Mary, Rosie, Billy, Buster, Willy, Poco, Figgy, Serge, Teddy and Stephen. Every guinea pig I’ve had. Now I have none.
Stephen passed away at the end of last week. It was horrible, sudden and shocking. Up until 6 weeks ago he lived with Teddy. Teddy came into my life when his previous owner handed him over to our vet as she couldn’t care for him anymore. He was really sick and the odds for him weren’t great. That was over 6 years ago and he lived a full and happy life with us, but 7 is a good age and one sunny day in October his heart gave out on him.
I was worried about Stephen, who has spent 4 years living with Ted, but he did not seem to give one single shit. He loved the company of the rabbits – running around the house with them, pop-corning and scurrying on his way. He would let out deafening wheeks every time a bag was rustled or the juicer was switched on; he climbed in the fridge every time it was opened, and oh did he love cuddles. Snuggling right into you he would purr contentedly. He has his favourite spots for sleeping, behind the bin or in the crockery cupboard but would always scooch back to his hutch when he needed a pee. He was Mr Perfect. With a cute bottom.
Last Wednesday he got ill. Two emergency vet trips for a diagnosis, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and vitamin C drops. Guinea pigs, like rabbits, need to graze constantly or the digestion shuts down (GI stasis) and floods the organs with toxins. Despite desperately hand-feeding baby food into him round the clock, at 7.30pm on Friday he passed away in my arms. I’m not ashamed to say I’m weeping as I type this.
People who aren’t animal people can’t understand my profound sorrow every time I lose one of my animal friends. They say well meaning things, tell me they had a good innings/a good life or they remind you it was just a pet and not like a human passing. I’ve said it before, because I love and fight for animals’ welfare it doesn’t mean I think they’re more important than humans. It just means my boundaries are wider and my capacity for compassion runs very deep.
I refuse to allow anyone to diminish my pain, even if they don’t understand it. Especially as all my animals have come into my life because they were either unwanted elsewhere or destined for a life of misery. Guinea pigs especially seem to be vulnerable. Owners not neutering, overcrowded cages mean more and more babies being born, a vicious circle of a lack of fresh and nutritious food and disease and more babies. I turn up like the hand of God and I choose which one(s) I can take on, and have to shut my mind to those I can’t.
My husband Harry has said that as the numbers of furry residents dwindle we should enjoy less responsibility and more money, see a bit more of the world. In many ways I agree, I’ve done a lot and made a difference to many little lives. But knowing I would never have pigs in my life again made my sadness even heavier. And then he said the next day to me – I don’t think our days of having piggies are over yet. We even talked tentatively about organising some sort of proper sanctuary in the future.
I never really wanted to go to India anyway.