Oh, this little piggy... Where do I even start with her? She came into our lives a lot sooner than I expected or was ready for, but she's been such a joy to have around that there's no question it was the right decision. After we said goodbye to Molly, I wanted to stop by the pet store to pick up a new toy and some treats for Gia. I thought she might need a little distraction from the fact that Molly did not come home with us that afternoon. While we were there, The Husband wanted to "just look" at the other guinea pigs. I was pretty detached and just wanted to grab stuff for Gia and leave, but watching the little baby guinea pigs run around and play made him smile. A little black and white one in particular caught his eye. He said she reminded him of Molly, with her white spike of hair and her boundless, curious energy running around the cage, so we stayed for a few minutes and watched her play. We asked the store clerk a few questions about her and found out she'd been there for about 3 to 4 weeks, longer than most of the other guinea pigs they had, and no one had really shown any interest in her. The Husband would've taken her home right then and there had I agreed but I told him it was too soon, way too soon for me, and we needed to give Gia a few days to adjust and grieve, too. So we left the pet store with just a few treats and a new toy for Gia.
When we got home, Gia didn't seem to realize anything was different. The first day without Molly, she was just fine. The two of them had spent time apart before so this was nothing too abnormal for her. But over the next two days, we noticed she started to realize something was up. She would go into the second igloo throughout the day as if looking for her companion and she became much more attached to us, needing more attention and wanting to be held much more than before. On the third day, it was time for the weekly cage cleaning. After disinfecting the cage and replacing all the bedding, I also removed the second igloo and second food dish. Now it was clear things had changed. Gia sniffed around, looking for any trace of her beloved Molly, and when she found none she went into a pretty dramatic depression.
The vet warned us this could happen and said that often times, when one cage mate passes and leaves another guinea pig behind, the other guinea pig will sometimes die soon after from what is essentially a lonely heart. They just get depressed and stop eating or drinking water. It became clear pretty quickly this is what was happening to our sweet Gia. She slept in her igloo most of the day, showing no signs of wanting to come out and play. When she did come out, she just sat in my lap and had no interest in toys or food. When we gave her her meals, she would approach the food dish, look around and wait for a minute or two, and then go back in her igloo without touching any of the food. It was almost as if she were waiting for Molly to join her and when she didn't come, Gia didn't want to eat. We talked to her a lot, cuddled her and pet her, and I even started drinking my morning coffee while sitting beside her cage to keep her company and get her to eat a little food, but it was clear she needed a friend of her own species.
I was really hoping we could adopt a guinea pig from one of the Bay Area's pet shelters or rescue organizations but when I called around, all the guinea pigs available for adoption were either males or already-bonded pairs of females. So, back to the pet store we went. As luck would have it, that little black and white cutie that caught The Husband's eye a few days before was still there, waiting for a home and a family of her own. We felt like she was meant to be ours and so, she was.
We couldn't introduce her to Gia face-to-face until we got her checked out and cleared by our vet for health issues, so we kept her in a separate cage and let Gia sniff around and get familiar with her. That alone was enough to cheer Gia up and get her to eat. While she was out, I'd give her some food just outside Juno's cage and she happily munched away while Juno ate her own meal inside.
|I love the little white stripe under her chin and the one random white whisker mixed in with the all-black face!|
When I took Juno to the vet a few days later, we got some sad news. According to the vet, Juno had "a rough start to life" and showed signs of being bullied by the guinea pigs she was housed with at the pet store. At only about 5 months old, she already had scar tissue on her chest and neck from being bitten multiple times, a huge gash missing from her ear also from biting attacks, and some freshly scabbed-over wounds just under her nose that still bled a bit when she rubbed her little face with her paws. The vet said she must've been "the low man on the totem pole" and the other two guinea pigs she was housed with, who were significantly larger than her, beat her up quite a bit. "She's lucky you found her." This totally broke my heart but made me thankful we got her when we did. The vet also found a little patch of bare fur indicating a minor case of ringworm, which is a common infection when their immune systems are compromised due to illness or stress. And I imagine it must've been pretty stressful for her living in a small cage with two bigger guinea pigs who bullied her nonstop!
We had to keep her quarantined from Gia for 4 weeks and apply an anti-fungal cream twice a day, everyday during that time. FOUR weeks!! But even though they couldn't interact or play together, Gia still stopped by Juno's cage every time she was out to say hello and hang out beside her new friend. Not only did the two of them have the opportunity to become familiar with each other's scent and sounds in a nonthreatening way, but Juno also got very comfortable being picked up and handled during that time.
We finally got the all-clear to move them into the same cage together a little over a week ago and while Gia was a bit territorial at first, the two became fast friends and get along wonderfully now. We've even seen behaviors from Gia we'd never seen before as she grooms Juno face (apparently a very maternal gesture amongst guinea pigs), snuggles with her in the same igloo, shares her toys with her, and takes turns chasing her around the living room when they're out playing. Juno completely respects Gia as the dominant one in the herd and never challenges her or acts aggressively towards her, but she does chase Gia around a bit and steal food from her every once in a while. Gia doesn't seem to mind, though! Juno is completely trusting of us humans, too, even snuggling up in my lap and closing her eyes for a nap from time to time, and loves to munch on red peppers and parsley in between running laps around the living room. She even gives kisses every once in a while. :)
While we got a new guinea pig sooner than expected, and had to wait longer than we would've liked before introducing her to Gia, it seems to have all worked out for the best. Juno clearly feels safe and secure in her new home, no longer bullied or beaten up, Gia is happy to have a new companion to play with and sit beside during meal time, and The Husband and I are thankful that the heartbreak of losing Molly provided us the opportunity to open our home just when another little guinea pig needed it most. I still think of Molly everyday, and occasionally shed a tear in missing her, but I know little bits of her live on when I see Juno learning things from Gia that Gia learned from Molly. And we honor Molly's memory as best we can by giving lots of extra love and attention to the little buddy she left behind, our sweet Gia.
PS - You can keep up with all their guinea pig antics by following their Instagram page! @mollyandgia