Just over a week ago, I said goodbye to one of my little Guinea Pigs for the last time. Pickett had been mysteriously losing weight over the course of a few weeks, and when I took her into the vet, they did an x-ray and found that she had a tumor spreading through her chest cavity and wouldn’t live much longer.
I have had many Guinea Pigs in my life – if I count the two I still have, I think the number comes to around ten – but saying goodbye to them hasn’t gotten easier, no matter the circumstances. Pickett was no different. Any pet owner knows that for all the joy our furry friends bring us, there is a unique pain which comes when it’s time to say goodbye.
Which is why I’m writing this. It’s sort of therapy for myself – for me, it helps to write down the way that I’m feeling – but also because Pickett was such a funny little creature, and in order to say goodbye I wanted to tell the unique story of her involvement in my life.
Like I said, I’ve had many Guinea Pigs. Before Pickett, I had two Guinea Pigs: a senior piggie named Skittles, and a much younger one named Peanut.
In March of 2018, Skittles, who was seven years old, passed away. Peanut, who was quite attached to him, got really depressed and stopped eating. This was how we knew we needed to get a friend for Peanut. Exactly a week later, my mother was in the pet store in my home town when she ran across this little piglet. She called me from the store and said that I needed to meet her (although we thought she was male at the time, because the gender of baby Guinea Pigs can be quite ambiguous). That same day, my family adopted her and brought her home. Thus, a very special relationship was born.
Pickett had always been quite a persnickety animal. She liked things in her cage to be tidy and clean. When I cleaned her cage, the first thing she did was inspect everything and start nesting – rearranging her toys and bedding to be exactly the way she wanted it to be. She never smelled bad and had very precise grooming habits, so that her fur was always soft and fluffy. She was also very territorial, and when something in her habitat changed, she got very upset.
Before 2018, I was never away from my pets for very long. At the time, I was attending a college near home so I commuted back and forth for class while still living at home. My Guinea Pigs, which act as emotional support animals to help me when I have episodes of depression or anxiety, have always been used to seeing me every day. So when I made plans to transfer to a larger university farther from home, in which I would be moving to an apartment, things changed.
That summer I decided to try out for the marching band, which was a grueling and extremely competitive process. I was away from home for just under a week – the longest I’ve ever gone not seeing my Guinea Pigs – and while I certainly missed them, I did not expect them to miss me (as much as I love them, I accept that Guinea Pigs are rather stupid and tend to forget about you as soon as you leave the room). I hadn’t yet moved into my apartment, so my Guinea Pigs were at the time under the care of my mother, and I had to wait to see them until tryouts were over. I didn’t make it into the band, which was extremely heartbreaking and a huge disappointment. The only perk about this was that I could go home and relax for a bit before the semester started.
When I got home, I greeted my Guinea Pigs and held them. Peanut was delighted for the attention, but didn’t otherwise care. Pickett, however, scurried up to my shoulder and sat as close to me as possible – keeping watch, as you can see in the picture – until I returned her to her cage.
I have mixed feelings about the photo above, because while it shows how loving this little creature was, my face is severely sunburned, my hair is dirty, and my eyes, because of how much I’d been crying since finding out I didn’t make the band, nearly swelled shut. But Pickett showed a side of herself I’d never seen before. She had always been a sweet animal, but she’d never been particularly affectionate and didn’t respond well to being held. Here, however, she didn’t want to leave my side, and, unlike any of the other Guinea Pigs I’d ever had, she seemed to sense that something was up and stuck with me until she knew I was okay. This is why she was an awesome emotional support animal.
She moved to the university with me, and we had some pretty great times. When Peanut died, she welcomed her new cage neighbor, Stuart, with suspicion, but they ended up being friends. Often while I was in my room studying or doing homework, I would hear them chittering and wheeking quietly to each other, chatting about whatever Guinea Pigs have to chat about.
Stuart is quite a friendly Guinea Pig – he’s always happy to see everyone, and sometimes he gets so excited that he spazzes out and flips over. When I needed a laugh, I talked to Stewie. He was never much of a cuddler, however – so when I needed some quiet time, I hung out with Pickett.
She and I had a great time at Christmas, and she put up with me putting her in an elf costume (though not for very long, so no pictures 😦 ). Through all of the bad grades, stressful classes, changes in environment (for me, someone with high-functioning anxiety, the change in location was possibly one of the most stressful things of my semester), she was a constant friend and companion, despite all of her quirks. I didn’t make many friends that first year away from home, and she and Stuart were both a balm to the extreme isolation and loneliness I felt, which was nothing short of a blessing from God.
This last summer, I introduced her to a cagemate: our newest piglet, Daisy.
Pickett and Daisy weren’t immediate friends, but they grew fond of each other over time and learned to treat each other with respect, one Guinea Pig to another. All three of my furry friends got along well and were a wonderful part of my life.
The fall semester of 2019, however, things got really tough. The day before I was to move back to the university, one of my friends was killed in a shooting downtown from where I lived. Not long after, my Grandpa unexpectedly passed away. My Grandma had a stroke, and the stress of the situation left my family strained and stressed. On top of that, I started a really demanding job, and some extremely painful things happened in some of my relationships which left me an emotional wreck for about four months. Pickett was there for all of it. Again, it was as though she sensed the way I was feeling and knew exactly what I needed to get through the day.
Around October, however, she started exhibiting some strange symptoms. She’d had a UTI before, so I was suspicious that she might have another one – so I took her to the vet to make sure that everything was okay.
The vet couldn’t find anything physically wrong with her – but we discovered that, just like me, she had a mild case of anxiety which sometimes upset her stomach! The little stinker!
I was glad to know that she wasn’t deathly ill, though, and I made some changes to our daily routine in order to make her feel more comfortable and happy at home. So things went on, and she lived a relatively happy life.
The last two days of her life, I spent a lot of time with my pretty little pig. She stopped eating, so I made sure to feed her and coax her to drink some water every hour or so. This was exhausting – I didn’t sleep properly for about two days – but I was willing to do it until I could get her to the vet. After all, she’d done so much for me in the past few years. I knew it was time I did the same for her.
The last night I stayed up with her, I had a gut feeling that this would be the last time I would be able to hang out with my little friend, and as sad as I was, I was also overwhelmed with gratitude for the way God had provided me with this sweet little animal just when I needed her most. She and I had been through so much together, and in those quiet moments right before dawn, the cat watching me curiously from across the room, I rubbed her nose, listened to her purr, and felt truly grateful for everything she meant to me.
I knew that saying goodbye would be hard, and every morning I come downstairs and I miss her furry face greeting me. But I know she’s happier now, and no longer sick, and absolutely thriving in Guinea Pig heaven.
Losing a pet is never easy, no matter how many times you do it. It’s especially difficult when, like now, it’s during a time of uncertainty and crisis. But I know that Pickett left me in good hands – Stuart and Daisy will just have to pick up the slack.
Thank you for reading this. I know that just about everyone has had to say goodbye to a furry friend in their life, and your support means the world to me.