I am writing this column while sitting in my dining room facing a cage that is empty for the first Sunday in over five years. If someone told me six years ago that I would be writing a column about a pet guinea pig, I would have thought that they were crazy. When I was growing up, the only pet I had were fish. I had a fish tank for a few years and stopped because I was not interested. Then when my kids were younger we had three hamsters. There was more interaction than with the fish. However, hamsters are nocturnal, live a short time and are not very sociable.
For years, my youngest daughter Tovah had been asking for a dog. She still wants one. My wife, Beth, before Pesach five years ago, saw a post on KGH shuls that a family had a guinea pig they had to give away because two members of the family became allergic. She thought it would be a good idea to get a guinea pig as a pet instead of a dog. Beth’s sister had two guinea pigs when they were children, so she knew a little about them. We found out that the owners were members of our shul. Beth and Tovah went to see the guinea pig on Chol Hamoed Pesach and decided to take him after Pesach. They renamed him Macaroon.
By the time we got him, Macaroon was at least a year old. He was mostly if not fully grown. Guinea pigs like many types of vegetables or fruits. He was a picky eater who would only eat carrots and grapes, a perfect match for a family of picky eaters.
As things turned out, I ended up doing the bulk of the necessary work to take care of him.
Guinea pigs are very social animals. In some countries it is forbidden to have only a single guinea pig. We put his cage in the living room so he could be in a place where people regularly were. He liked to be petted and taken out of his cage. He would get excited when he heard the refrigerator close or when he heard me come down in the morning. I was the first person to come downstairs. His hearing was so good that he would get excited when he heard me approaching the front door before I even touched it. When he wanted something – usually attention or food –he would bite on the cage. He loved kids and would let strangers pet him.
He became part of the family. When my daughter Penina got married he could not go to the wedding, but we dressed him up in a bow tie and took his picture.
Nothing was spared for the guinea pig. I wanted him to have a bigger cage so I ordered one. Unfortunately, many times pets are put in cages that are too small for them. They need room to move around. I tried different food and/or bedding to see what was the best for him and what he liked. My attitude is that if you are going to take the responsibility of having a pet you have to do it the right way.
This Pesach, as I had in the past, I removed his hard Timothy hay pellets because they contain chametz. On Passover he was still eating the regular Timothy hay but stopped drinking. I was not sure if it was due to the removal of the food, but by wetting the grapes and carrots we gave him additional liquids. When Pesach ended he still seemed not to be himself. He was not eating his pellets and had lack of energy.
For the first time in five years I decided to bring him to a veterinarian. It is not easy to find a vet who treats guinea pigs. It may be due to fewer people having guinea pigs as pets than cats and dogs or that it costs more to bring the guinea pig to the vet than it is to buy a new one. He appeared to be so sick that I thought he would not last until I took him to the doctor.
I took him to a place in Long Island on Wednesday, May 1. This was the first time that Macaroon was in a car. I put him in a small cage and went with my daughter Yael Rebecca, who was in the back with Macaroon to make sure he would not get hurt.
While we were waiting to be seen he started to drink. During the 30-minute examination by the vet he acted like his old self. She thought he was in good shape for his age, which is elderly for a guinea pig. It seemed she felt that I was a neurotic parent when I kept on telling her that he did not seem to be himself. I later learned that guinea pigs are good at hiding when they are not well. They will eat and drink and yet can be very sick.
When we went back home he seemed a little better but still was not himself. On Sunday, May 5, in the morning, he stopped eating and drinking, seemed listless and could not control bodily functions. I thought it was over. I put him in the blanket he always liked and Beth and I took a few pictures with him. After a few hours he squealed, which he always did when he was happy, and then I tried giving him food and he took it.
He lasted another three days. On Wednesday night we were at our shul’s dinner with his former owners when I got a call from my daughter that Macaroon’s condition had deteriorated. I immediately left the dinner and went home.
I tried to comfort him to no avail. I contacted the vet after business hours and received a quick response that unfortunately nothing could be done.
Although Macaroon was a pet, I am sure that some people can relate to the feeling of helplessness when you see a loved one or a friend dying and there is nothing you can do to help them.
I could only guess Macaroon’s age. It appeared that he lived to over six years, which is long for a guinea pig in relatively good health. It was an enjoyable experience having him as a pet.
Based on my experience with Macaroon I think it would have been a good experience if I had had a guinea pig as a pet when I was little. I think that a guinea pig is a good pet for a child since they are sociable but not high maintenance. There are some children who are shy and lack some social skills. A guinea pig is good for them since it is easy to make the guinea pig happy, which will build the child’s confidence.
I plan to get a guinea pig in the future, though it will never replace Macaroon. Goodbye, Macaroon.