Zippie was my last guinea pig; she was an end of school present. My mom always took my sister and me shopping after the last day of school and allowed us to choose a present. I’m sure there must have been some sort of price constraint, but I can’t remember what it was. I don’t remember either of us ever asking for anything too extravagant, until the end of fourth grade for me and second grade for my sister.
We somehow wheedled, whined, and cajoled our way into stopping by the pet department, “just to look”. I’m still not sure how we even convinced my mom to let us near the pet department; I’m guessing we’d hatched the plan earlier and decided to work together for a change. My sister was the World-Class Whining Champion when she was a kid, and I was just plain pig-headed. So we ended up in the pet department; looking turned into petting, which tuned into holding, which lead to tearful pleas of “I just love this one so much! Can’t we keep her?” We ultimately left the store with a hamster for my sister and a guinea pig for me, along with the proper cages, food, dishes, treats, toys, etc. I would like to state that I was not responsible for Zippie’s name. That was all my mom’s doing. She had tried to name me, and then my sister, Zippie. Mercifully, my dad intervened and saved us both from that fate. I think naming Zippie was possibly a bargaining chip in going home with a hamster and a guinea pig when we were supposed to just be looking. On a side note, this turned out to be the last end of the school year shopping trip.
We’d had various rodents before; hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs, so we were no strangers to caring for them. There was one major difference that no one had factored in, however. The only cat in the house during the lives of the previous rodents was my mom’s anciently old cat Butterscotch. Butterscotch was old, about 16 at that point, and his idea of a good time was a long nap without either of us trying to bother him. I’m pretty sure we could have plunked the rodents down in his food dish and he wouldn’t have bothered them. The year before, thanks to another collaboration between my sister and me, we had persuaded our parents to get us kittens. The kittens were now about a year old. Their idea of a good time did not include a quiet nap.
Those of you who’ve ever had guinea pigs know that their cages (at least the cages from 20 years ago) aren’t the most secure things. Guinea pigs are not ambitious; they don’t hatch escape plots. Their cages are more or less a wire and plastic pen designed to keep them in a safe area with access to food and water. They definitely don’t keep cats out.
Fortunately we realized this before any real harm, other than the psychological variety, came to Zippie. My dad rigged up some extra wiring designed to keep the cats out of the guinea pig cage. They were still able to get their paws in the very top of it, but they couldn’t reach far enough in to make contact with Zippie. This didn’t stop them from trying, and it didn’t stop them from spending hours staring into the cage obviously fantasizing about a meal of fresh guinea pig.
Needless to say, this made taking Zippie out of her cage to play with her extremely hard to do. We had to herd the cats out of my room and slam the door before we could take Zippie out for anything, and they would still sit in the hallway and reach their paws under my door. Even at 10 years old I realized this was not good for Zippie, and that we were probably on borrowed time before one of the cats did more than scare her half to death.
I’d never made a decision about a pet before, other than what to name them. I wasn’t sure about doing the right thing for a pet; my parents made all of those decisions. I realized more and more every day that life for Zippie wasn’t good at our house. We had a friend who loved Zippie and had no cats. I began to wonder if Zippie might be happier with our friend.
I tearfully, and with full 10 year old drama, informed my parents of my thoughts on Zippie’s life. My mom called the friend I’d talked about and they readily agreed to take Zippie. My parents explained that once I gave her up I couldn’t take her back and that I couldn’t go and choose another pet. I had to decide if I wanted to be selfish and keep her, or if I wanted to give her up, and allow her to have a better life. I chose to give her to the friend, where she lived quite happily.
I’m not sure if my parents would have intervened if I hadn’t come to them with the idea of finding a better home for Zippie. I suspect that they knew I was coming to that idea, and thought it would be best for me to reach that conclusion on my own. I think the opportunity for a great lesson on responsible pet ownership unexpectedly presented itself, and they gave me the chance to learn.
I do feel like I learned a valuable lesson; I still have the tendency to want to take home every animal I find, but I’ve learned to at least try to weigh the consequences; how they’ll get along with the current pets, etc. I don’t think anyone expected my end of school present to turn into a life lesson, but it did, in the form of a guinea pig named Zippie.