On his last (stubby) legs

No, this isn’t a post about Strommie the would-be polygamist who may or may not be being hunted by Kevin, but about another member of the family — our failing guinea pig, Piggy-Wiggy.

He’s not eating which, given his normal appetite, is either a sign of the apocalypse or of ill health. He’s not taken a morsel for two days, even when enticed with succulent dandelion stems, the crispiest greenbeans or even his favorite treat — a Tic-Tac (the sound of a shaken plastic dispenser half-full of mints usually brings him storming eagerly to the bars of his cage). I suppose if eating your own excrement was a regular part of your diet you might look forward to a Tic-Tac or two as well.

Don’t misunderstand — this has been a well-fed piggy-wiggy. He recently finished chewing his way through an entire bale of Timothy Hay, and the Reverend Mother has always prepared him a lovely breakfast salad of fresh greens and cucumber, meanwhile our yard has never wanted for dandelions, which I think he liked because the little fuzzy seeds tickled his nose.

He’s at least seven years old, which we’ve learned is a ripe old age for a guinea pig. We’ve had him for four years or so, and rescued him from a home with heavy smokers. The white parts of his fur were yellow when we got him and it took a couple of shampoos to restore his natural tones. He was especially lethargic this morning, which the Reverend Mother noticed and reported to the girls, along with the warning to prepare themselves. The Mall Diva and Tiger Lilly were distraught, and took turns sitting with him in their laps for over an hour this morning, working their way through a box of Kleenex in much the same way he used to work his way through a bag of baby carrots.

He’s always been a paranoid guinea pig, convinced that everything wanted to eat him, dashing into his plastic pigloo at the slightest disturbance and acting as if a warm bath was in reality some kind of sinister marinade. This may have been hard-wired into his genes. My sister-in-law, who is from Ecuador, was bemused to find we had a guinea pig for a pet. She said her grandmother, who raised guinea pigs, would have thought we were as strange as someone who kept, say, a rooster for a pet. That’s because her grandmother raised GPs for food, not companionship.

This morning, however, our pig seemed resigned and rested quietly with the girls, making an occasional grunt of contentment as they stroked his fur. They eventually had to put him back in his cage as they prepared for their expedition today, and I’ve been monitoring him since then; this is more of a hospice, not a hospital — I’ll be sure he’s as comfortable as can be, but there’ll be no heroic life-preserving interventions.

Then again, he might just pull out of it, declare that he’s feeling better and that he thinks he’ll go for a walk. If he should, however, expire today it will be an odd Memorial Day coincidence to go along with our last cat dying on Valentine’s Day earlier this year.

I’ll leave it to the Diva or Tiger Lilly to provide updates, if they’re able. No one likes to see his children cry, and I feel sadder for them than for Piggy-Wiggy, who – face it – has had a good run. Right now I’m reminded of a poem I came across and saved a couple of years ago right about the time our hamster took his last spin around the exercise wheel.

Forty-One, Alone, No Gerbil
In the strange quiet, I realize
there’s no one else in the house.
No bucktooth mouth pulls at a stainless-steel teat, no
hairy mammal runs on a treadmill—
Charlie is dead, the last of our children’s half-children.
When our daughter found him lying in the shavings,
trans-mogrified backwards from a living body into a bolt of rodent bread
she turned her back on early motherhood
and went on single, with nothing. Crackers, Fluffy, Pretzel, Biscuit, Charlie,
buried on the old farm we bought
where she could know nature. Well, now she knows it and it sucks.
Creatures she loved, mobile and needy, have gone down stiff and indifferent,
she will not adopt again
though she cannot have children yet,
her body like a blueprint
of the understructure for a woman’s body,
so now everything stops for a while,
now I must wait many years
to hear in this house again the faint
powerful call of a young animal.
by Sharon Olds, from The Wellspring © Alfred A. Knopf.


Our beloved Piggy-wiggy died last night after a few seizures. I miss him so much right now. I feel really bad that he had to die alone in the dark. He was my baby, and if love could have saved him, he would have lived forever. Same goes for the cat.

7 thoughts on “On his last (stubby) legs

  1. I hope he pulls through; but, know that we will share in your grief if he passes on, for we too have lost a beloved pig. One night we went to bed, all was well; the next morning, Snowflake was stiff as a board. We buried her behind our shed. Just the other day MM mentioned she’d like to put a flower bed right there; until the kids reminded her that Snowflake was interred there. (I didn’t exactly dig down 6 feet)

  2. Our heartfelt condolences TL. Seven years old, he was ancient; but he was blessed to have a loving family for much of his life. I hope you find one just as endearing if you ever get another.

  3. Farewell, friend.

    We had a pig once. A curious creature. Never seemed to appreciate our efforts to train it to be an attack pig.

    One time it got free and ran back under our lazy susan in the kitchen and took forever to get it out again.

    I have fond memories of putting the pig out on the lawn under its cage, and coming back later to find a perfect rectangular cage-shaped patch of grass nibbled down to the roots.

  4. An attack pig? That’s new…Mom wanted to call Piggy-wiggy Sid the Slasher when we first got him, but the name never stuck.

  5. I still get teary-eyed when I think of Emile, our first cockatiel. He was so full of life, and enriched ours immeasurably.

    People without pets don’t fully appreciate how deeply rooted they are in the family. I often long for a canine companion, but fear that losing her would be too painful to bear.

    My deepest condolences, and I retract (briefly) any jests I have made about keeping rodents as pets.

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