The Biggest Mistake I’ve Ever Made

I can’t stop thinking about Friday.  I feel sick about it.  I made a ridiculously big mistake and now our pets are all dead.

IMG_2873I’ve written about our guinea pigs before.  We bought two guinea pigs for the kids and despite them both being female, one of them had a baby. Let’s just say there was a party in the pet shop.

Somewhere along the way, I was surprised to fall quite in love with them.  I know they’re not for everyone (“Really?  They’re rodents?  I had no idea!”).  I’m normally a dog person, but something about these little critters just got me.  They had real personality.  Watching them tootle about their business was surprisingly relaxing and Josephina, well, she just looked ridiculous and made me laugh.

Josephina the Shredder from Mid30slife on Vimeo.

The baby, Sam, who my son named after himself, ended up shagging his mother and friend.  Stay classy rodents!  So Rosie and Josephina were heavily pregnant, one of them with her son’s baby – apparently incest is socially acceptable in cavy circles. We were expecting babies any day.  Checking for new, tiny guinea pigs became part of our routine and we were all really excited.

The kids loved playing with them and when they had friends over, they’d all spend time in the pen.  Their care was left largely to me, and yes, I’m the only parent on earth to say that.  They slept in a hutch, and I made a large wire pen so they could run around during the day.  I’d move the pen around the lawn so they always had fresh grass, and they had little boxes and tunnels to hide in.  When it was cold, they snuggled up in lots of straw, and when it was hot, they kept cool in the shade and I’d water down their boxes and put a wet shirt over their hutch.

They got lots of attention and they had a great life.

Then on Friday, because I fucked up, they’re all dead.

It was a seriously hot day.  First thing in the morning, as I did every day, I moved their pen to a new part of the lawn.  I took the hutch out of their pen, probably because I wanted them to have more space but now I wish I didn’t do that.  I put their boxes in the pen, changed their water and food, they squeaked at me and all was well.

They were in the shade.  I had to go out and I remember checking them, thinking they had enough shade for the morning.  I remember thinking I wouldn’t be out for too long.

I went to Macquarie Centre, a shopping centre I’ve long avoided but it’s been redone so I had to check it out.   I started my Christmas shopping.  I met my sister for an early lunch.  She thought I was nuts showing her photos of the guinea pigs’ huge pregnant bellies, but we had babies on the way people!  Tiny, fluffy babies!

And then… well I don’t know what I was thinking.  I should have come straight home to move them; it was a stinking hot day, nearly 40 degrees.  Instead I popped into my local shops to pick up dry cleaning and get some groceries.  I don’t remember feeling like I was in a hurry. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking.  Did I forget about them?  Did I think they had shade and would be fine?  Did I misjudge how hot it was outside?  I’ve tried to remember but I can’t.

As an aside, if I am ever a police witness, then everyone involved in that case is screwed.  Ask me what I did last Sunday and chances are I’ll have no idea.

Anyway I got home at about 1:30pm and knew something was very wrong. Normally they’d race over to see me, squeaking.  I could see black and white fur in the blazing sun, and it was completely still.

I ran over and found Rosie and Josephina were lying together, dead.   I looked for Sam and found him lying dead on his side, in a shelter.  They had moved their little shelters around,  so the openings were facing the sun, offering no shade at all.

I picked up Josephina and rushed to get her under a tap; I thought I could revive her.  The water from the tap was hot so I ended up scolding an already dead guinea pig.  Instead of properly checking on the others, or actually trying to revive Josephina with something other than hot water, I ran in circles around the garden with her in my arms.  Yep, calm.

I buried them together in a corner of the garden.  Well, I’d put Josephina in the little grave, saw the size of the grave was hopelessly inadequate, got her out again, dug some more, buried her again…. etc.  I must have said goodbye to her about about five times.  It was a bit silly really.

Telling the kids was horrible but they were OK.  Abbie and I had a little graveside ceremony, where she said, “You were all so nice to me, and always so friendship.”

That night in bed, I cried into my husband’s armpit – a place I normally avoid.  He has made me promise I’ll be this upset if and when he dies.

On Saturday, the backyard was too quiet.  When I step outside, I’m used to having three furry faces racing around their pen to see me, whistling.

So I went and bought two female guinea pigs which my daughter has named Fluffy and Abbie.  My kids really do have a penchant for naming animals after themselves, and no, my daughter’s name isn’t Fluffy.

Abbie & Abbie

Abbie & Abbie

Anyway, this is what I wish I knew:

– I knew guinea pigs don’t like extreme temperatures.  I didn’t know that they can die from heat stroke within half an hour of exposure to extreme heat.  Our pets were in the sun for 1.5 hours.

– Those plastic pet igloos trap heat and humidity.  They’re great when it’s not hot, or to keep pellets dry, but don’t rely on them to keep pets cool in the warmer months.

– Know your garden.  Where I put their pen that morning was exactly where the afternoon shade cuts off, so had I had the pen just another 30cm towards the fence, they’d have been better off.

– Guinea pigs don’t drink warm water, which is frankly annoying and I question the evolutionary benefits of shunning water because of its temperature.  The last couple of days I couldn’t work out why they weren’t drinking, and that’s why.  Put ice cubes in the water on a hot day.

– Freeze containers or bottles of water and put them in the hutch or pen.  They’ll snuggle up to them and stay cool.  I really, really wish I had thought to do this on Friday.

– Don’t be a douche and forget your pets, or think they’ll be fine.  Always be cautious.  I was the crazy guinea pig lady, which is slightly better then a cat lady but not much.  I honestly took great care of them.  But I fucked up just one time and now all of them, including lots of babies, are dead.  So I’m thinking if someone like me, who is normally so careful, can make such a huge stuff-up, then anyone can.

I know there are worse things happening in the world.  I know there are sick kids, families in refugee camps, endangered species and the like.  And I know that none of this compares to that.

But this feels pretty shitty.

6 thoughts on “The Biggest Mistake I’ve Ever Made

  1. ghostwritermummy2014 says:

    aw I’m so sorry this happened! No wonder you feel terrible but it sounds as though with the extreme weather they never stood a chance. I know it’s easier saId than done but try not to blame yourself any more. You obviously cared for them a lot!x x

  2. What a terrible & terribly sad story. I do feel for you, and I think you’re very brave to write about it here. I really hope that someone will read it & learn from it…that’s the only good thing to come out of it, I suppose. Just as an aside, you can have male guineas neutered quite easily. My first, Toffee, was castrated (the vet said they were the smallest balls he’d ever seen!) and lived like a eunuch king with a harem of ladies for many happy years! It’s worth a thought. Anyway, I hope the new arrivals have a (in guinea pig terms) long & happy life!

  3. iotamanhattan says:

    ..I think you’ve already summed it all up, so I won’t offer any analysis or platitudes. But virtual hugs to you. And yes, I agree with Rachel – you’re very brave to write about it.

    I think they had a very happy life, until the end. I’m guessing that most small furry pets have boring lives, being ignored and left in smelly cages, after that first honeymoon week when they are loved and adored and played with. But yours had a life of love, fun, variety, sex, and were even videoed eating leaves. So in the balance, I think your ones did ok. (Help, was that an analysis or a platitude? I said I wouldn’t…)

  4. That is a very sad story indeed and it brings all my feelings of guilt back. When I was a child we accidentally left our two guinea-pigs out in their run in the garden overnight instead locking them safely away in their hutch. The foxes took them that night and my poor mum found bits of them all over the garden. For years she told my siblings and me that they had simply run away and carried the guilt all on her own. Now I’m a mum myself, this kind of story stings just a little more. Good luck with your new ones!

  5. This JUST happened to me. I made a comment this weekend to my mom that I hate the summer because I can’t let Ginny outside to enjoy some grass because it’s so hot. She told me she would always have hers outside. So today on our day off on a beautiful cloudy summer day with a nice breeze, i figured I’d put her in her cage outside for a while. She munched on carrots and cilantro while my son ate his lunch next to her. She was in the shade under a tree. My son checked on her while playing then came inside. We checked on her about an hour later and she was laying and barely breathing and was very warm. I wrapped her in a cool washcloth and sat her in shallow cool water. While trying to find an emergency vet who saw guinea pigs, she died in my arms. I know it was my fault. But I had no idea they over heated so quickly.

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