The skinny on skinny pigs — they rock!

Rare pets have be­come great friends with Able Liv­ing res­i­dents

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JEFF MA­HONEY jma­honey@thes­pec.com 905-526-3306

Bald as a cue ball. Of course. Hair­less as a dol­phin. Sure. Glabrous as a bikini wax or the soles of one’s feet. Fair enough.

But fur-free as a guinea pig? Their colour­ful and of­ten lux­u­ri­ous silky coats are among the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of guinea pigs, aren’t they?

You haven’t met Shel­don and Spencer. They’re what are called skinny pigs.

I guess tech­ni­cally you could call them “mu­tants.” Skinny pigs — i.e. hair­less guinea pigs — orig­i­nated in 1978 in the Ar­mand Frap­pier lab in Mon­treal, as a spon­ta­neous ge­netic mu­ta­tion.

In the 1980s, sci­en­tists latched on to the hair­less va­ri­ety for breed­ing as lab an­i­mals, chiefly in der­ma­tol­ogy stud­ies, but in the late ’90s skin­nies be­gan to emerge in a new role as house pet. They’re still rare but that did not de­ter Shan­non Barry, an­i­mal lover and emer­gency nurse at St. Joseph’s.

“I saw a pic­ture once on­line,” says Shan­non, “and I just fell in love.” She would talk about her new dis­cov­ery, es­pe­cially to hus­band Sy­mon, and so, one birth­day, Shel­don ap­peared as a birth­day present. Sy­mon came through.

“It wasn’t so much a sur­prise,” she tells me, “as a vic­tory.” Af­ter a year, Shan­non found Spencer (Spencer Reid from “Crim­i­nal Minds” — “smart but quirky”), as com­pany for Shel­don (af­ter Shel­don Cooper from “The Big Bang The­ory”). Shel­don needed a friend, as skinny pigs are fa­mously so­cial and af­fec­tion­ate.

It’s one rea­son they make such great pets. Also, they’re not skit­tish, ei­ther with peo­ple or other an­i­mals, as Shan­non’s big beau­ti­ful choco­late lab Sasha can at­test. The skin­nies aren’t one bit afraid of her. (Maybe be­cause their mu­tant an­ces­tors were used to “labs.” Groan.)

“A dog can bark and they won’t even flinch,” Shan­non says. “And kids can pass them around.”

The same qual­i­ties that make them ex­cep­tional pets make them won­der­ful vis­i­tors, so be­fore long, af­ter tak­ing them into her home, Shan­non be­gan tak­ing them out to visit se­nior cen­tres, kids at sum­mer camps, adults at fa­cil­i­ties like Able Liv­ing Ser­vices and SPCA pet work­shops.

I caught up with Shel­don, Spencer and Shan­non at Able Liv­ing on Trin­ity Church Road.

“He’s cute, he’s warm, he likes eat­ing,” says Heather Whi­taker, ex­plain­ing the charms of Spencer as he sits snugly in her lap, feed­ing on some radic­chio leaves out of Heather’s hand. They fit so well into laps; per­fect for those in wheel­chairs.

This is my first per­sonal au­di­ence with a skinny pig and, I must say at this point, bald­ness can go a few ways. Dread­ful as in skin­heads and James Bond vil­lains; strad­dling a line be­tween mildly un­pleas­ant and beau-laid cute­ness, as in Vin Diesel and Sph­ynx cats; or adorable as in baby pigs and Cail­lou. Shel­don and Spencer? Ir­re­sistible.

“I’ve got my best buddy here,” says Alan Kingston, stroking Shel­don, feed­ing him pars­ley.

I give Shel­don a pet. He’s got a cute, pokey lit­tle body, sur­pris­ingly warm. Skinny pigs have higher body tem­per­a­tures, to make up for lack of hair. They also eat more, again, to keep up heat. In fact, “skinny pig” is a bit of a mis­nomer. They tend to be plumper and larger than haired ones; they just look skin­nier.

“They’re so friendly,” says Jason Ste­wart. He al­ways comes by when they visit, to get his fix of skinny pig af­fec­tion.

They’re such a hit that Shan­non’s ap­pear­ances with Shel­don and Spencer take up most of her free time. She doesn’t mind.

When not vis­it­ing, she’s dress­ing the two up with adorable cos­tumes and props for the pic­tures she takes. They’re fea­tured in her 2017 cal­en­dar, pic­to­ri­ally high­light­ing hol­i­days like St. Pa­trick’s Day and Easter.

“We’ve had dogs, cats, rab­bits, even rats come in,” says Colleen Con­nolly, vol­un­teer co-or­di­na­tor with Able Liv­ing. “But the skinny pigs are unique. Most have never seen one be­fore. Ev­ery­one smiles when they hold them, and they rock them like ba­bies.”

JOHN REN­NI­SON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Able Liv­ing res­i­dent Alan Kingston feeds Shel­don, the hair­less guinea pig — or “skinny pig” — dur­ing a visit.

JOHN REN­NI­SON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Above: Shel­don and Spencer pose for an Easter cal­en­dar photo. Left: The hair­less pair are decked out for Canada Day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.