Updated: Feb 9
How do you say goodbye to a foster pet?
As a fairly recent guinea pig foster parent of pregnant pigs and their babies, I didn't expect to hear the news I got yesterday. Marcie, one of my family's favorite guinea pigs, had passed away.
We only had Marcie for a few weeks, but in that time, we all fell in love with her. She was the friendliest guinea pig I had ever met. Most guinea pigs will run away and hide when a human tries to touch them — it's their prey animal instinct — but not Marcie. She came running to the side of her cage as soon as she heard anyone enter the room. She would stand up against the bars, always hopeful for a treat but content to receive a scratch on the head.
Marcie had a short, chaotic life. She arrived at the San Jose shelter when she was only a few months old with her four babies, and soon after that, she came to the rescue I work with to be treated for ringworm. During her recovery, she had to be kept isolated from all other guinea pigs even though they are social critters who need to be around a friend.
This is what Marcie looked like when I first met her, once her ringworm was under control.
She weighed only a little more than a pound and her fur stuck out in all directions due to the antifungal ointment rubbed onto her skin.
I had brought down one of my foster babies, Harley, to see if they were a good match to be bonded partners. Within minutes, Marcie was cuddling up to Harley. Clearly, she was ecstatic to finally have a friend.
After getting the pair settled in their new cage, one of our first orders of business was giving Marcie a bath. As you can see from these pictures, she came out of the water an entirely different creature.
While Marcie was in our home, we did our best to restore her health with vitamins and veggies and guinea pig food, and with lots of attention.
Marcie was curious and vocal. Whenever we entered the room she would run wheeking to the side of the cage, wanting to know who was there and if they had brought her any food. She was also exceedingly patient, for instance, she allowed five 13-year-old girls to pass her around like she was a stuffie and even dress her up. Her time spent alone seemed to only have made her more determined to enjoy the company of others, guinea pigs and humans.
Marcie and Harley were adopted by a caring family with kids. The mom was from England and she said everyone had guinea pigs growing up. It was a perfect fit for these two young girls.
But just yesterday, I learned that Marcie had passed away. She had succumbed to an ear infection. Antibiotics normally work, but the illness was too much for Marcie, and she never came home from the veterinarian's office.
Fortunately, Harley is doing well despite the loss of her friend, and the family will find her a new companion. Life will go on, for Harley, for Marcie's family, for me, just a little sadder for a few days.
After all, what's one less guinea pig in a world full of them? (A quick search on Petfinder shows that there are 116 guinea pigs for adoption near me.) Yes, Marcie was a sweet girl but how could an animal who was in my life for only two weeks leave such an impact that I cried a few tears in the doctor's office, in front of other people, when I learned she was gone?
I'm not sure. Is it because animals encourage us to lower our guard and love wholeheartedly? In a society that values strength and independence, pets force us to recognize our own vulnerability. They depend on us for everything. And they will die and leave us alone. My own older guinea pigs are almost three years old now, more than middle-aged.
Or maybe it's because they slow down the pace of life. You can't rush out the door when you have to refill the water bottle and put out hay for three cages' worth of guinea pigs. As Mindy Schwartz wrote in her recent post about the loss of her dog, Rocky. "His excitement over a stop for a cup of whipped cream at the local coffee shop drive-thru taught me to appreciate the special little moments in life."
Or maybe it's the reminder of how fleeting happiness is. Working with a rescue, I hear about far too many animals treated like little more than worn-out toys. Guinea pigs kept in hoarder houses, hamsters tossed on the doorstep of a shelter in a pillowcase. After experiencing many ordeals in her short life, Marcie had finally landed with a family and an animal friend who loved her. And then, so unfairly, she was gone.
I don't know why Marcie left such a mark, but we will remember her.