26 January 2010

What pets, paranoia and poop have in common

We have a new pet in our home. His name is Charlie. Charlie is a guinea pig. I went to the pet store intending to purchase another hamster (following the passing of our dear Lucy hamster). This was just a couple days prior to Christmas and we planned to keep it a secret from the kids until Christmas morning. As I waited for an employee to assist me, I passed the time watching the mice, rats, guinea pigs, and other assorted pets. I also read the posters talking about how to select the right pet and care for them. I read enough that by the time an employee was free to help me I decided to ask her opinion on pet selection. She asked how old my children were (six under eight). She said that a hamster probably wasn’t the best option for us since they can get crabby and have little attitudes. Because of this they are prone to nipping small children that aren’t delicate enough with them. It was true that the kids had very little interaction with Lucy because we were afraid they might try and hug her or drop her if she squirmed. The employee recommended a guinea pig. She said they actually enjoyed being played with and would “popcorn” (pop up off the ground repeatedly when excited). Further, she said they were far more tolerant of small children. Of course, the downside was that that they were more expensive to purchase, maintain, and required a larger living space. Still, I figured that it would be better to pay a bit more and get an interactive family pet rather than a look-but-don’t-touch pet.

There were only two guinea pigs to choose from; an all white one with red eyes and a black and white one with black eyes. The employee left me to decide while she went to separate some rats that were involved in mortal combat and bloodying up their cage. I could just see my kids freaking out at a fire-eyed albino devil ghost pet, so I opted for the black and white one. I bought the requisite cage, bedding, food, toys, etc. and brought the critter home in a box just large enough to contain it. Once home I set everything up and placed our pet in his new home.

Christmas came and the children were intrigued and pleased to meet the new member of our family. He was very skittish so we didn’t let them stay in the room with him long. We decided on the name Charlie. Over the next few days Charlie hadn’t calmed down and would hide in his cardboard tube home whenever anyone entered the room. I was concerned that something was wrong so I investigated guinea pig behavior via the internet. I quickly learned that it was common for guinea pigs to take several weeks to grow accustomed to new surroundings and people. You see, in their natural habitat, they are “a prey animal.” Pet experts advised to get them used to you slowly, don’t make any sudden movements in their presence, no loud noises, and don’t “loom” over their cages as they will see you as a predator. They all agreed that it would likely take a few weeks, but not to worry your pet would soon get to know you and start to get excited at the sound of your voice before too long.

Well, it’s been over a month now and Charlie will only even come out of hiding when my wife is in the room and not too near. Me? He has bitten me two of the three times I have held him. When I move slowly to pick him up (at a minimum we have to remove him from the cage to clean it) he thrashes about his cage as though the Hounds of Baskerville were nipping at his toes, flinging bedding and Charlie poop about the room. I bring him food every day, talk calmly to him, and try to act as un-predator like as possible, and he still looks at me like any moment I will skewer him for a tasty snack.

Sometimes while smiling as sweetly as I can and ducking flying bits of turd I experience fleeting fantasies about running into the room yelling “PREY, PREY, PREY!” and doing some very intense looming to show him the behavior of which he should really be afraid. Unfortunately I do not think this would do much to endear me to him any quicker. So I stick to my patient caring for the poor little spooked rodent and waiting for the day he realizes I have no desire whatsoever to find out that fried Charlie tastes just like chicken.


Leslie said...

You're probably right that yelling "Prey, Prey, Prey!" and circling around him won't endear you to Charlie. I gave it a go myself but Emily doesn't seem to be responding well to my attempts. ha ha!

Susanna said...

awww he's cute! i hope he warms up to you guys real fast. i didn't know all that stuff about them though, very interesting.

Julie V. said...

So funny - I was laughing out loud! What if you try a little "bonding" and carry Charlie around a little? Would that help - -I mean if you can avoid being bitten? Maybe a little hamster would have been better after all.


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