Monday, February 08, 2010

In Memoriam: Charlotte

Out of my three guinea pigs, Charlotte was the only one who was born under my roof. Consequently, she was the only one whose birthday I knew for certain- March 9, 2007. I remember clearly the day she was born. It was a Friday night, the end of a long work week, and I came home that night with the idea of catching a late movie. I even remember that the movie was The Lives of Others- strange, the way some movie lovers associate movies with particular events, innit? Anyway, after having a bite to eat and feeding Muriel and Victoria, I decided to take a quick nap before the movie. An hour or so later, I woke up to discover that Victoria wasn’t alone in her cage.

At first, I thought her new roommates were mice- they were roughly the size of domesticated mice. But no, these rodents didn’t have any tails. Then it hit me- Victoria had babies. After thoroughly inspecting Muriel to be sure she wasn’t concealing something, I discerned that Victoria had come home from the store with a few, shall we say, bonus features. This would certainly explain the hostility that Muriel had toward Victoria- after all, she was throwing off all kinds of hormones from the time I’d brought her home. What really sticks out in my mind about that day is that I hadn’t heard a thing. Sure, I was taking a nap, but Victoria’s cage was right next to my bed, and you’d think that a guinea pig giving birth might make some noise. Nope, at least not loud enough to wake me up.

I spoke with a local pet rescue group about getting the babies adopted, and while they told me they’d be happy to take them off my hands, I would have to keep them for at least a month so that Victoria could nurse them. As these little creatures grew, so did their personalities, and I became attached to all three even before I was able to discern their sexes. This, by the way, was how I came up with Charlotte’s name- for a while I thought all three of the babies were female, and being the pompous humanities major I am, I decided to name them after the Brontë sisters. Eventually, I discovered that Anne was Andy, but Charlotte’s name stuck all the same.

But I digress. The three little piggies grew and flourished under their mother’s watchful eye, and although my original plan was to give all three of them away, I soon decided it best to hold on to one, partly because I couldn’t bear to part with them, but also because I thought Victoria would want some company. After some thought, I settled upon the idea of keeping Charlotte. One reason for this was for the sake of adoption- most adopters prefer their guinea pigs with smooth, silky fur, and although both Emily and Anne/Andy had straight fur (presumably like their absent father), Charlotte got her kinkier coat from her mother. Fearing that this could keep her from finding a good home, I decided to keep her for myself.

But beyond that, of the three little ones, I had grown closest to Charlotte. More than the others, she had developed a charming and sweet personality, mixed with a degree of animal intelligence that the others didn’t have. This sweetness comes through most clearly for me on the day I had to say goodbye to the others- after leaving them with the rescue group, I returned home to find Charlotte searching all over her cage, trying to find her now-absent siblings and playmates. It would have been adorable if not for how sad it was. I made sure to comfort her (and Victoria as well) that night, but I could tell she missed them, and I did too. Just because it had to be done didn’t make it easy.

I can’t say whether Charlotte forgot about her siblings over time, but she and Victoria remained a team from that point forward. I kept the two of them in the same cage, and while they had the occasional conflict (as mothers and daughters are prone to do), it was also apparent that they were close and cared about each other a great deal. Whenever it was time to eat, they would wait patiently near the opening of the cage, and at bedtime they’d snuggle up next to each other before going to sleep.

I always felt a little guilty whenever I would intrude on this closeness, but Charlotte and I nonetheless enjoyed a good relationship. Of my three girls, she was the most reluctant to be handled (possibly because she never had to live at the pet store), but she always enjoyed being seated on my chest. Every guinea pig has a spot where she especially enjoys people petting her, and Charlotte’s was just above her hind legs. Whenever I would pet her there, she would let out a long, pleasurable purr, which was enough to provide a little warmth for my heart.

As you may already be aware, Saturday night I discovered that Charlotte has passed away. But I’d rather not think of her lying there, lifeless, in her cage, or of the fact that she wasn’t even three years old (guinea pigs have an average lifespan of 5 to 6 years). No, I want to remember her as she lived- sweet, well-behaved, but also full of life and curiosity. I want to remember how she was the only one of my girls who would sit still when getting her nails trimmed. Or how she absolutely hated baths. Or the way she would defer to Victoria when I filled up their pellet food, but couldn’t restrain herself when it was time for lettuce. Or her adorable squeak- not as loud as Victoria’s or as insistent as Muriel’s, but just as attention-grabbing in its way. Or, yes, the day she discovered that her brother and sister had gone away.

Somewhere, someday, I hope she finds them again.

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