This week Alfalfa’s Adventures feature guest blogger Ginger Shekell. Ginger and her family have what I would call a bit of a ‘zoo’ at home. Like all animal lovers she and her family could not resist the call of dogs or the wheeks of guinea pigs. She tells a wonderful story of her family’s love of animals. More importantly she exemplifies why all pets should have a friend. Ginger and her family’s story is one of love and beauty. She is an excellent example of why we love our pets. Enjoy. – Kerry Anne
“A Family’s Love Story ”
By: Ginger Shekell
Up until January 2014, I had 8 pets; 2 dogs and 6 guinea pigs. When my family and I moved into this house in 1997, I was adamant that there would be no pets. The goldfish ‘life extension program’ was enough and I wanted nothing more to do with the ending of a pet’s life. The following is a four part series of how I ended up with 8 pets when the original plan was done.
It began several months after moving into our new home, our next-door neighbor got a puppy who, when outside, would joyously greet us when we returned home. The children begged for a dog so I did some research as to the best kind of dog for the family and off to the SPCA we went.
We found Sugar who fit our requirements perfectly only to find out that another family had placed a hold tag on her. The children were heartbroken, however, the girls and I were leaving for vacation the next day and I explained that this was for the best. I left word with the SPCA as to what kind of dog we were looking for and the next day the three of us left for Florida. We had been there for several days when my husband called me to let me know that the SPCA had left a message for us. They had 2 puppies come in that fit what we were looking for. The girls were so excited and we flew home three days early on a Sunday afternoon.
Monday could not come fast enough! Both girls were up early and we had to wait until the SPCA opened at 10 to go and see the puppies. The minute little ‘Princess’ was placed in front of us, the collective” aaaAAWWWEeeee!!” let my husband know that this little girl was coming home with us.
Sarah Elizabeth Princess Puppy has been with us since she was 10 weeks old – June 1998 and she is now 16 years old. Sarah was nearly housebroken when she came home with us and was adorable in every single way. Once she was housebroken, she had the run of the home when we were out. One of the girls had candy in her room and one day returned home to find that Sarah had gotten into the candy, bringing some of it downstairs. The scene in the living room was priceless; Sarah had unwrapped a Charms Blow-pop, spread the wrapper out with her paws and was holding the stick between her paws licking the delicious cherry pop.
One Christmas, Sarah ate half a bag of dark chocolate kisses. We waited anxiously while the emergency vet treated her and then days later, picked up puppy piles speckled with colorful foil pieces. Sarah had been with us about a year when we realized she might be lonely. In March 1999, my dad had gotten a puppy from a co-worker who lived near us. As it so happened, the female was again pregnant and due in early July. Seth Edward was born July 7th and came home to live with us 8 weeks later. His story is the next segment.
Seth was to have spent the night in the crate; however, because his cries filtered through the closed doors upstairs, the oldest daughter had other plans. She crept downstairs and “rescued him” every night unbeknownst to me until one night I caught her bringing him upstairs. Seth slept in the corner of her bed every night until she graduated from high school and he moved over to Mommy & Daddy’s bed.
Seth was a small dog; 15 lbs soaking wet. When he was sound asleep he tripled in size taking up 2/3 of the lower half of the bed. His two jobs were to “wake up your girl!” and “say goodnight to your girl”. Seth was very chatty and had an opinion about everything. Everything he saw out of the front door, off the deck or out the front bay window was “his territory”. He was Daddy’s dog; greeting him every evening when Daddy came home from work. Around 4PM each day, Seth would lay in the front window waiting for the car to come up the driveway and go into the garage. He would race around trying to find a toy and run to the interior door to give his ‘gift’ to Daddy; jumping up for a quick kiss. He attacked squeaky toys with a vengeance; no soft bear or rubber hamburger was safe from Seth’s wrath.
When I was clearing the area underneath the bed waiting for delivery of a new one, I found the carcasses of 18 toys, the stuffing and of course, the dreaded squeaker. Supposedly non-destructible toys were purchased to defer his attention from the soft ones that Sarah loved. Seth managed to incur some damage on most of them. His favorite activity would be to lay on the back of the couch, bark if the blinds were not opened enough so he could look out onto his territory then leap 5 feet from the back of the couch into the middle of the living room floor, snatch up a rope chew toy and then run laps up and down the stairs, around the island in the kitchen, launching himself back onto the couch and repeat the process.
So in December 2007, when a cute little wheeker named Maxi came to stay for the week while her family went away, he was very curious about this new guest, as was Sarah. Maxi was a beautiful Dalmatian guinea pig that loved to be petted, grapes and learned to love the kisses of both dogs. That is the next part of the story.
Maxi was supposed to stay with us for a week over winter break December 2007. I knew nothing about guinea pigs so in a mad rush; I searched the Internet for any information on proper care so that I would not do something stupid while she was in my care. Each day I sent photos of her activities that my daughter and I were doing with Maxi to her family so they knew she was having fun and being well cared for. The family returned and everyone went back to work and school, I asked the mom if she was ready to have her family pet back. “Well, here’s the thing. The kids think that Maxi was better taken care of at your house than she was at ours and they were afraid to hold her. If you’ would like to keep her, she is yours.”
Now the youngest daughter had been asking if she could have a ‘pocket pet’ and I said “no”. I knew that just as it was with the dogs, I would eventually end up taking care of them and I did not want that responsibility on top of everything I already had. What I didn’t count on was falling in love with this adorable little lady. She would purr, chirp, wheek and chutt chutt chutt as she trotted along in her cage. She would stand up on her little legs to get kisses from both Seth and Sarah. Often Seth would try to climb into her cage to snag a piggy poop snack or snuggle in the cuddle cup to take a nap.
When she was sitting on our lap, Sarah would climb up onto the love seat and wash Maxi from nose to butt; Maxi would fall asleep most times. Once Maxi was officially ours, I returned to the Internet to find a friend for her because I knew she would need one. I found a rescue that was in our area and they had a very handsome pig named Milo. I completed the adoption application for Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and before I knew it, I was invited to a meet to see if Maxi thought Milo was as wonderful as I did. Sure enough, Milo came home and now there were 2 guinea pigs and 2 dogs.
Things were just fine and the more I read about guinea pigs, the more my daughter and I thought that we’d like to try for a trio. We found a sweet little female named Snowball who was a PEW (pink-eyed white) and utterly adorable. Again we adopted from MGPR and everything went well for the first few weeks. One morning I came downstairs to find the girls at opposite ends of their very large 3×5 C&C cage chattering teeth and lots of Maxi’s fur scattered throughout the cage.
Milo was hiding in one of the huts avoiding both ladies. There were several suggestions made to try to re-bond the trio, however, none of them worked and to avoid stressing them further, I reluctantly removed Snowball from that cage, built her cage and adopted her boyfriend Charlie from the rescue. Everyone was happy and there were now 4 guinea pigs and 2 dogs in my house.
Snowball quickly because the loudest pig in the house. When it was time to eat, you knew it. I swear that pig could tell time because at 4:03 each day, she’d start until food came. When she didn’t like the hay, she’d pull the hayrack down and make it inedible. Maxi still chutt chutt chutted all over the cage, Milo loved to be cuddled like a baby and have his belly rubbed and Charlie was just a chill pig. This was how 2008 ended and stayed that way until fall of 2009.
November 2009 the week before Thanksgiving, Maxi became very ill and I had to put her to sleep before my youngest was able to get home from college to say goodbye. Maxi was 6 at best our estimate. This was a terrible time and I knew Milo needed a friend immediately as he was very depressed. Once again, I turned to the rescue and found a very lovely little 4-month-old named London was cleared for adoption. I drove Milo 90 minutes north to Hanover, PA to the rescue member’s home and he couldn’t stop following this little cutie around once he met her. Her sweet freckled nose and her long silky skirt made her irresistible and she became Ms. LuLu.
Around the same time, Charlie began to have some upper respiratory problems that required increasingly stronger and more frequent antibiotics as time went on. Things seemed to be ok until June of 2010 when Milo developed very fast growing malignant tumors in his lymph glands under his chin. Surgery was performed in July and the doctor removed everything he could see, however, the cancer had already spread to other areas and Milo passed away in September at the age of 2 1/2.
In October, Charlie’s respiratory issues returned with fatal results; he was almost 3. Ms. LuLu had been separated from Milo while he recovered from surgery because she wouldn’t leave his incision alone so when hepassed away, she seemed unaffected. When Charlie passed, Snowball retreated into her pigloo and would not come out. It was imperative that she meet a new friend right away so once more I contacted the rescue and Snowball found the handsome Killian to be her guy.
Ms. LuLu, previously unaffected by the loss of her mate, suddenly realized that there WERE more pigs on the planet and demanded that she get a new friend. Once more I applied for another adoption and Oliver came home. You would think that I would be done adopting; I thought I was done adopting but that’s where we would both be wrong.
For nearly a year, I had been a part of the guinea pig rescue, helping out at the adoption meets, participating in bonding, processing paperwork, helping adopters get back to their cars with their supplies, etc.. Every other month when the meet was held locally, I got to see two of my favorite guinea pig ladies – Starshine and Spunky Girl.
These two ladies were the sweetest girls I’d ever seen. Starshine was so full of personality; every person who entered the room had to go over to see her. Her little face peeked over the edge of the coroplast in her cage beckoning all to come and say hello. These girls had been in the rescue for nearly 2 years because Spunky Girl had a special need for nail care on one of her paws and Starshine had problems with poop consistency so regular medical care was going to be a part of her life.
There had been no applications for them and each time I visited this members’ house, I would snuggle them and knew they were waiting for me to take them to their forever home. I already had two large cages in my living room and could not imagine how to fit a third so I enlisted the help of another rescue member to make this work. A trip to two hardware stores, 3 hollow doors, baseboard trim, 4 bookcases and a nail gun the bases for three cages were built to fit into my living room which is now known as The Piggy Palace. November 2010 I welcomed HRH
Princess Starshine and HRH Princess Buttercup (formerly SpunkyGirl) into my home. They are right next to the main walkway in my house and PS always comes to see who came home, who came up/downstairs, who is coming into the living room and do they have a treat for her? PB is the shyer of the two but will plow her sister over for a carrot. She doesn’t make much noise but she is a very sweet girl.
So now you know how I ended up with 6 guinea pigs and 2 dogs. Seth passed away from a heart defect in January 2014 and while I watched for signs of grief from Sarah, she is nearly blind and completely deaf so I think she doesn’t know he’s actually gone. Snowball passed away at the age of 7 in June 2014 due to advanced arthritis and a secondary illness that I opted not to research further. I won’t adopt again, however, I will foster. Killian is monitored closely to ensure that he does not fall into depression. I have a plan A and a plan B in the even that he does. Their Royal Highnesses could get a huge cage upgrade and a Prince to call their very own.