In the midst of harbouring fugitives from death row Caramel and Cocoa, we got a call from a friend. Could we look after a pair of guinea pigs for a few days, as the father of the family they resided with seemed to be allergic to them. The Oldest was interested in a rodential pet, so we thought we’d give it a shot.
We knew we were in trouble right away. Initially the cage went into the Oldest’s bedroom, but really there was only enough room on the floor, and Caramel took an immediate unhealthy interest in them. Guinea pigs are timid creatures by nature, and a large slobbering dog snuffling at their habitat freaked them out completely. We tried putting them on a table in the living room, but Caramel still tried jumping at them. Finally, we took the cage downstairs and put them in the guestroom with the door closed. That didn’t stop Caramel. She started going downstairs and snuffling at the door.
We managed to keep the two species separate for a few days. Then, one night, we were invited to dinner at a friend’s. I couldn’t stay, as I had a 6:00 class, but the Spouse and the girls were there until about 8:00. I called them on my way home to find out what I’d missed. The Spouse answered the phone and said, “You better get home quick.” Apparently, whoever had visited the guinea pigs last hadn’t closed the door properly. The cage was destroyed and the pigs vanished.
I came home to three hysterical girls, all crying uncontrollably. Caramel was curled up on the couch, shame written all over her. The Spouse had already left a very nasty message for Marisa, telling her that if she didn’t rehome these dogs tomorrow, they were going to the SPCA. I went from child to child, trying to offer what comfort I could, but they were completely traumatised. The Oldest sobbed, “Ima, I’m not mad at Caramel, because she just did what dogs do… but I feel so bad for the guinea pigs! It must have been so terrifying, to be eaten by a giant monster!”
I couldn’t stand the thought myself. And I wasn’t going to forgive Caramel so fast. After all, what was I supposed to tell the neighbours?!
No one had had the emotional energy to clean up, so I went downstairs to get started. But when I opened the door to the guest room, I screamed, “OH MY G-D!!!” I was completely unprepared for the scene. The cage was on its side, in two pieces. The entire floor was covered in shavings from the cage. Not an inch of carpet was visible. Naturally, guinea pig poop was liberally mixed in with the shavings. It smelled… well, it smelled like the inside of a rodent cage. I was, as the cliche puts it, rooted to the floor in horror.
However, there was a curious bit missing. I had expected to see bits of fur or blood here and there. There were no signs that cage had ever been occupied. Was it possible for a medium-sized dog to swallow two guinea pigs whole? It was a mystery. I had a faint hope that the pigs had managed to bolt from the room and escape down the hole under the washing machine. Of course, that just meant a slow death from starvation under the house, because I wouldn’t expect them to poke their noses out ever again.
The Oldest, in fit of responsibility, decided it wasn’t fair to make me face the mess alone. She rousted her sisters from bed, (it was after 9:30 by this point, and a school night, but who was sleeping anyway?), and we all pitched in. Cleaning had a therapeutic effect. We swept up the shavings, washed the food dish, emptied the water bottle. The Spouse rebuilt the cage. We were all gaining hope that maybe the pigs had survived, given the lack of blood and body parts in the debris. Then, the Middle Child, who was picking up beside the chest of drawers, yelled, “I think I see eyes!”
And there they were. Wedged between the wall and the chest of drawers were our runaway guinea pigs, their glowing eyes revealing their presence. One was sitting on the other’s shoulders. Both were shaking violently and soaked with sweat. We relined their cage, refilled the water bottle, and gave them food. When placed back in the cage, they immediately hid in their little house, uninterested in anything but safety. The girls were laughing and crying with relief. The Middle Child got to be the rescuing hero, a role middle children seldom see. The girls even forgave Caramel immediately, now that she was no longer a slavering guinea pig devourer.
The Spouse was not so forgiving. He still wanted her out yesterday. The SPCA threat was effective. Marisa’s assistant Natalie called us immediately, pleading for a few days, but with an immediate home for Caramel. She was gone the next day.
The house was considerably quieter with only one dog. Contrary to our expectation, Cocoa was completely fine without Caramel, and the new foster reported that Caramel was awesome. However, by miraculous intervention, Natalie found a young couple, Jeff and Marni, willing to foster both. They lived an hour away, in a small house in a rural setting, with a large fenced-in property for the dogs to gallop. The other foster brought Caramel back to us; Cocoa greeted her with a snarl, but settled down quickly.
Jeff and Marni arrived mid-morning on Sunday. I tried to warn them about what they were getting into, but they were completely unperturbed by all the little quirks. The fence would keep Caramel from running off; there are no other dogs to trigger Cocoa’s aggression. They told us we were welcome to visit anytime.
It turned out to be a perfect match; Jeff and Marni and Caramel and Cocoa became a happy family, and the foster home turned permanent. Jeff and Marni are parents now, and Caramel checks on the baby a few times a night. A year and a half later, my girls are still nagging to visit, and I would like to see them too. One of these days, we’ll get there, but it will have to be without the Spouse; he still refers to them as The Beasts Whose Names Must Not Be Spoken (or Caramel and Cocoa, Cursed Be Their Names).
Immediately after they left, we told Marisa we needed a break from fostering to recover. In fact, the Spouse and I wondered if we would ever bring another dog in the house again.