KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
Ifind out we have a guinea pig when I hear The Dog barking in the front room. It is Saturday morning and I am the only one up, apart from The Dog and, it turns out, the guinea pig. I go to see what has provoked him – it is not unknown for him to bark at flies – and there, on the floor, is a tiny cage with a small, brown guinea pig cowering in the corner, while The Dog pushes his snout against the bars and, for all the world, shouts at him. I remember then that The Boy had phoned me the previous night at about half past ten, while I was out, and asked if we could mind his friend’s pet while she was on holidays. My consent, obviously, had been merely a formality. Clearly, at that stage, we’d already started minding the animal.
I put The Dog in the kitchen and return to inspect my latest charge. His cage is so small as to be cruel, so I gently lift him out and move a table and a box around on the floor to make a decent run for him. He has no water bottle, so I will have to figure that out. In the meantime, I nip out to the dewy lawn and pick him some lovely dandelion leaves, which he devours like, well, a pig. I rub his soft fur and after a few tentative moments, he relaxes into the kittenish purr these creatures make. And I am back.
I fell into breeding guinea pigs by accident. Certainly, as a small child, when people asked what I was going to be, I never included breeding 76 guinea pigs as a future ambition. But we had this guinea pig, see, and for the longest time he was the saddest, loneliest animal you’ve ever seen. So, eventually, we persuaded my mother than he should have a friend. I was 11 years old, just the wrong side of the facts of life, and so when Miss Piggy joined our family, I took GP’s immediate excitement as a sort of welcome wagon. Odd as it seems now, I’m not sure it occurred to even the grown-ups that a future generation of guinea pigs was now inevitable. And certainly, watching GP disgrace himself in our garage that morning, I had no idea that I, the third child, would become the sole custodian of 76 future furry friends.
I rub his soft fur and after a while he relaxes into the kittenish purr these creatures make. And I am brought
back to 1978
The first pair arrived on August 6, 1978, in a house in Salthill which we were renting for the holidays. I remember the date because something else happened that day too. When we came down that morning, there they were: two tiny balls of sticky fur, and a pair of proud, if bewildered, parents. The radio was mumbling in the background, just loud enough to get its message across. “MISS PIGGY’S HAD HER BABIES!!!!,” we screamed, as we burst into our parents’ bedroom. “Oh, and the Pope’s dead.”
It was the next litter that sealed my fate as a solo guinea pig breeder. It was just a few months later and this time, there were four of them. We’d lost poor Ginger in a bizarre gardening accident, so now we had seven guinea pigs, which, my parents decreed, was at least four too many. So word went out and people came, and there, right in front of Little Chip’s potential new owner, I made my announcement. There would be no guinea pigs leaving this house on my watch. I would take responsibility for these and all future pigs, doing all their feeding, grooming, grazing. I didn’t mention that I would eventually form a choir of guinea pigs, identifying those with deeper purrs to stand at the back while I rubbed them all simultaneously, because I didn’t know that yet. I also didn’t know that in fifth year, I would deliver a biology project on guinea pig genetics and explain how, within four generations, I had managed to produce an albino and a black- eyed, black-furred specimen in the same litter (no, I have no idea now, but I do remember Mrs Gallagher being wildly impressed).
It was a funny thing, my guinea pig phase. I rarely think about it now, though I can see why other people think that breeding 76 guinea pigs was an odd way to spend my early teens. For me, it was something that just happened. And I know my own kids are watching me handle this latest addition and spending stupid amounts of time fretting over his living conditions and I know the question is coming. So no, it won’t happen again.