photos and text by Michele D’Amour McDanel
I first met Rosie when she’d already moved in. My husband, Patrick, had brought her to the house while I was out. She was a rescue from a family whose children weren’t caring for her adequately anymore.
We eyed each other with mutual curiosity, and some trepidation on my part. I had been bitten by a guinea pig when I was four.
Her bright eyed, pert face peeked up over the edge of the cage. I noticed that she had black and white fur with a few smudges of brown, as if she’d played in the mud and hadn’t cleaned up well. Her fur sticks up along her back in what our 10-year-old son refers to as a “full body Mohawk”. And she was…large (don’t call her fat).
I spoke to her softy and opened up the cage door. She perched her front paws on the ledge and sniffed my hand, then darted back inside. Enough for a first meeting.
But then there were the cats.
I had half expected our four housecats to be circling Rosie’s cage like sharks in a feeding frenzy, but they were oblivious to her. In retrospect, that was probably because she was being very quiet as she surveyed her new home.
That didn’t last long.
A few days after her arrival, Rosie unveiled what we’ve come to call “the squee,” a high-pitched squeal unlike anything I have heard before.
It is loud. It is commanding. It is our alarm most mornings. It is “let me sing you the song of my people.”
Her people must be the opera singers of guinea pigs.
The initial squee startled one of our cats so much; he promptly ran into another room and marked the wall. Fortunately, that was a very temporary response.
Since then, Rosie has displayed a wide range of vocalizations that provide insights into her mood. She squees for attention or food, she churrs (the guinea pig equivalent of purring) to show delight, and she clucks and snorts in general contentment and comment.
I should mention that Rosie isn’t her full name, and it isn’t her original name. Her previous owners had given her the ignominious moniker of Nibbles.
After observing that she had the over sized personality to match her physique (don’t call her fat), we renamed her Rosita Chiquita Esperanza El Puerco. Her personality requires every syllable.
She’s possibly the most gregarious guinea pig, ever. She greets family members when they come in from the garage. She sends out exploratory “squees” when she hasn’t seen someone in a while. It’s like having a small, furry, mistress of ceremonies and emcee in the house.
Rosie even charms strangers. Once, when we had contractors in the house working on some plumbing, I heard her squee and then get quiet. Upon inspection, Rosie was holding court in her cage, the workers fawning over her, scratching under her chin and saying, “wow, what a cool guinea pig.”
Rosie gets plenty of time to observe and interact with the family, because we put her cage at the center of everything, in the kitchen. She sits in an area where that makes it easier to clean her cage and is still sanitary for cooking.
This also gives Rosie the opportunity to request more of her big obsession: strawberries. Her previous owners had said that she enjoyed cilantro and apples, but her enthusiasm for strawberries outstrips everything else.
Just hearing the rustling of some plastic or opening of the fridge will get her attention. Up pops the little face over the cage edge. She might even stand up on her back paws, as if to say, “Are you getting me a strawberry? Oh, you’re cooking for yourself. But if it’s not too much trouble, could you get me a strawberry? Strawberries are yummy.”
Sometimes her strawberry-induced enthusiasm gets the better of her. On one occasion, she ran over the strawberry, trapping it under her belly, and became very distressed at not being able to find it.
Unlike other guinea pigs and small animals, Rosie loves her cage. We can leave the door open and she won’t climb out. While she seems perfectly happy to sit on the couch with us watching a movie, she always returns to her cage with what seems like relief.
Now, about those cats.
Rosie has proven to be quite the ambassador of inter-species diplomacy. Our youngest cat, Buddy, has always been fascinated with her. He likes to sprawl near her cage and visit. If her cage door is open, the two will often touch noses in greeting. On several occasions, he has even stepped in to her cage and sat with her for a few minutes. Neither seems particularly concerned – it’s like two friends visiting.
And in an amazing display of fitting into the family culturally, Rosie has also taken up tossing the caber. (Caber tossing is an event in the Scottish Highland Games in which competitors must throw a large wooden pole end over end as a demonstration of strength. Both my husband and I participate in this sport.) She regularly takes the fake hollowed out log in her cage and flings it from one side of the cage to the other, seemingly for fun. Or maybe just to get it out of the way. It’s really an astonishing feat for a creature with short legs and no opposable thumbs.
In a few short months, Rosie has become such an integral part of our lives. It’s tough to imagine what life would be like without her. However, since she was four years old when she joined our family, our time with her is bound to be short. So, we’re resolved to enjoy the time we have. Because really, that’s all we can do with anyone, human or animal, isn’t it?