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(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t know how soon. Our remaining guinea pig Jade died this afternoon. Although she had already reached the just barely elderly five year old milestone when Zippy, her mate and sparring partner, died in August at six and a half, at the time, Jade was perfectly healthy.

It’s just she’d never been alone. And as much as we had tried, she had never really warmed up to people. Without Zippy, she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t even make any noise—Zippy had done all the loud begging for food. Oh, she’d run out to make sure we thought about feeding her, but as soon as we opened the cage, she’d run inside her igloo. When she wanted more water, she just rattled the bottle against the cage..

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

As lonely as she was, she wasn’t about to change her ways so late in her life. Jade was just Jade. Always independent, not willing to be submissive to anyone, even if she had to wait for Zippy to age in order to gain more status in their two guinea pig pecking order.

Christiana’s first guinea pig, Chocolate, was incredibly cuddly and so easy to love. At the time, I thought everyone ought to have a guinea pig—even lonely old people. When Zippy joined up with Chocolate we all realized that not every guinea pig was as affectionate as Chocolate was. Still, when Chocolate died much too young, we all missed her.

Christiana was so sad. I knew it was a little too early to get her another guinea pig, but just a few weeks after she lost Chocolate, she really wanted to bring home another one. Unlike when we looked to find Chocolate and Zippy, we really had several choices of female guinea pigs. We both know now that we picked Jade because she was the softest guinea pig in the store.

Jade was beautiful, but so ornery. She never really could settle into being held much. I know that Christiana’s feelings were hurt and she soon realized she had chosen another guinea pig too soon in the mourning process.

But little Jade loved challenging Zippy. She didn’t intimidate easily, even when Zippy would stalk around in that stiff-legged way guinea pig sows do to show who is boss. Zippy and Jade became a team, even if they weren’t particularly connected with us.

And so the years passed. As Zippy neared the end, she even began to snuggle into Jade—and Jade let her. These were the girls who fought for the igloo and for every bite of food. But in the end, they belonged to one another.

Just not to us.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

No wonder Jade seemed so bewildered after Zippy passed on. We moved her into a smaller cage, but still she spent most of her time in her igloo, mostly only coming out to rattle the bottle or to snatch an item of food.

It’s been six months without Zippy. I guess that was six months too long for Jade.

Although I knew Jade was fading, I was surprised when I found her so still this afternoon. I hadn’t known she was getting ready to leave. Yet, she hardly responded when I stroked her and talked to her. The offered spinach got no reaction. In fact, I could tell she had very little time left. I just didn’t expect her to be gone within half an hour or so.

Yet once I saw her looking so miserable I had told her she could go. Unlike Zippy, she didn’t seem to need to be told twice. It was too late by the time Christiana got home.

I’d like to think Jade’s already chasing Zippy around. They’re young, shiny, beautiful—, and full of P&V.

Here’s hoping the cold earth is ready to receive our last little piggy girl. When the roses bloom in June, we always think of Chocolate—it’s fitting that Zippy and Jade will see their first spring under the rose bush, together.

Rest in peace, Jade, aka “Smarty Jones”—the one who did it her way.

Jade, 2004

Zippy Easter 2005

Zippy Easter 2005

We all have life events: things that are more likely to happen at certain times in our lives. Sometimes they happen out of order and surprise us, but often many people our age are experiencing something very similar. Graduations, weddings, births, divorces, deaths, major illnesses, beginning careers, job changes, retirement, etc. Life events are transitions and can be good, bad, or neutral. Yet even the good ones can rattle us as they spin our lives in new directions.

Zippy 2004

Zippy 2004

Unfortunately, this past week we faced some transitions that we didn’t want to encounter. On Thursday, just as we were trying to digest the news that we needed to move my mom into a higher level of care, Zippy, our older guinea pig, died. As the kids’ childhood pets have grown old, so have their childhoods.

Can it really be 6 ½ years since Zippy, Jackson’s guinea pig, came to us in Easter 2003 as a companion for Christiana’s guinea pig, Chocolate? Zippy may have been tiny, but she was quick—thus her name. She zipped around that cage so fast and it soon became evident that she had no plans to be submissive, even to an older guinea pig. Within a month she looked full grown.

Christiana with Chocolate, Easter 2003

Christiana with Chocolate, Easter 2003

Oh, Zippy was tough. She seems to have brought mites with her, but they didn’t bug her. The treatments worked for her, but the strong medicine seemed to have weakened Chocolate. Beside Zippy we could see that Chocolate had never been strong, although her low energy seemed to make her more open to being loving. Loving wasn’t really a term we used for Zippy. Sadly Chocolate’s strength started to go—and a visit to the vet let us know that her end was imminent.

Thanks to the vet’s information, we could tell when Chocolate was in her final hours. Christiana spent time holding her, reading and singing to her. Although Christiana tried hard to stay up with Chocolate, her little piggy slipped away when Christiana fell asleep for a few minutes. Christiana ran upstairs to wake me and to bring me Chocolate. When Christiana returned to try to sleep again, Zippy began to make noises which she continued all night.

Zippy had never been alone. Both Christiana and Jackson had to leave in another day for a few days for a school trip, so we brought Zippy’s cage upstairs. Chocolate had been such a sweet little girl—I missed her desperately. Looking at Zippy, I noticed that for once she seemed to want me to hold her. And while the kids were gone, Zippy and I spent a lot of time snuggling together—which was something new.

Can a guinea pig feel remorse? Did she feel badly for how ornery she had been to Chocolate? Who knows, but she became much more sociable after Chocolate died.

Jade, 2004

Jade, 2004

Soon Christiana was convinced that she needed another guinea pig—well, it seemed that Zippy did anyway! When Jade came into the cage, she acted nothing like Chocolate had. Like Zippy before her, Jade was not interested in being submissive. Thus began the dance that would continue throughout their lives together. As soon as Jade got big enough, the game was on. Who won? Hard to tell—can’t say either one won the title of Queen of the Cage, but they both seemed to enjoy the power struggle.

Jade & Zippy Easter 2005

Jade & Zippy Easter 2005

As these things go, our kids grew older, got other interests and became less involved with their guinea pigs. Another one of those signs of life passages. But Zippy and Jade weren’t really “people” guinea pigs, like Chocolate had been. They seemed pretty content to spend their time taunting each other over who got to stay in the house or who could drink the first fresh water or whatever aspect of their lives could be made into a competition.

Zippy & Jade, June 2009 (c) CBL

Zippy & Jade, June 2009 (c) Christiana Lambert

Then one day—or so it seemed—Zippy was elderly. Still trying to be top pig, although not succeeding too often. Never stopping with her vocal requests for food. Yet, the one thing that changed was that, finally, she would cuddle into Jade and sleep. The guinea pig who didn’t seem to sleep for her first year or so could relax.

Except she couldn’t really relax when her body really began to fail. Everything we’d learned about death from Chocolate seemed to have no application to Zippy. She continued to demand food and water, never approaching either with anything less than gusto. When her ability to move began to fade, we just assumed that the rest of her systems would go very soon. So we propped her up when she asked for water and moved her food into shorter bowls when she couldn’t reach the racks anymore.

Zippy June 2009 (c) CBL

Zippy June 2009 (c) Christiana Lambert

Still she kept going, fighting, as usual. I wondered if we were going to have to take her in to be put down—which seemed crazy, but I couldn’t stand to see her suffering anymore. So I told her that she could stop the fight, if she wanted to. Stop raging against that good night and go gentle. That night her breathing became more labored. Unbeknownst to me, the next morning Sherman told her the same thing.

In the afternoon when I looked on her, there was no demand for food or drink. In fact, she appeared more whole than she had for weeks. I think I knew, but I wanted Sherman to verify what I saw. He agreed that, yes, she was gone.

And now she is, once more, with Chocolate. They rest next to the rose bush, the one that blooms so gloriously each June, with almost no effort on our parts. It was time. In fact, it was past time, but that doesn’t make it not hurt.

It was a long run, Zippy Chippy, and you were strong until the finish.

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