The Bagnalls’ first pets

Lucinda and I have decided that three children makes our family complete.  I think if we had met when we were 21 rather than 31 and we had a bigger house we may not have stopped at three, however we didn’t and as we had both come from 3 children families it seemed a natural number to stop.  Therefore, if we are to expand the family then the obvious way is to introduce pets to Chez Bagnall.

As children my sisters and I had a plethora of pets: goldfish, mice, gerbils, hamsters, Siberian hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and dogs so I am not stranger to sharing your house with our forms of life.  Lucinda, however, never had such pets, the Cathrall household did have dogs but no small mammals.

I am a big advocate of children having pets.  Having a pet teaches you many things.  It teaches you respect for other life forms; it teaches you empathy; it teaches you responsibility and it teaches you how to grieve.  These are all important life skills for our little ones to acquire.  Microbiologists will probably tell you that pets are good for your immune system.  Obviously there are those that are allergic to certain animals but for others the inevitable bacteria that will be passed from animal to child helps with the build up of the bodies defences and there is some evidence to suggest that children that grow up around pets have less risk for developing certain allergies.

A pet also helps bond a family together.  If you ask a child, or indeed their parents whether a pet is a part of the family, most people would be almost offended that you had the audacity to ask such a question. “Of course they are!”  It can be the focus of family activities.  Whether that is taking a dog for a walk; encouraging a cat to chase a felt mouse or simply watching a fish swim in its tank.  There is nothing as relaxing as just sitting down stroking the fur of a pet.  It has been proven that stroking a pet lowers blood pressure and slows the heartbeat reducing stress.  Something that can not be understated in our hectic modern lives.  Sometimes it is important to sit down and do nothing – and not feel guilty about it.  If this sitting down and doing nothing can be done as a family, so much the better – children can feel stressed too!

Despite their name guinea pigs are not pigs nor are they from Guinea.  Guinea pigs, cavies or more accurately domestic guinea pigs are short-tailed, rough-haired South American rodents (family Caviidae, genus Cavia).  They were first domesticated around 5000 B.C. from a closely related species of cavy but do not exist naturally in the wild.

Guinea pigs thrive in groups, indeed in Switzerland it is illegal to keep guinea pigs on their own.  Guinea pigs have been kept as pets in Western Europe since European traders brought them back from South America in the 16th century due to their easy going nature and hardiness.  Biological experimentation has been carried out on guinea pigs since at least the 17th century which is where our modern idiom ‘guinea pig’ originates, even though their use in medical experiments has largely been replaced with smaller rodents such as mice and rats since the 20th century.

A guinea pig was one of the first pets that I had as a child, so I have a soft spot for these friendly rodents.  Notwithstanding my affection for guinea pigs there are a number of reasons why I think that they make a great first pet:

  • Guinea pigs are easy to care for. They only require hay, fresh water, fresh vegetables and a small amount of  guinea pig food, plus a vitamin C supplement each day – unlike other rodents guinea pigs can not produce their own vitamin C and thus require it from their food.   They need a secure cage lined with paper and a little sawdust.  A quick tidy daily and a thorough clean once a week and that is it.  If you want to keep them friendly, a daily cuddle is required and you have a happy and contented pet.
  • Guinea pigs are great pets for children. Not as big as rabbits and far more relaxed  than smaller rodents like hamsters and gerbils, however it is still important to supervise younger children and those who aren’t as familiar with animals.
  • Guinea pigs are hardy. When you adhere to the first point guinea pigs will generally stay healthy.  Diseases can be kept at bay with regular trips to the vets.
  • Guinea pigs live long lives. While most small rodents (such as mice, hamsters and gerbils only live for about two or three years, guinea pigs can live for five to seven years, this means that more of a bond can be formed without the extended commitment that comes with a dog or a cat.
  • Guinea pigs have personality. From my experience guinea pigs have different personalities, more so that the smaller rodents. They can be shy; while others can be bold and dominant and just because two guinea pigs look the same doesn’t mean will be the same.
  • Guinea pigs like people. People who haven’t kept guinea pigs often don’t believe this, but they really do recognise and respond to their owners. Many squeal with delight when they see their owners or try to climb up the sides of their cage to greet them.
  • Guinea pigs talk!  Guinea pigs are extremely vocal animals.  They squeak, squawk (indeed my second generation of guinea pigs were called squeak and squawk), and sometime purr like a cat.  They will also make a rumbling sound or chatter their teeth, especially when they are angry or aggressive.

Given their low-maintenance care, overall hardy nature, strong ability to bond with their owners and generally long lifespans, guinea pigs make fantastic first pets for families who want an animal that is loving and rewarding but would find a cat or a dog too much of a burden.

Auntie Liz bought two guinea pigs as class pets for her nursery group and as such had the responsibility for looking after them at weekends.  It soon became apparent that one of the guinea pigs was with pups.  (Male guinea pigs are called boars, female guinea pigs are called sows but that is where their porcine naming convention stops; baby guinea pigs are called pups).  The school didn’t want the responsibility (or cost) of extra mouths to feed so there was a decision to be made about the pups.  This was when Lucinda and I thought it was about time the Baguettes had a pet.

Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz had been down relatively regularly over the last few months and as this has been mainly at weekends, the guinea pigs have been regular visitors too.  The Baguettes loved them and regularly asked to hold them, even if it was for only a couple of minutes before they got too nervous.  It was also a good time for Lucinda to get used to holding them.  Lucinda had never had small rodents as pets as a child and so was also unfamiliar with handling them.  Since guinea pigs are relatively docile and not at all skittish she, and the children, quickly grew in confidence.  Therefore when the pups arrived it was a no brainer that we would take them on.  However, with the fireplace install on-going and thus a lot of dust in the air, not to mention the loud noises associated with building work, we decided to leave it until Christmas for their true adoption.

The pups had already been named by the children, for when they were born we asked them to think of names.  The list was relatively long and had some more unusual names on their (Eric, unfortunately did not make the final list) but eventually the names Toffee and Frazzle were chosen and thus they were christened.

The Baguettes had no idea that there were going to keep the guinea pigs, even though for about a month before we finally took them in we were trying to get the Baguettes used to the idea of having them as pets.  They were very excited when Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz bought them down for Christmas; we expected them to be just as excited when Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz left leaving Toffee and Frazzle behind, however Amélie got herself all upset.  When Lucinda asked why she was upset she said that Nanny Fran should take them back.  Lucinda said that she thought that Amélie would like the guinea pigs as pets and she replied that she would but Nanny Fran would be too upset if she left them here.  Amélie is a sensitive little soul sometimes.  Nevertheless she managed to convince Amélie that although Nanny Fran would miss them, that Toffee and Frazzle would like to stay at our house and Amélie should help look after them.  This satisfied Amélie and thus it was the beginning of pet ownership in chez Bagnall.

Here are photos of the latest additions to the Bagnall household.  We will see how long they keep the attention of the Baguettes.

Peace and Love