Friday, August 3, 2012

Snickers and Twix

Guinea pigs can end up in rescue too.

Although most responsible owners know better than to buy a dog or cat at a pet store (and, indeed, the very presence of dogs or cats for sale tends to signal that you're shopping at an unscrupulous and therefore lower-quality store), many people are not aware that pocket pets -- hamsters, rats, guinea pigs, and so forth -- also land in shelters and foster homes every day.

They're out there, waiting to be adopted. And many are better socialized and more amenable to handling than pet store animals, because they're being fostered by people who know the importance of regular human interaction and are capable of gently earning pocket pets' trust.

Last month, my elderly guinea pig Biscuit (shown here in happier times) passed away after six and a half years. He'd had cancer once before, but it was successfully removed by surgery and he lived another three healthy years before a new, more aggressive, and less operable cancer cropped up. Biscuit fought it for a surprisingly long time, but eventually he succumbed.

A few weeks later, we decided to adopt another pair of guinea pigs to fill the space that Biscuit left behind. His pen is quite a large one, and guinea pigs are social animals that do best in pairs or groups, so I opted to adopt a bonded pair. Besides, that way they could eat even more apple cores and carrot peelings than Biscuit disposed of on his own.

My first stop was at Morris Animal Refuge, the nearest local shelter, which occasionally has guinea pigs looking for new homes. They didn't have any when I checked, though, and the adoption coordinator suggested contacting Have-a-Heart Guinea Pig Rescue , a rescue partner with whom the shelter frequently worked.

There I saw Snickers and Twix, who were named "Meg and Jo" at the time. (Nobody, including the pigs themselves, knows which is which. Somehow that just seems beside the point.)

Snickers and Twix, along with almost a hundred other guinea pigs, came from an animal hoarder's home in Connecticut. Authorities busted the house and removed the animals, and rescue groups all along the East Coast split up the guinea pigs into twos and threes so that they could fit into foster housing. These two, who are almost certainly sisters from the same litter, are estimated to be about two and a half years old.

I filled out the adoption application, confirmed that they were still available, and drove out to New Jersey to meet them. An hour later, they were settled in the pen, occasioning great interest from Dog Mob.

Crookytail adopted the pigs almost immediately. He seems to think of them as "his pigs" and is extremely solicitous of Snickers and Twix; if the guinea pigs start whistling or wheeking, Crookytail will bolt awake from a nap, rush over to their cage, and nose them worriedly until they quiet down (which they usually do promptly, since they still get a little unnerved by being nosed by a giant furry predator).

It's been a couple of weeks now and they seem to be getting along well. Snickers and Twix are a lot younger than Biscuit was, and it's been a while since we've had such a symphony of pig noises echoing through the house. Crookytail's never heard such a thing, I think. He seems delighted by it, though, and if Pongu is largely indifferent, at least he doesn't seem to mind.

So here they are: Snickers and Twix, the newest additions to the menagerie.

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