guinea pigs. I began to chronicle their adventures in what became my first pet journal.
Although I had grown up with aspirations of being a writer, by my thirties I had walked away from those dreams, because lacked confidence. It’s hard to stop loving the craft though and so, after moving to Nebraska, I began to occasionally jot down random thoughts and descriptions on those long and lonely nights in my first years of being away from home. None of this ever amounted to much, however, until I started my pet journal.
One day I decided to turn those notes into stories. I even created sketches to go along with the tales. Soon I had an entire storybook. I printed it and had it spiral-bound, and shared my favorite guinea pig moments with my students. They kept asking for more and teachers even requested copies. Naturally this “fame” was fleeting, but something precious remained. My husband said it best when he told me that I should keep writing because it seemed to give me joy.
So I did keep writing, although initially just in spurts. I dabbled with writing for adults. I tried entering contests. Nothing really stuck, but I kept experimenting with formats. When I started writing reviews, this venture stuck. I also began dabbling with writing for young people. Two stories got published, as did some articles. I took on the intense commitment of working on a novel. My writing endeavors started to feel meaningful, with the latest being this blog.
In the spring of 2013, Bumblebee, the last of my three guinea pigs, died in my arms. I treasure greatly the season of my life when little squeaky furballs lived with me. All three guinea pigs gave me no end of adventure. They also let me love them, no small gift for creatures who must warm up to human touch. They had strong personalities; I couldn’t have written storybooks for Fruity and Pudding if they didn’t. My guinea pigs were also at least partially responsible for my journey back into the writing world. Or, in other words, for now being a pet education blogger.
I originally wrote this article in 2015. At that time, I had just begun to volunteer to work with cats. Now our family has three cats and we regularly foster kittens. I also run my own cat behavior consulting and training business, more of which you can find out about at Allison Helps Cats. You can also find Allison Helps Cats on most major social media platforms.