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Megan Rossman, Associate Editor
Photo by JOHN JERNIGAN
Pig of the Litter
By Megan Rossman
May 10, 2012
“Stop looking at me, guinea! Hmmph!” was a command often overheard in my household for several years during my adolescence. It was the confrontational stare of Capricorn, my family's adopted champion-bloodline guinea pig, that perpetually provoked this outcry from my younger sister Susie.
This fur-covered lump resided in a laundry basket in our den, often sharing it with a sleepy, passive cat. The rest of the time, she would sit on the sofa, watching TV and eating, much like the rest of my family. Recognizing a laundry basket wasn't an ideal place for anyone to live out their days, someone eventually transferred her to a cozy tank and she was joined by a male companion, Rocky, whose hormone-driven advances she did not reciprocate. He was quickly—and probably unwisely—neutered. The operation didn't agree with him, and, sadly, he died a few weeks later. Capricorn, however, lived many years before old age caught up with her.
I would often look at this animal and wonder, do your kind serve a purpose? They make adorable pets, but their chatty, rotund nature must make it challenging to stay alive in the wild. I figured they probably were a source of food for some larger animal and not much else. It turns out, my assumption was basically correct (people even eat them in parts of the world). But there is more to the guinea pig than its meager place in the food chain.
First of all, these rodents don't hail from Guinea, and they're not related to pigs. Their predecessors are native to the Andes region of South America, where they roam freely in small herds. The guinea pig, as we know it, doesn't exist in the wild. South American tribes domesticated them as a food source and for medicinal purposes thousands of years ago. They were introduced in Europe by traders and quickly gained popularity as pets—Elizabeth the First was an early adopter of the trend.
I've often seen guinea pigs at animal shelters and wondered if anyone will adopt them. Often tucked in the corner of room full of dogs or cats, they're easy to miss among these larger mammals but arguably no less deserving of a good home. Anyone in the market for a low-maintenance pet should consider a guinea pig. They're easy to take care of, they're cute, they're quiet, and some believe them to have healing powers. And what other animal would be OK with living in a laundry basket?