Curly the cannibal guinea pig

2011-05-25 00:00

THEY say you should introduce children to pets as a way of teaching them responsibility. It is also allegedly an easy way of teaching them the facts of life. I am afraid this basic exercise in pets and child rearing went horribly wrong in our family.

We started off slowly with a goldfish. This goldfish got plenty of attention. It was overfed to the point of obesity. Poor Goldie ended belly up and I don’t mean backstroke. So, he got the goldfish burial and was flushed to the white yonder amid great sobs. He was victim number one.

Then we bought a hamster — Hammie; why do children always add a diminutive form to the end of animals when naming them. Argh. As the parent, your naming suggestions are cast aside. So Hammie remained Hammie, much to my disgust. He was a pleasant little fellow until he was found lodged under the couch in his rolling ball a week later. We thought he was hibernating but the gruesome mystery was solved.

Hammie was laid to rest in a shoe box in the garden, amid floods of tears; victim number two. Then we were given four guinea pigs by some well-meaning friends. I personally think they are revolting. But the children were delighted.

Perhaps because there were four the names improved slightly, I do remember there was a Sylvia. They rattled around the cage and made copious amounts of poop. The children were quite diligent in feeding and cleaning but the guinea pigs did not like to be picked up. They were also escape artists in training. They chewed through the wire in various spots.

After a frantic few days of fireworks, the children discovered one guinea pig was dead, mauled by the others. Slowly the guinea pigs became fewer … until there was one. He was obviously the murderer. We couldn’t bear to keep him. Off he went in a shoe box to an unsuspecting friend. He was known as Curly the cannibal.

Then came the budgies, given to my son by his Afrikaans teacher. How could we refuse. This magnanimous gift was not a testament to his abilities in class but was, as I was to discover, a subtle punishment.

They made a lot of noise and a lot of mess. If one dared to put a hand in the cage to fetch a piece of apple you would get viciously pecked for your trouble. In such an encounter one of the birds broke a wing. He was never the same and one day he was found lifeless at the bottom of the cage.

Bluey — yes, poor soul — was given a right royal send off. It was school holidays and I instructed them to organise a funeral to make sure they occupied their time constructively. Bluey had a wake of note.

My son gave him a eulogy that would have moved his Afrikaans teacher to tears. Our domestic worker Regina sang a hymn in Zulu and my daughter gave a belly-dance performance and baked her legendary Wendy cookies. The grieving partner chirped along, quite unaware of the fuss. He was given a spot in the succulent garden.

Then came the rabbits — Snowy and Softy — white rabbits that were sweet and cautious. They were quite savvy and would only allow cuddles in exchange for carrots. On news of our relocation to KwaZulu-Natal, it was with great sadness that we had to send them hopping off to the Bunny Park.

“Don’t worry,” said my mother as she convinced the caretaker to take the rabbits, “they’ll meet boy rabbits and make babies.” My father just shook his head and said: “They’ll be in the pot before dinner.”

Again we had floods of tears.

My daughter said this week with big pleading eyes: “Mommy, Jessica, my friend at school, has a litter of the sweetest puppies.” Mmm — not bloody likely.

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