I had a weird dream the other day (No, no not that kind of weird dream– just a regular weird one) that brought back old memories. I won’t bore you with the details — basically, I was looking down from hundreds of feet up at hundreds of well-ordered cafeteria-style tables. Suddenly, people scrambled out of the way as a gargantuan mutant guinea pig named Rupert came through like an unstoppable tsunami upsetting tables.
I had no idea what my subconscious was up to. The only thing vaguely familiar in the dream was the supersized guinea pig named Rupert. Except back in the day I knew him by another name as he made my life miserable.
One little piggy
I’ve always had a fondness for guinea pigs ever since I was a kid in England and my sister got to bring her class’s two guinea pigs, Big Ears and Noddy, home for the weekend. They were so fun. After that, the Layton kids wanted a guinea pig so bad, but unfortunately, it never came to pass. Over time having one as a pet was no longer a priority and by the time I became an adult, guinea pig ownership was a long-forgotten dream.
Then one day, when my goddaughter was around five, her mother gave her a guinea pig as a present. I lived with them in a townhouse in Chandler, so the new guinea pig reawoke in me my old fondness for them.
As far as guinea pigs go, Isaac was a bit of a runt. Vaguely egg-shaped, he had a smooth white coat and a smallish head. The goddaughter loved him dearly.
Honestly, I didn’t really know much about guinea pigs and their care. I was more familiar with hamsters after my grandmother bought me and my brother one each. (I had an extremely brief career as an accidental hamster breeder when I was thirteen — it’s best not to ask.) The extent of my knowledge about guineas pigs paled in comparison to hamsters, though I knew that guinea pigs are social animals. So, over the next two weeks, I kind of felt bad for poor, lonely Isaac; I thought he looked a little down. I remembered how happy Big Ears and Noddy had been following each other around when we let them run through the house all those years ago. It became obvious to me: Isaac needed a buddy.
Two are better than one
So, up to Kmart I went, which used to sell small pets, and spotted a young, rough-haired guinea pig, a tiny cinnamon-colored ball of cowlicks. I had them verify that he was, in fact, male (because I didn’t want a repeat of the unexpected hamster population explosion). My goddaughter would find him incredibly cute, so I bought him and took him back to the townhouse.
“Oh my gosh, he’s so adorable,” said my friend.
Delighted, my goddaughter promptly named him Isaac. I pointed out we couldn’t have two guinea pigs named Issac, and she informed me the new one was obviously Little Issac. Okay, I couldn’t fault her logic. And they were her guinea pigs, so she could call them whatever she wanted. So we had Big Issac and Little Issac and they lived together in guinea pig harmony — for a while anyway. But inevitably, all good things must come to an end.
The problem was Little Isaac grew fast. And he kept growing. And growing, And growing. Soon, he dwarfed Big Isaac and their spacious guinea pig cage seemed to shrink as his bulk increased. I’m not sure how much this overcrowding contributed to the increased tension in the cage, but it didn’t help. Of course, what really caused the pot to boil over was the evening that Little Isaac decided it was time to vigorously hump Big Isaac’s head.
Naturally, Big Isaac didn’t take kindly to his cagemate’s unilateral decision to redefine their relationship. He may have been a runt, but with more than a loss of dignity on the line, he wasn’t going down without a tussle. In the blink of an eye, sexy time turned into a vicious guinea pig prison brawl.
The whole eruption of violence caught us by surprise. I had no idea that guinea pigs fought. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to break up a guinea deathmatch, but they are nimble little whirling dervishes and not easy to separate. They squealed their outrage, the goddaughter cried in dismayed alarm, and her mom and I did everything in our power to separate the combatants without injuring them or getting bitten. Finally, I managed to grab Little Isaac and hoist him from the cage.
With the two guinea pigs chittering threats, needless to say, we had to find a new living arrangement that evening, so off I went to Kmart for a new cage and water bottle. And that is how I ended up sharing my bedroom with a gargantuan guinea pig.
The challenge of taking care of a giant guinea pig
Looking after a guinea pig took getting used to. Feeding it, buying supplies, cleaning the cage — It required a level of discipline that I had not acquired during my party years. And that wasn’t the only challenge.
Now, I was a young man, and, in theory, at the height of my sexiness but Little Isaac’s presence in my boudoir wasn’t helping my cause. One thing I quickly discovered is that a giant guinea pig who is squeaking his brains out nonstop complicates the romantic equation and is a definite mood killer.
Plus, while a 25-year-old-man with a ferret or a boa constrictor in his bedroom might still pull off borderline cool — a guinea pig definitely gets you nothing but raised eyebrows.
Taking his vitamins
After a year, Little Isaac was still growing and should have been tested for PEDs and I was a little concerned.
“Good Lord,” said my friend one day. “He’s big enough to be a beaver. We just need to slap a fake tail on him.”
She was not incorrect. When I finally got access to an encyclopedia set, I looked up guinea pigs to find out what kind of life expectancy they had. Four to eight years! Holy hell! I might be shacking up with Little Isaac into my thirties. It dawned on me I might not get laid again for a very long time.
Then a terrifying thought went through my head. What if Little Isaac was half capybara? I didn’t think it was possible, but how else to explain his guinea pig giganticism? For the uninitiated, capybaras are basically humongous, aquatic guinea pigs. That would explain the huge size — those suckers get up to 125 pounds. However, Little Isaac had not shown an affinity for water. And he had not demonstrated the sunny disposition of the capybara that makes it so popular with other animals. He couldn’t even get along with his own kind.
I didn’t realize it until quite recently, but he could have been a cuy, which is a breed of giant guinea pig from Peru that started appearing in California in 2010. Cuys are more difficult to handle and more prone to stress. The problem is, Little Isaac predated their appearance in the U.S. by twenty years. Maybe he was just a mutant.
Anyway, he kept growing. Soon he’d outgrown his cage, which was the biggest they’d had at K-Mart. If his prodigious growth kept up, I became convinced that he would poke his head and legs out and soon be wearing his cage around as a wire waistcoat.
Around that time, I ended up quitting my job at the airline to focus on grad school, so I moved back into my parents’ house taking my dog, Chloe, with me. I tried to pawn Little Isaac off on my friend but she was having none of it.
“I love you dearly, but you bought him, so he’s your problem. You boys have fun.”
And that was that — Little Isaac was part of my wagon train.
My mom wasn’t excited about my little menagerie moving into her home though she grew to love Chloe. Little Isacc — well, let’s just say she never warmed up to his squeaking, squealing, grunting, and whistling ways.
Little Isaac and I took up residence in my sister’s childhood room along with Pony Boy, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise and the rest of the 80s heartthrob posters she’d plastered on her walls as a teen. Neither of us was very happy about it. I felt bad for him because he still needed a bigger cage but I had nowhere to put one. And I needed decor that included less pink and fewer Outsiders.
Our roommate situation became a nightmare. Little Isaac was a night owl and would squeak and squeal through the night. And when he wasn’t squeaking he ran around his cage (as best he could) as if he were training for an Iron Man race kicking a lot of his pine bedding out onto the dresser and carpet in the process. And when he wasn’t running around, he was knocking his water bottle around like it owed him money.
I felt bad because he really needed a bigger cage. To give him more space to exercise, I would put him in the front bathroom and transform it into a makeshift guinea pig habitat. Unfortunately, he took up gnawing on the baseboards as a new hobby so that experiment ended. (Of course, not before my dog, who was sweet but not bright, agreed it was a fun activity.)
Next, I took Little Isaac out into the backyard for exercise. Something about the open sky seemed to freak him out. Unlike most guinea pigs who amble about, Little Isaac would stand still as a statue and then, without warning, he’d rocket off in a straight line like a light cycle from the movie Tron. He’d stop, freeze, turn on the spot and haul ass for 50 feet in another straight line. At least he was getting some exercise.
Finding a new home
Eventually, I did solve both of our problems. A childhood friend who was a teacher offered to take him off my hands to keep him in his classroom. I felt bad because I had a certain fondness for him, but I also felt relieved.
And now when I see some kids cooing over baby guinea pigs at a pet store, I just shake my head and silently wish their parents the best of luck.