Pavlovian Guinea Pigs
This is Paco after a good meal of cilantro. Lips dyed green, belly taut, a well-fed guinea pig is a quiet guinea pig. Getting the guinea pig to the well-fed stage is tricky, however. Guinea pigs have a bottomless pit for a stomach and they maintain a strict diet to fill this pit. As pets, they rely on human slaves for all their needs. A human enters the room and off go the guinea pig sirens, alerting the slave that the masters are hungry.
Surely it was the high-pitched squeaks of hungry guinea pigs that finally sent the Inca off the deep end and turned the hapless ur-guinea pigs into cuy, that South American delicacy.
We were warned, before we adopted our guinea pigs, that they would drive us crazy. Indeed, there were times when I consulted Andean cookbooks for a solution to the squeak problem.
Then, a few days ago, I began to notice how quiet our house was. No high-pitched whistling. No bedlam when I rustled a plastic bag. None of the cacophony associated with the opening of a fridge – the guinea pigs certainly knew where food came from.
Days went by and no sound. I began to wonder if they were ok. Since when were the guinea pigs not hungry? Were Paco and Chuy sick?
I shared my concerns with Matt. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I trained them.”
He then explained. “Whenever they squeak, I run to the cage, pick up the squeaker and cuddle him. They hate that. Now they don’t squeak.”
“So, we now have two guinea pigs that equate us with terror.”
“Yes,” said Matt. “I have conditioned them to think of us as harbingers of cuddling, not food.”
Fanatical Cavy Demands
The guinea pigs have started driving me crazy.
It was cute at first, Paco’s high-pitched whee-whee-whee siren call whenever they heard a plastic bag rustling in the distance. Little bugger knew that timothy hay, carrots, cucumbers and assorted guinea pig favourites are borne forth when this noise happens. Then, when shy Chuy joined in, I was relieved he wasn’t a creepy, sullen thing any more.
Then the whee-whee-whee siren started when we opened the fridge. Ha! I thought. The guinea pigs are smart. They can put two and two together, lil’ dahlinks.
One day, the whee-whee-whee began as soon as we came into the room. Ok, starting to get annoying. But smart little buggers.
The next step was getting out of bed – on a different floor of the house! One foot out of bed and we get whee-whee-whee.
Now they just wail their sirens whenever they see me. Yes! I get it! You guys want food! Well, fuck you. Er, on second thought, here have some timothy hay. Just. Please. Be. Quiet. What? That’s not enough? More carrot sticks? And a side of cilantro? Yes, sirs! Right away, sirs!
Lil’ slave drivers.
Guinea Pig Casualty
Munich’s Museum of Man and Nature scored Bruno the Bear’s taxidermied remains, displayed by taxidermist Dieter Schoen at “being disturbed by people while stealing honey from bee hives to show his potential danger” (as quoted from this BBC article). In 2006, I blogged about how poor Bruno, or JJ1, is the result of a poor candidate for motherhood. Bruno was shot dead on June 26, 2006.
This bear is not Bruno.
I knew that Bruno dabbled in sheep and rabbit menus. I had no idea there were other animals involved. Specifically, I didn’t realize there were Incan rodents with a penchant for timothy hay involved in the Bruno saga. Here’s Bruno’s more complete list of exploits:
He upset farmers, breaking into bee hives and eating 30 sheep, four rabbits and a guinea pig.
Chuy is disgusted.
Ivan’s Identity Issues
It’s not the first time Ivan has identified with our rodent friends. He has always been fascinated with our hamsters:
He noted, for example, that hamsters line their beds with toilet paper.
Here’s CrenguÈ›a in bed:
Of course, Ivan followed suit:
Now that we’ve switched to guinea pigs, Ivan is having identity issues again. This time, he’s gone a bit further:
Matt described the event: “The pigs actually weren’t very disturbed when Ivan climbed in there, so I didn’t worry about them too much (Chuy actually likes Ivan quite a bit, and will follow him around), but about 30 minutes later, the fact that they’d shared naptime with a cat seemed to have sunk in, and they were a little retroactively freaked out, requiring lots of cilantro and fresh hay to compensate for. . . . ”
Apparently, there was some hay-eating on Ivan’s part too.
Francisco & JesÃºs
This is Paco:
Paco is a pet name for Francisco. But he went directly to being a Paco (and sometimes a Paquito) without ever having gone through being called a Francisco.
He’s a guinea pig, you see, and a Peruvian animal, hence, thanks to cultural imperialism, he’s a Spanish speaker. Hamsters, because of their link to Romania, get Romanian names (preferably ones only Romanians understand).
And here is Chuy:
Chuy is a pet name for JesÃºs. It’s pronounced something like “Chew-y” (though not quite so bi-syllabic, says Matt). It’s also the name of a Tex-Mex restaurant chain in Matt’s homeland. On another food-related note, Chuy is one letter off cuy, the guinea pig dish that shocks and delights tourists in Peru.
Chuy is the shyer of the two. Already Paco has taken a liking to Matt, while Chuy prefers me. Paco also feels some compulsion to bite Matt every time Matt picks him up.
Other things we’ve noticed in the few hours hours lives have intermeshed:
1. There have been bubbling, wheating, sneezing, whimpering and chattering noises. We look forward to learning the mysterious language of the guinea pigs.
2. Paco is afraid of the dark.
3. Paco and Chuy love carrots and cilantro.
4. Matt has taken to calling them The Cattle. “Our living room smells barn-y,” said Matt, sniffing at the hay that is the staple guinea pig food.
5. Our friend S. of Small Animal Rescue of BC called Paco and Chuy the “Brillo pigs.” Their fur is indeed very bristly, nothing like the amazing softness of a Syrian hamster.
6. Paco and Chuy like Ivan better than us.
7. Guinea pigs don’t need as much sleep as hamsters.
8. We have noticed two kinds of guinea pig poops. Are guinea pigs coprophagic?
9. Paco has a black paw and a white paw.
10. Guinea pigs can sure run.
Why did we decide to give up on hamsters? Well, we didn’t really. After Lucian’s sudden death last September, we’ve been quite unhappy. We still aren’t ready to replace Lucian with another hamster. Nor can we quite yet bear to fall in love with a new hamster and have our hearts torn when that new hamster inevitably passes away.
Whereas a hamster has a life-span averaging around two years, Paco and Chuy, both at three months, will be part of the household until about 2013.