Goodbye, Brownie

Posted in Memorials at 12:21 am by ACR&S

We lost Brownie on Friday September 19.

Brownie was one of the earliest residents of the Sanctuary. He and his brother/cousin/daddy Greyly came to us in February 2003. We were told they were about three years old. They had been adopted from the Orange County Animal Shelter, but returned within a couple of weeks later because they didn’t get along with the adopter’s other pig. At that point OCAS had too many other small animals, and requested that we take them in.

Over the course of the next year, they didn’t garner much interest from adopters. I found this bizarre, since I considered them the most attractive pigs I’d ever seen. Then in 2004 Brownie developed a large number of lumpy growths over his body, which were diagnosed as benign faty cysts, not harmful, but pretty much guaranteeing he would be unadoptable. At the time, both boys were living together in a herd with three other neutered males, so when we finally found a wonderful adopter who was interested in Greyly, we let him go. Brownie was content to remain with his friends Odin, Loki, and Thor.

The last of these original partners, Thor, died in December 2007, and Brownie was alone for several months afterward. We tried numerous other pigs with him but he was fairly defensive and didn’t tolerate much aggression from his cagemates. In August 2008 he was successfully partnered with an older girl, Ms Piggy.

In March 2008, Brownie broke a tooth. It did not grow back correctly, and since then he has had recurrent malocclusions of both the molars and incisors, requiring monthly trimming to control. This is very similar to what we saw in Greyly, who suffered severe and recurrent tooth problems before his death in 2005. With Brownie, we hoped we could manage the malocclusions through monthly tooth trims. These require anesthesia and are fairly high-risk in an animal so old, but without them, his incisors cut into the roof of his mouth and his molars cut into his tongue and cheeks.

On Friday, we took Brownie in for a regular tooth trim. He had a routine pre-anesthetic blood panel that showed no changes in kidney or liver function, which would contraindicate anesthesia. However, he never woke up. About six hours after the surgery, he was still unresponsive, his breath became shallower and shallower. Finally he died in my arms. He was about eight and a half years old, if our original information was correct.

This has been one of the hardest deaths for me to deal with, in this year of so many losses.  He was one of the very first animals we rescues as a newly-incorporated rescue. He has been with me through so many changes, and he put up with all of my incompetence and experiments with such good natured patience. And this is one of the first deaths this year where I find myself second-guessing, wondering whether we could have done anything differently, for a different outcome.

I miss you, fuzz butt. Forgive me, and I hope you finally have peace.


Goodbye, Gonzo

Posted in Memorials at 12:47 am by ACR&S

On September 2, we lost Gonzo. Gonzo was one of the Jacksonville 48, a group of mostly young, male pigs who were dumped by a breeder in summer 2005. They came from horrendous conditions, and Gonzo was among the older animals in the group, meaning he had endured neglect and malnutrition longer than most.

Gonzo was one of those who never left the Sanctuary. He was briefly placed into foster care, but returned within a couple of weeks when he started showing aggression towards other pigs.

For most of his subsequent time with us, Gonzo lived alone (although always in a divided cage so that he had a friend or two to talk to). It wasn’t until Spring 2008 that we managed to conduct a successful introduction, with two other pigs. He turned out to be the most submissive and least aggressive of the bunch, and seemed very happy with his new friends Freddy and Aragorn.

Unfortunately, we had already noticed that Gonzo was starting to lose weight. Combined with the behavioral change (more mellow temper), this alerted us that something was wrong. Bloodwork showed that his kidneys were not functioning normally. He didn’t have stones and was still eating like a horse, but after a few months it was clear that his kidneys were failing.

Unfortunately, in guinea pigs, there is no good treatment for kidney failure. Mostly, you provide fluids and supportive feeding as long as possible. He didn’t need any help eating – if anything, his appetite was bigger than normal – but his body just wasn’t getting what it needed, no matter how much he ate. He continued to lose weight.

It was hard to see him transform from one of the biggest, fattest, bravest pigs into a frail, thin thing with no interest in his friends. His weekly weighing on September 1 showed that he had finally lost nearly half his peak body weight, and we decided it was time. We said goodbye to him the next day.

I’m sorry we couldn’t do more for you, brave little man. See you on the other side.


Gone before we could write her a happier ending

Posted in Medical, Memorials, Uncategorized at 10:11 am by ACR&S

On August 12, we got an email requesting us to take in a sick pig:

I’m desperate! I have a sick guinea pig and I will be leaving to go out of town on Thursday for a wedding that my daughter is in. I don’t know what to do as I had planned on leaving the pig with a neighbor but I now feel that she needs more care than an inexperinced person. I do not have the time or resources to take her to a vet. I suspect a possible jaw malocclusion as she tries to eat but cannot seem to chew. She has diarhea and is losing weight. I really just noticed today how sick she is.
Can you or do you know of anyone who can help? I don’t want to put her down.

Normally, we don’t take owner surrenders, and this attitude is exactly the reason why. If your pig is sick and you cannot afford medical care, euthanasia is the only humane choice. But this person was seeking to absolve themselves of responsibility by dumping their problems on someone else. By helping them, we reinforce that this is acceptable behavior, rather than making them deal with the consequences of their choices. But my NC coordinators both badly wanted to take this poor piggy in, so I agreed.

My Charlotte coordinator Andrea went to get the piggy, named Trixie, from the owner. This horrible person was not even willing to donate even a DOLLAR to help cover vet care costs. Why? Because she had just spent $1,000 on her horse, and her daughter was in this wedding and had to buy a dress, and they both had to fly out, and it was all SO expensive.

Incidentally, she was only feeding the pig the cheapest, seed-filled, Walmart-brand pellets, and baby cereal (unacceptable under any circumstances).

Trixie seemed to have a raging upper respiratory infection. We took her to the vet on August 13th and got Baytril and a general physical exam, which showed no problems with her teeth. Andrea syringe fed her, gave her subcues, and there seemed to be improvement over the next day or so. She was even eating hay and drinking a little water on her own. Then on August 15 she took a turn for the worse. Andrea put her on the floor for playtime and Trixie completely freaked out, hobbling and trembling and doing weird little jumps. It was like a seizure but it wasn’t steady, it was like a popcorn only she squealed each time, like she was in pain. It was anywhere from a few seconds to a whole minute or two in between each one. Eventually these subsided and she seemed calm again. But Andrea knew Trixie definitely had something wrong with her joints and her shoulders/legs, and needed an X-ray to diagnose.

First thing the next morning, Andrea got Trixie in with Dr. Lauren Powers, who is one of the best exotics vets in NC. They did the X-rays and the findings were unbelievable: Trixie had almost no bones left. Every bone in her body was degraded, showing a swiss-cheese pattern similar to the calcium-leeching disease osteodystrophy. Only Trixie was not a satin. Our regular vet in Cary reviewed the X-rays and asked if she had been starved. Presumably, her condition was caused by terrible malnutrition. As is common in OD, her bones and joints were probably causing her tremendous pain, to the point where it hurt even to eat.

All of us were in shock (including both vets). Andrea dosed her up with pain meds, but we finally decided she would probably need to be euthanized. There are a few reports of OD being reversed through calcium supplementation, but given the extent of the the damage, and the amount of pain she was already displaying, we didn’t think we could give her a reasonable quality of life long enough to reverse the bone damage. We decided to wait till Monday in case our vets or anyone on GL came up with any better ideas.

On August 17, Trixie chose her own ending. Andrea found her dead in her cage around 4pm EST.

I’m so sorry, Trixie. I’m sorry your former owner was so heartless as to starve you to death because you weren’t worth spending money on. I’m sorry that three vets, $200 in diagnostics and medications, and all of our tears and anguish over the last five days weren’t enough to save you and give you a chance at a better life. I hope you find peace, comfort, and plenty of good food as the newest member of Death’s herd. You will find many new friends waiting for you there as well.


Goodbye, Chubby

Posted in Memorials at 12:41 am by ACR&S

I’ve been keeping quiet, hoping to avoid attracting Death’s attention again, but it didn’t work. On August 13 we lost Chubby.

Chubby was #12 of the Jacksonville 48 rescue. He was a lovely pig, gold and agouti, and his only idiosyncrasy was that one day he randomly tried to murder the cagemate he’d been living with for over a year.

After that, we never successfully bonded him to any other pigs – he would go into full-on attack mode so quickly after starting an intro. He ended up living in a divided cage, which seemed to suit him fine. He could bully and swagger at the pigs on both sides, without having to work himself up too much. He was also incredibly lazy – his favorite game was pulling ALL the hay out of his manger, digging a nest, and eating his way out.

On the evening of the 13th we found that he had a hard lump on his belly. It was either a bowel obstruction, or a distended bladder. On the way to the e-vet he produced several lovely poops so we figured it was a bladder stone.

It was actually several stones. He had a huge, 4-5mm stone in his urethra, developing proto-stones in both of his kidneys, and an enormous 2cm calcification buried inside the lining of his bladder. The vet felt that there was almost no chance he would survive an operation to remove it, and we opted to euthanize.

Chubby was a funny, bossy pig who made up for his murderous ways by being very people-oriented. He was one of the tamest pigs we had, always ready for a nose rub or a c-tablet treat.

We’ll miss you, little guy. Say hi to all the others for us.


All the best stories have an unexpected twist

Posted in Memorials, Philosophy at 4:52 am by ACR&S

Here’s another tale from the very early days of rescue, sometime in early 2003. WARNING: this one might be considered a bit graphic for delicate sensibilities. Please proceed at your own risk.

One of my guinea pigs died unexpectedly on Sunday the 9th. I called over to the local vet school, to a friend who is a vet pathologist, to get a necropsy done. She agreed, but since this would be done on her own time and for free, I couldn’t take him into the clinic as I usually would for a necropsy. She instructed me to take him to a walk-in cooler located the maze of alleys behind the vet school. This cooler is left unlocked 24-7 for the various clinics to drop off their unclaimed, deceased animals after business hours; the vet students can then practice their budding surgical skills on them. I was instructed to put him in a box and label it, and she would pick it up the next time she was on call.

In her directions, she warned me that “there might be a carcass or two in there”. Now, I’ve worked at a vet clinic, and seen the inside of the clinic necropsy freezer, so this didn’t bother me – usually it means the animal was too big for a box, so you see a black plastic bag with the stiffened limbs of a dead cat or dog tenting up the plastic. This can be disconcerting if you come across it unexpectedly, but it’s not particularly disturbing.

I wasn’t able to take him over that same day, so I kept him in the fridge overnight, planning to take him to the cooler the following day. The next day, Monday, my boss had a meeting with an important sponsor, so I had to dress up at work – something I never have to do. I didn’t take time to change after work, as the vet school was about 45 minutes out of my way anyhow, so I’m traipsing out there, with my dead piggy in a box, wearing skirt and hose and heels.

Now, the cooler is not exactly where she said it would be – it’s supposed to be a big metal door on the left, but instead, it’s on the right. It’s also not marked. I finally see a tiny, hand-lettered sign that says “Refuse Cooler”. Refuse? Whatever. That must be it.

I got out of the car, with the sad little box containing my dead pig in hand. I was immediately aware of a strong smell. Not quite the stink of road kill, but definitely the scent of blood and death. Hoo boy. This must be the right place.

The cooler had this big metal door latch which you lift like an old-fashioned refrigerator handle. One-handed, it took me a few seconds of struggling with it to get it open. I pulled the door ajar and headed into the dimly-lit interior of the cooler.

The next events happened in the span of just a second or two, far less time than it takes to describe:

The cooler was about 10 feet wide, and about 20 deep. I could see the shelves, way back against the opposite wall, labeled necropsy boxes and bags here and there under the single, low-watt bulb. As I stepped over the threshold I saw a gleam at floor level. Another step, and it resolved itself into a horseshoe. What struck me, in that instant before recognition dawned, was that the shoe was shiny, bright metal. The horse wearing that shoe must have been newly shod and kept in a very clean stall for that shoe to be so pristine.

My eyes started to adjust; I take another half-step, and I see that the shoe was attached in the normal way to a hoof and leg. The leg was attached in the normal way to a body. The body was attached in the normal way to a head and three other legs, but also, in a most un-normal way, to a huge pile of intestines and other organs which were stacked neatly between the four outflung limbs. In the middle of the cooler, spanning it completely, was a dead, eviscerated horse.

I took a deep, reflexive breath – a mistake as that filled my lungs with the scent of old, raw meat. I backed over the threshold and slammed the door. I didn’t depress the latch properly and it rebounded open again. It took me three tries to get it to click shut. I think I must have looked a little panicky.

I had to stand on the edge of the loading dock and concentrate on not throwing up for a few seconds. It wasn’t that I was bothered by there being a horse in the middle of the damn floor. It wasn’t the fact that it was dead. It wasn’t even the fact that it was eviscerated. It was the overwhelming triple play: THERE IS A DEAD, EVISCERATED HORSE ALL OVER THE FREAKIN’ FREEZER. It was just utterly incongruous with all those shelves of neatly labeled bags and boxes.

Eventually I steeled myself and went back in. I just forced myself not look down, and focused on holding my skirt clear of the pile of innards. I had to step around the pile, over the front legs, and over the neck to get back to the shelves. A horse is a ENORMOUS animal when it’s laying, disemboweled, across the entire width of a 10-foot-wide cooler.

Despite keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the back wall, I did take in details peripherally. The horse had an IV line draped over its neck, needle still taped in place. It was brown (dark bay for you horsey people) and the mane and tail were neatly trimmed. The eyes were closed. There was no blood – apart from the gaping abdomen, the collapsed ribcage, and the tidy heap of entrails, it might have been asleep.

I put my pig in his box onto the shelf, and did the carefully avoidant little dance back to the door, thankfully without brushing up against any guts at all. On the way home I came to several mental conclusions:

1. It’s not everyday you get to use the word “eviscerated” to tell someone how your day went.
2. I had no desire to smell steak cooking ever again.
3. My vet-pathologist friend is a master of understatement.

Of course, after the shock wore off, I wondered about the horse and its fate. Had it been ill? Why was it disemboweled – was it a difficult birth gone horribly wrong? If there was a foal, did they save it? This was just a macabre minor chapter in my story, but it was the climax of someone else’s tragedy.

To this day, I am struck by the clean, shiny shoes; the trimmed, brushed mane and tail; the closed eyes; the incredible, bizarre neatness of the piled organs. That horse was not “refuse”; someone loved it and cared for it and treated it with dignity, right up to the moment they closed the cooler door on its body.

But sometimes, you just don’t get to find out how the story ends.


Goodbye, BunBun & Cookie

Posted in Memorials at 1:28 am by ACR&S

Sharp on the heels of Tilly’s loss came another: On July 3, we had to euthanize our oldest Sanctuary resident, BunBun. He would have been 12 years old in September.

Here’s the story of how he came to us, from an earlier post:

BunBun was found by a police officer who was doing a check at a school after a hurricane. He was in an outdoor, wire-floor hutch with a broken-in roof, mounds of droppings and dead chickens underneath, no water or hay, and moldy pellets. We accepted him after he was seized, and contacted the school – they were out on break, the teacher who owned him thought a neighbor kid was taking care of him, “but maybe he got busy with vacation”.

She told me he was eight years old and had always been “perfectly happy” in those conditions.

I cried at hearing this, when I hadn’t cried before at seeing the filth he lived in. He had lived for eight years in a tiny, outdoor hutch, in increasingly abominable conditions.

There was NO way in hell I was going to be able to place an eight year old rabbit. He had tumors that had to be removed. He wasn’t litter trained at all. His teeth were horrible. Rabbits only live 8-12 years, he could die a week after being adopted.

But he was a sweet, affectionate, playful animal. He literally danced the first day he was in his big new pen. He made friends with a grieving rabbit who had just lost a mate. After his teeth were trimmed, he showed that he loved chewing up boxes.

I could have euthanized him. But I decided that I didn’t want him going straight from squalor to death, not with the beautiful personality he showed. He deserved at least one shot at a good life.

I’ve done everything possible to be sure BunBun had that good life. He has had friends, a huge pen, extra treats and scritches. But it’s been clear for the last six months or so that he’s been slowing down. His eyes have been clouding with developing cataracts. He’s not able to clean or groom his rear end, requiring lots of assisted grooming regular trims.

Most concerning has been that in the past 2-3 months, there have been times when BunBun has had a hard time standing up. I’d occasionally find him laying in his litterbox with all the litter kicked to the sides as if he had been struggling. Or he’d be laying with his front feet on the coroplast and his back feet on his rug, and seemed unable to get enough traction to stand up without help. I’d pick him up and set him upright, and he’d shake himself and hop off, but it’s been evident that he was starting to lose control of his hindquarters.

On July 2, the evening we got home after losing Tilly, BunBun didn’t get up when I shook the bottle of papaya treats. I picked him up, and he flopped right back down into a laying position. I checked his underside, and it was crusted with cecals – he hadn’t moved for several hours. I knew it was time, but I wasn’t quite ready to lose him on the heels of Tilly. I gave him fluids and critical care, cuddled with him for the rest of the evening, and then set him in his litterbox with water and pellets at hand so his friends Roo and Gracie could say goodbye too.

The next morning, I drove him to the vet with both of his friends accompanying him. The vet didn’t even need to examine him to agree that his body was dying, and all we could do was ease his passing. She euthanized him and we returned the body to the carrier with his friends – rabbits who see the dead body of a friend are better able to understand their loss, and seem to suffer their grief less. After we got home, I left the body in the cage with them until they seemed to start avoiding it. I was certainly grateful for our new arrival Gracie at that moment; she snuggled with Roo and seemed to share his concern, even though she hadn’t known BunBun more than a few weeks.

Bad things happen in clusters, it seems. This morning, July 10, we lost Cookie. He was one of the Jacksonville 48, a group of young males dumped in summer 2005 by an irresponsible backyard breeder.

When Cookie came in, he was the smallest and thinnest pig, at barely over 400 grams. That’s emaciated for an intact, year-old male. All four of his incisors were broken off at the gumline, and he couldn’t eat on his own; plus he had a URI. It took nearly four months of handfeeding and subcu fluids and antibiotics to get him eating on his own and gaining weight.

He was neutered and bonded with a little girl, Ms Piggy, and the two were adopted in January 2006. In April 2007 the adopter returned them – she had adopted two human children and no longer had time for them. They were ungroomed and fairly thin, so we decided to send them up as Sanctuary animals to get them healthy.

Unfortunately Cookie never seemed to be able to put on weight like a normal piggy. He was always bony despite a diet of unlimited pellets and alfalfa for extra calories. We did an extensive work up, and teeth, stones, and other typical culprits were ruled out, and we were left with a diagnosis of “failure to thrive”.

Despite this, Cookie was an affectionate, entertaining piggy. He was the loudest wheeker when veggies and food came around, and so patient about having his fur trimmed and his beard washed (he was a messy eater). He was very fond of his partner Ms Piggy.

Cookie has been sleeping more and more over the last few weeks and although his weight has been steady, I guessed his time was drawing near. This morning I found him dead in his cage, curled up in his favorite sleeping place. Necropsy revealed that his cecum (part of the bowel) was necrotic, as if it had been twisted. However, no twisting was evident. There is a condition in humans called volvulus in which the bowel is not correctly fixed to the abdominal wall and can twist and untwist during the person’s life until it is discovered and surgically corrected. This is a birth defect, and the likelihood of this is increased by the fact that another of the Jacksonville 48 died shortly after intake, of the same cecal torsion. It’s also possible that Cookie had an intestinal wall disease causing the bowel to degrade this way. Biopsies have been taken, which may help us discover the underlying cause.

It is both heartening and disappointing to know that this was not something we could have discovered through all the usual tests we did. It’s not something I just missed, which is always a worry with these little guys. But I wish these serious illnesses weren’t so invisible; I could have saved him so much discomfort if we had the same kind of diagnostics for piggies as we have for humans.

It’s been a very sad week. It mostly just seems so unfair to me that these patient, loving animals had to live through years of neglect and misery before someone came around who would give him the life they deserved. I really hope their last years eclipsed the previous ones. But at least I know without a shadow of a doubt that it was their own time to go, and I made it as easy for them as I could. I’m not sad for them, I’m sad for me:

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
— Kahlil Gibran


Goodbye, Morgana

Posted in Medical, Memorials at 5:38 am by ACR&S

We lost Morgana AKA Tilly on July 2.

TillyMorgana came to us in spring 2006, as an owner surrender. Part of a pet-store-pregnancy herd, she had been housed with her female relatives, but didn’t get along with them and was starting to injure them in fights.

Around the same time, one of our adopters lost her female Penny, and needed a new friend for her boy, Pudge (yes, the same Pudge who’s now a medical resident of the Sanctuary). Her owner saw Morgana’s picture and fell in love with her. Unfortunately, the same was not true for Morgana and Pudge. Easy-going-Pudgie was completely content with his new buddy, but Morgana would have none of it. Even after two weeks of intensive bonding and intros, Morgana was still aggressive towards Pudge. She wanted to be a single pig, and even climbed a 14″ grid to attack him! Her owner was able and content to keep them adjoining but separated, and for the next year and a half they lived the high life.

In October 2007, Pudge and Morgana were returned, as their owner was moving overseas. Since they were older and a non-bonded pair, the decision was made to bring them up to the Sanctuary in Wisconsin.

Shortly after they arrived, a friend of ours in the vet school let us know of a classmate who was looking to adopt a pig. She preferred to just start with one pig, but of course pigs are social and we almost NEVER place a single. Yet at this point, I was convinced that Morgana, alone among all the pigs I had ever met, would be content as a single. They met, she loved Morgana, and the adoption was finalized in December 2007. Morgana was renamed Tilly.

I had the pleasure of seeing Tilly several times throughout the last six months, as her owner traveled fairly frequently on school breaks and I was available to petsit. The last time was in early June – Tilly came to stay with me for two weeks.

Two weeks after she went home, her owner called and let me know that Tilly was breathing heavily, and was more lethargic than usual. Could she have gotten sick at my place? I doubted it, because none of the recent illnesses at my house are contagious (just things like arthritis and cancer and tooth problems). There were no changes in diet or stool production, so I told her that it might just be the heat (it’s been in the high 80’s up here) and to make sure to offer cool bottles for her to lie against, but to go to the vet if if the abnormal behavior continued.

On July 1, her owner called and told me they’d been to the emergency vet the previous night. Tilly had gone from “heavy breathing” to “labored breathing”, and from lethargic to listless. However, she didn’t have the funds to perform extensive diagnostics, so the vet suggested they could treat the mostly likely cause (an upper respiratory infection) and see whether she improved.

Unfortunately, this kind of treatment plan is almost never successful. Tilly showed no other signs of a URI (eye/nose discharge, “hooting”, sneezing, coughing, etc) so while a URI is a likely cause of labored breathing, it was highly unlikely in this instance. Treating in a situation like this is shooting blindly, not even knowing if there’s a target to hit. I emphasized to the owner the importance of getting diagnostics, and she decided that it would be in Tilly’s best interests to be returned to the Sanctuary, so I could pay for her care.

On July 2 we took Tilly to the Animal Emergency Center in Glendale, WI. Our vet student friend, Jhondra, is interning there, and that gave us access to an exceptional doctor, Dr Gibbons. His initial examination found edema in addition to the labored breathing, and he gave me three possible causes: kidney failure, liver failure, or lung failure. All three were untreatable, and all we could do was try and make her comfortable. But if her lungs were failing, every breath was a painful, drowning gasp, and there’s no way we could truly make her feel better. Dr Gibbons recommended euthanasia, and we put her to sleep around 11am.

I told Dr Gibbons that I still needed to know what was wrong with Tilly. Diagnostics prior to treatment are crucial for improving your chances at a cure, but even after death they can confirm and validate your hypotheses. The necropsy revealed that Dr Gibbons’ guess had been right on the mark: her lungs, liver, and kidneys were all showing signs of acute failure. We’re still waiting on the final pathologies to confirm the cause of multi-system organ failure, but the top guess is metastatic cancer. If we’d stuck to the URI hypothesis, Tilly would still have died, but much more slowly and painfully. Euthanasia had been the right answer.

Tilly touched many lives in her journeys with us, and is missed by all of us: by her owner, who did everything in her power, and made an uncommonly selfless sacrifice when she knew she could do no more; by her former owner and foster mom down in NC, who miss her bossy, bright personality; and by us at the Sanctuary, who nursed her through the final hours.

Goodbye, Tilly. I’m sorry we couldn’t fix this, but at least now you’re free from the pain.


An addiction begins.

Posted in Memorials, Philosophy at 7:26 am by Jenn

It was October of 2004 when I decided that I would really like a much larger fish tank. We currently had a 10 gallon tank, with a few little bottom feeding catfish and some guppies. I enjoyed watching the fish (as did our cat), and they were fairly rewarding pets. But my 10 gallon tank was as stocked as it was going to get without killing everything.

Our family traditionally exchanges “want” lists at Thanksgiving so we’ve got some time to shop, and so I requested gift cards to a pet shop so that I could expand my watery kingdom. I dutifully received a several gift cards from my family, and I started planning. But then I realized a major flaw in my plan. A bigger tank meant hauling a lot more water around our house. It also meant a lot more cleaning. We started to rethink the whole “bigger tank” idea. But we had a huge stack of pet store gift cards.

And so, a few fateful days after Christmas, we went in to “see what we could see”. And we met a little walking mop that

we couldn’t leave behind. I was fascinated with these weird little rodents. I knew what guinea pigs were, of course, but I’d never dreamed of owning one. I wheedled my patient boyfriend, and he conceded. We fetched the salesperson, and were told that they were really social, and two would be better. I quickly picked out a second pig, a light butterscotch colored short-haired pig. The salesperson advised me again buying that one, as he had “some sort of weird gunk all over his eyes and face”.

If only I knew then what I knew now.

But at the time I didn’t realize there were guinea pigs in rescue. I knew about dog and cat rescues (in fact, we’d adopted a dog the year earlier from the local SPCA), and even thought that people could not really abandon a 2 lb rodent. I mean, really, they weighed 2 lbs.

So I picked the “runner up” to the butterscotch pig, a dark chocolate colored pig, and walked around with the salesperson buying all the equipment I would need — a “huge” cage that was roughly 5 square feet, some delicious guinea pig mix completely with seeds, a small bag of hay (“because it was a good treat”), a bottle of vitamins for the water, some aspen shavings for bedding, bowls, water bottles, hidey houses, and tunnels. I did not buy a ball because she said they would pee it in and get messy.

The little white mop became Gizmo, and the chocolate pig became Mogwai.

So I got home, set up my pigs, and then started doing my research (in the complete opposite way of how it should be done). I realized that I hadn’t done a very good job with my poor pigs. I went out, got some coroplast and cubes to make a C&C cage, improved their food, started feeding them LOTS of hay, and started giving them vegetables.

And then I noticed that Gizmo was scratching and wheezing. I called our vet at the time, who’s specialty was dog and cat medicine, but who “saw” guinea pigs, and took home some antibiotics and treated everybody with ivermectin. It was at this point, I felt like I was really in over my head. I hit the internet, and it was there that I found ACR&S.

Susan immediately jumped in and started offering support — by recommending a more specialized exotics vet in our area, teaching me how to handfeed, and helping me cope with what turned out to be a very sick pig.

Our initial visit to the better vet was not comforting. Gizmo has serious pneumonia, and his lungs sounded terrible. The prognosis wasn’t good, but this vet was much more in the know about guinea pigs. He received subcutaneous fluids, stronger antibiotics, a probiotic to help his system handle the antibiotics, and a bag of Critical Care to help me handfeed. And at that point, is was me vs. pneumonia.

Although Gizmo was obviously very sick, his breathing sounding at times like a roaring blizzard, very limp, and rapidly losing weight, he attacked the Critical Care with gusto. He absolutely loved it! And his will to fight gave me hope. So I made a small “holding” bag, and would carry him around the house with me, feeding him almost constantly.

After a week and a half, his wheezing was better, but not gone. We went back to the vet, where she cultured some of his mucous and determined that he had bordetella. It was surprising he was alive, as bordetella often kills guinea pigs very quickly. But she warned me that it would take a lot of effort to take care of it.

And so the next 6 months was an ongoing trial of antibiotic courses, followed by the wheezing returning, followed by antibiotic courses. Finally, he stopped wheezing, and, miraculously, it didn’t return. During this time, we spent between $500-$800 on diagnostics, Critical Care, medication, and vet visits. It was like a bucket of cold water to what I thought was a low maintenance, “cheap” pet.

When Gizmo was finally healthy, he was about a year old. In honor of Gizmo, I joined ACR&S and began fostering, so that other people, and other pigs, would not have to go through what we went through!

Gizmo was truly a special pig. He wheeked the loudest, and was the most demanding. He was always hungry (though he was always a petite pig), and would climb the sides of the cage, dangling and screaming for food as though he hadn’t been fed in years.

A consummate slob, he required frequent haircuts to keep him in a somewhat livable state (although as you can see from the picture, I was not a very adept hair stylist). He would frequently wade into a pile of vegetables and lie down, so it wasn’t unusual to find a purple, blue, red, or orange stained pig wandering around seemingly very pleased with himself.

Then, in July of 2007, I found in his his pigloo, wheezing. I rushed him to the vet first thing in the morning, and we immediately started him on antibiotics and started handfeeding him. I took him into the vet on Thursday. Friday morning he was noticeably worse. Saturday we started giving him IV fluids. Sunday he was prone, his breathing rattling and strained and terrible as he struggled, panicked, every time we came near. He refused to chew food, and I truly believe he didn’t recognize me. Monday morning I was at the vet, and we helped him to leave, and be out of his pain. The vet said his lungs sounded terrible, and that she didn’t feel there was anything we could do to pull him back.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I cried the whole time, and the whole way home. What Susan had told me prior to the appointment was right — driving over a speed bump and realizing that you didn’t have to go over it as gently any more because the animal in your carrier won’t care if he’s jostled is the worst, and most terrible feeling in the world. And it still is. It never gets easier.

It was the vet’s opinion that his first, terrible bout with bordetella had permanently scarred his lungs, and perhaps had damaged his sinus tissues, maybe weakened his heart. It was like a punch in the stomach. My little sticky blueberry stained friend died at 3 years old because of the conditions that he came from.

When he was originally sick, I contacted the big box pet store I bought him from about 3 months into our ordeal. I complained, and asked why they would let the animals suffer like that. I asked why I’d been sent home with an animal who had obviously been exposed to other sick animals? (Remember the butterscotch pig?) And the manager said a phrase which I will never forget. “You signed a contract.” I hadn’t managed to complain in a 10 day window. So they didn’t care. I was told that “none of the of the other pigs had been returned as sick”. I suspect many of them probably died. I know now, working as a rescuer that we are sought out by many individuals after their pet store animals have died.

To that corporation, my little friend’s life was a matter of contract. They were legally safe, ergo it was not their problem that they had internally crippled a tiny little animal and doomed him to being euthanized in the prime of his life, wheezing and helpless and confused.

Gizmo’s legacy has been my rescue work, first as an advocate, going to events, and talking to the public, then as a foster home, and finally taking over as the local coordinator. When you volunteer with animals, you always know the number of dead. I have lost 2 gerbils, 1 hamster, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 rat since starting to rescue. I remember them all, and I relive the sadness of their passing each time I remember it.

What I don’t know is how many animals we have, directly or indirectly, saved. How many guinea pigs never had to suffer quietly through a respiratory infection, because people learned about them through us? How many guinea pigs never starved while sick, because we taught them to handfeed? How many rabbits recovered because we helped someone find a vet? How many of our adopters have reached out with the knowledge that we equipped them with, and improved the life of the classroom pet, the niece’s guinea pig, or the rabbit purchased on Easter? In the end, you can never number the living, and that was the most important thing that I learned from Gizmo.


Again with the goodbyes…

Posted in Memorials at 12:46 am by ACR&S

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. It sure seems like that happens a lot around here. We lost one Adopted, one in the Sanctuary, and one Adoptable.

We lost one our Sanctuary pigs, Strawberry, on May 15. Despite changes to her diet, she’d had two or three more episodes of bladder stones since her initial troubles in December, and this last time was too much. Her weight had steadily decreased, and the morning of the 15th she refused breakfast. We figured it was another stone and took her in, but the vet felt that she wasn’t likely to survive another surgery. He advised us to euthanize.

Baby StrawberryStrawberry was one of the first pigs born in the rescue. In 2003 we were working with another pig rescue in NC which was trying to close, and slowly transferring all its animals to us. We were asked to briefly hold a pregnant female, and the next morning she gave birth to two pups.

Elmer & StrawberryHer mother, aunt, father, and brother were all adopted within a few months, and a rather than keep her alone we put her with Elmer, a newly rescued neutered boar. It was love at first sight. They pursued one another around the cage, chirping loudly, till they settled into their pigloo to cuddle. After a year in the rescue with not a single adoption application, we decided to make these two our very first Sanctuary pigs.

Strawberry was very inbred, and this may have contributed to a number of the health problems she suffered over the years. She was a teddy breed, with coarse, curly hair, and as is common with this breed, needed frequent ear cleanings. She also developed two toenails which grew thickly and quickly, requiring frequent cutting. She was never a particularly friendly pig to humans, but she would eagerly beg for food, and she and Elmer always demonstrated a stronger bond than we normally see in rescue piggies.

JerryShortly after, we heard from one of our adopters that one of her adopted pigs had passed away in early May. Jerry was one of the Jacksonville 48, a group of pigs dumped by a breeder in summer 2005. Our dear friend Celia has adopted five of our oldest and most needy pigs over the last four years, and provides them with a great loving and caring home. Each in his time has passed over the Rainbow Bridge; like Strawberry, Jerry also died of bladder stones. The one bright note in this is that Celia is ready to adopt two more piggies to go with her last little boy Ben!

Poor MunstrumOn May 25, we had to euthanize an adoptable pig, Munstrum. He came to us with as an owner surrender of a 6 pig family that resulted from a petstore advising a female and male be purchased together. He came in with a severe mite problem which was manifested as open wounds and seizures. The day before his death, he had shown some baffling symptoms, but was still eating and drinking very well. We opted to give him another day to see where his symptoms would go. On the 25th, when examined, he was noticeably worse and in severe pain. He was rushed to the e-vet, and they recommended euthanasia as his heart rate was already extremely low and they believed he was already on his way out. Cause of death at time of death is unknown, necropsy results are pending.

On the other side of the coin, we pulled four pigs and a rabbit from the shelters in the last few weeks, and are waiting on three more pigs from various sources. So overall, I guess we’re up 5:3 over Death for the month, 3 matches pending…


Random updates

Posted in Memorials at 5:24 am by ACR&S

Oreo (rear) and Nini (front)On March 22 we lost another of our longest-term residents: Nini. Her name is an affectionate diminutive of her original name, Conina – she came to us in January 2003 (born December 2002) – the largest and bossiest of a litter born to the unsuspecting purchaser of a petstore pig. Her and her brother Oreo were both Peruvians – they have long, thick hair which required frequent brushing and trimming. They were both altered and we had them in the rescue for the longest time, but nobody wanted to adopt them because of the grooming requirements. Fortunately, late in 2004, adopter and foster parent Cyndi agreed to take them in long term. They’ve been with her ever since.

A few weeks prior to her death, Nini developed bladder stones – one became lodged in her urethra and had to be surgically removed. She was already weakened both by pain and just from being so elderly, and never really recovered. She is dearly missed by her mom Cyndi, her brother, and all of us at ACR&S.

We’re working with the local vet to take in a three-year-old piggie who was surrendered by her owners because they didn’t want to pay for treatment. They took her in because she was drooling, and it turns out she’s missing her upper front incisors. Poor kid. Fortunately, they should grow back if the roots are intact. Updates when I know more.

Pudge is still with us. His new pain med seems to be really helping with his arthritis, and the new antibiotic shampoo is making a huge difference on his skin. He’s regrowing fur in all the original bald patches, and we got the last of those giant scabs off his face. He lost a ton more hair on his back and but, but the skin looks clean and doesn’t appear irritated.We still have no idea what the problem is. I found a report in the literature of a half-a-dozen females in a breeding colony who spontaneously developed the same symptoms – crusty exudate or scabbing at the base of all the hairs, followed by hair loss. All progressed through the disease and then their hair grew back. Another source describes a similar situation and labels it as dermatitis caused by Staphylococcus. This is also the bacteria that causes bumblefoot in pigs, and he does have some of that (due to the arthritic deformation of his front feet). If that’s it, it’s pretty amazing that a simple staph infection didn’t show up on any tests, nearly killed him, and yet he’s recovering from it.

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