Altitude Sickness

The adventures of Pip the Impaler

By Brady Crain

It’s been a long time since we have talked about my guinea pig, Pip the Impaler. As many faithful readers know, Pip and I moved in together on impulse after meeting on craigslist shortly after the death of my previous Guinea pig, the sainted Stinky Pete, who lived eight and a half years and died in my lap.

I thought that I was buying Pip from a family with a 5-year-old, but really what I was doing was rescuing him from a year of abuse and neglect. For the first year after I got him, pretty much all he did was snap at me, like a dog biting the water coming out of a garden hose. Thus the moniker because he reminded me of Vlad, Count Dracula – all teeth and no self control. His first name, Pip, was given with misplaced optimism, named after the hero of Dickens’ “Great Expectations.”

Clearly traumatized, any time anyone tried to touch him he would back up until he was in a corner. He would often sit backed up into a corner, basically peeing himself in fear. I had thought he would come around much quicker than he did, but within a year he was exhibiting basic recovery, and I was bribing him with treats to get him to socialize, because the only time he would tolerate being touched was when he was eating.

I had him for a year before he started regularly grooming himself, and even then it was minimal, he would occasionally pass a paw over his face. Now, after two and a half years with me, he grooms himself like any rodent you would see, scrubbing his face with his hands in that completely adorable way that only rodents do.

We had some fits and starts with his digestive system. He had gown up on carrots and pellets (his poop was literally orange when I got him–I swear they fed him crayons and ice cream), and we finally got him settled down by switching hay brands and feeding him a little kale every day as a snack. We have since been able to add to that a Brussels sprout every morning with the kale (he is absolutely mad for Brussels sprouts), and he seems to be doing pretty well.

He clearly wants to interact, but remains a very prickly little guy, still regularly going through the motions of biting, though rarely making contact with his teeth. He seems to be unable to get by the hardwiring of the trauma messaging that pain comes after pleasant interaction.
He even goes through periods where he is far more pleasant, almost loving, purring, rubbing against my fingers, etc., and this lasts for days.

Other signs of progress abound. He communicates clearly (he has things he does when he wants more hay, when he wants more water, when he wants his treat); he knows when he is invited to come out of his cage (I put a pillow in front of the cage and he hops on it). If he is particularly desperate for his treat he jumps right into my lap.

One of the cutest things is that I started giving him hulled pumpkin seeds in a tiny ceramic dish, which he had never seen before. When the dish was empty, he started playing with the dish, throwing it around, biting it in different ways, and getting really into it once his cover was on for the night. The dish has since lost its novelty, so I will have to find him a new toy.

Despite his general curmudgeonry, he will occasionally tolerate a snuggle. I have taken to putting him in sort of a blanket fort and scratching his chin, instead of trying to hold him or pet him other than on the chin. The other hilarious thing he does is every other night or so is, he gets what I call a case of the dashes, and he just runs and runs and runs, circles, figure eights, into his igloo, out, up onto his hammock, and then off. It is priceless.

I really do miss having a snugly Guinea pig, though. Eventually, I am going to get Pip neutered (it is expensive, and very tough for Guinea pigs), and get him a couple of girl pigs to keep both of us company, and take a little bit of the pressure off him.

I wonder what effect it had on his poor battered person, landing from his terrible life right into a life with someone who was in his face every day trying to win him over. I’m crazy about the little bugger, though.

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