Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A tale of two pigs...

As promised, here is the story of my beloved guinea pigs; Hamish and our newest addition Ralph. As most things tend to be in life, it has been far from smooth sailing!

Cast your minds back almost a year to this day. What were you doing? 


I was daydreaming about guinea pigs. I had been living in Qatar for several months and; although I'd found myself a man, I was still longing to hear the little squeak of a piggy around the place. After several long discussions and trips to the local souq, (Arabic markets) we eventually stumbled upon what we had been looking for. 

Meet Hamish

Now, it has to be said that buying pets in Qatar is not for the fainthearted. With, what appears to be a lack of knowledge or regard for the proper care and treatment of animals, places like the pet souq are overrun with tradesman trying to sell sickly, malnourished and mistreated pets. Even in the evening, temperatures in the city of Doha can reach upwards of 30 degrees Celsius and these poor creatures are left, often without water or a cool place to rest their head. That being said, I was determined to give a pet a good home where I knew they would be well looked after and spoilt. Understandably, many people advise not to buy animals from the pet souq as it encourages traders and feeds the industry, but anyone who has stepped foot in the pet souq knows that it isn't going anywhere any time soon unless the government steps in, and that in giving one animal a good home, I was making a difference, albeit a very small one. 

Moving on from the ethical side of things, when I saw little Hamish I was sold. I gave Scott my best 'puppy dog' eyes and the rest is history. At no bigger than the palm of my hand, this ball of fluff was far too young to not be with it's mother and impossibly thin. I took him home, cleaned him up and made it my mission to spoil this piggy to within an inch of its life! 

As Hamish grew, he developed a number of issues, including minor chest and ear infections which I put down to the poor environment that he had come from and the fact that he was very young. He was taken to the vets and prescribed all the necessary medicines to make him better. Whilst there I had asked the vet to confirm that Hamish was indeed a male piggy and he happily confirmed that was the case; although he was very underdeveloped due to his small size. (But hey, who says size matters?)

As the months passed and we made the decision to leave Qatar, Scott and I set about researching how we could take Hamish with us as I had made it absolutely clear that if the pig stays, so do I! My partner knows better than to challenge me on certain things, and secretly there was no way he would have left him either. 

We found a great pet relocating team in Qatar and a helpful woman called Janet made all the arrangements for us regarding Hamish's travels. We spent a small fortune bringing our pig with us to Finland but I absolutely do not regret it or resent it in the slightest. As I've told many a person who calls me crazy for doing so, you can't put a price on love and Hamish is certainly a very loved pig!

All set to go!
Having owned guinea pigs before and reading up on piggy care, I knew that these small creatures enjoy the company of other piggies and that; although Hamish gets handled every day, he would be better having a little cage mate to play with. Again I hauled out the sweet smile and pleading eyes and reasoned with my better half that purchasing another guinea pig was absolutely the right thing to do. 

Now, it's probably quite dangerous that I live a stone's throw from a pet shop and after popping in a few times, 'just to look' we ended up with baby Ralph. 

At four months old, and with his crazy hair, he was the perfect friend for a lonely pig. Introductions were done carefully and although I had read that introducing two male pigs can be tricky, they seemed to get along great! Ralph was very shy at first and spent the whole of his first day hidden away inside a tube. Hamish, being the curious and carefree pig, was hugely intrigued by Ralph and enjoyed licking his ears whenever he could get close enough.

So far, so good. All seemed to be going well and both pets and their owners appeared to be at peace. That was, until Ralph started making a non-stop rumbling noise whenever he was within a whiskers-length of Hamish and Hamish was getting very tetchy about Ralph being near his back end. So much so that he developed the not-so-pleasant habit of firing wee in Ralph's face whenever he got too close for comfort. Was this the usual, dominance display and sorting of the ranks behaviour or was there something more to this new turn of events? I took to Google and after a while I noticed that, alongside the reassurances that guinea pigs display all sorts or weird and wonderful dominance practices, there often cropped up the niggling question that strikes fear amongst unsuspecting pet owners; 'Are you sure that both animals are of the same sex?' There it was, the question I could no longer ignore after reading it, for what seemed like, the hundredth time. Gingerly, I picked up little Ralph, and with no amount of uncertainty, accepted that he was most definitely male. He had the essential items, and quite impressive ones to say the least for such a young pig. Next, it was Hamish's turn. Being a long-haired lovely, it took some sweeping back of hair to find the right spot. There it was... 


Well, I say nothing, but what I really mean is a small, neat little arrangement, absolutely nothing like Ralph's. I felt sick. Cue me scrambling for my phone and calling Scott to inform him that our little boy was most definitely a girl and that it was quite possible that in the five, long, unsupervised days that Hamish and Ralph had spent together, Ralph had violated her. In a bid to banish such thoughts from my mind, I set about frantically Googling 'sexing a guinea pig' to the point where I feared that if anyone were to get a hold of my phone, that they would think I was some sort of unsavoury character. The more I looked, the more sure I was sure that we had, in fact ended up with two, opposite-sex piggies on our hands. 

With Hamish and Ralph firmly separated into their own respective cages, we decided to take Hamish once again to be sexed by a, 'professional' who indeed, confirmed to us that Hamish was in fact, a very beautiful, female guinea pig. This was most distressing to Scott, who at first absolutely refused to accept the news and continued to refer to her as a he. (Poor thing!) I think he has come around to the idea now and seems to be fairly relaxed about it; although he has insisted that she remains to be called Hamish, (Which I agreed to as I don't think a new name would stick and as silly as it sounds, she knows and responds to her name!)

So what about Ralph? Well, we considered taking him back to the pet shop briefly, but we both decided that as they had settled and were getting on so well together, that neither of us wanted that. On the advice of the vet, we have booked Ralph in to be neutered so that both pigs can live together happily without the risk of becoming overrun with babies! (Not that I would mind so much, but quite frankly, I'm sure Scott would leave me.) So now we're just playing a waiting game. With Ralph not being booked in until next week, the pigs are currently still residing in separate living quarters, meeting up occasionally for cuddles on the couch. 

What continues to strike me is that Hamish was checked by a supposed, 'professional' in Qatar and also by a government approved vet in Qatar as part of his/her medical check for exportation. All of her paperwork states that she is male and I'm just thankful that we weren't pulled up for travelling with a female guinea pig when our papers stated that we should have been with a little boy! Anyway, all is not lost. This tale has provided ourselves with, not only a few grey hairs, but a few laughs too. 

The joys of being a pet owner!

For anyone that is interested; here is a link to a useful website I used in helping determine the sex of my guinea pigs: Click here


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