The benefits of owning a pet come as no surprise to many. There are the obvious benefits of affection and companionship, but the general joy that comes from having a furry friend is by no means where the positives end.
Especially in a time of uncertainty and seclusion — or all of 2020 — having a pet as a companion comes with benefits that reach far beyond the simple pleasure of having a little buddy around.
Just over a year ago, I decided to see first-hand those benefits as I made my way to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa to pick up two guinea pigs — Beans and Walter Cronkite.
Unfortunately, Beans passed away this past April, but to prevent Walter from getting lonely, I was lucky (or maybe cursed) enough to end up with the cuddly, loud, dominant and crazy Mr. Twister (appropriately named for his permanent head tilt). The two of them now take up the majority of both my bedroom and my time. Whether I’m cooking, studying, working or napping, I will probably have a guinea pig on my lap... or in my pocket, or literally up my sleeve (Mr. Twister’s all-time favorite spot to “hide”).
In the time that I’ve been a guinea pig mom, as proudly stated on possibly the best and worst T-shirt I have ever received for Christmas, my little buddies have taught me lessons about life daily.
1. Pack as much life into each day as you can. With an average life span of 4-8 years, a pet guinea pig will likely only be around for a short time in the grand scheme of things. Instead of wallowing in the thought that they won’t be around forever, my guinea pigs have taught me that every day is important, so you might as well make it a good one.
When I first lost Beans, I came across two elderly guinea pigs who had spent their whole lives neglected and abused. I initially decided against taking them home, worrying about the time and space they would take up. After a few weeks, however, I still couldn’t get them out of my mind. My solution to that was simply to take them home. I had each of them for only a few months, but they helped me see that even just giving them love and a good place to live for those few months was able to turn their lives around.
I learned to give them that extra lettuce or go offer cuddles even if it meant getting up when I didn’t feel like it. You never know how long you’ll have them there, but that’s part of what makes owning a pet so special.
2. Love and adoration does not come without frustration. Absolutely anybody who has spoken to me within the past year will tell you that I love my pets. Beyond that, I am obsessed with my pets. My desk at work includes larger-than-life sized portraits of Walter and Twister and pretty much every conversation with me starts with “want to see a picture of my guinea pigs?”
No matter how much I love them, however, the little squeakers still know just how to get on my nerves, and it’s usually in the form of wheeking.
Whether hungry, scared, happy, confused or any other emotional that guinea pigs can have, they will most likely “scream” to show it... Particularly if I am asleep in my bed next to them.
I’ve learned to trust my all-natural alarm clock, AKA Walter’s hungry shouts, more than my actual alarm clock. If it’s one minute past their normal feeding time, which is always my waking up time, the rambunctious rodents will be sure to let me know, as well as everyone else on the block.
Despite that, for some reason, I still love them dearly.
3. Someone is counting on you to get up in the morning. As the sun sets earlier and earlier and the air grows colder, it gets harder for almost everybody to get out of bed every day. Considering this winter’s extra difficulties surrounding COVID-19, I imagine that the usual seasonal depression that hits so many people around this time will only intensify.
It becomes so easy to give myself “just another five minutes” in bed when the world beyond my blankets feels so cold and unwelcoming, but rolling over and seeing (and hearing — remember, these guys don’t like being fed late) those two little creatures who count on me so much gives me the motivation each and every morning to get out of bed. They remind me that everybody is loved and needed by somebody, and they embody that in the love and happiness they give each day.
— Shannon Rabotski is a reporter with the Monroe Times and self-proclaimed Guinea Pig Queen. Her column appears periodically in the Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-328-4202.