My grandkids have a guinea pig that looks exactly like Donald Trump's hair.

I'm not sure if it's that that makes the animal vaguely unappealing, or if it's simply that it's a guinea pig.

I've never really understood guinea pigs. And it's not through lack of trying.

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Rachel Wise: It was one of those days ...


We had the obligatory pair of the hairy, squeaky creatures as kids. A family down the road and round the corner had an over-supply of the critters and after substantial nagging and grizzling from us three older siblings and priming the youngest sibling to do her wide-eyed and pleading look at our parents, we were allowed two.

They were interesting for all the time it took to feed them really long pieces of grass and laugh at how it got shorter and shorter as they chomped. Then we realised that's all they did.

Eventually, to add insult to injury, the grass would appear again repurposed into brown pellets in the bottom of their cage which we - to our horror - were expected to clean out.

Within a fortnight we were over the whole thing and our mother was left to cut grass, clean out cages and pat the pigs. Strangely, she seemed to like them.

Just as well, as before long the piggy pair revealed they were packing piglets. Two became ... more. And more.

It wasn't long before we were the family with the guinea pig surplus. Mothers forbade their children to come to our place to play, or patted them down on their return home and removed all the pigs that had been slipped into their pockets as they left.

Eventually, with lots of cage shuffling and probably the only guinea-pig neutering the local vet had ever had to perform, the flood of guineas was stemmed and peace began to reign.

Life was a guinea-pig free zone.

Until I met my husband. No he's not a guinea pig nor a fan, but his mother bred the furry beasts in all different colours and degrees of hairiness. Not only that but she exhibited and judged at guinea pig shows nationwide. I had no idea this guinea-related underworld existed.


I also learned a big important fact.

Guinea pigs are not guinea pigs.

They are cavies, I will have you know, and expect to be referred to as such. They are rodents and are related to capybara. And in the Andes mountains they are Sunday lunch.

I found out that cavies come in a variety of very special colours, all of which have strange names like agouti and argente and broken and lilac and lemon. These colours can come in long or short hair, some of which is smooth and some of which is so ruffled and rosetted that the pig - sorry cavy - doesn't appear to have a front or a back ... it's just perambulating fuzz.

While interesting and a little startling, none of this helped a lot when my daughters became guinea pig - sorry cavy - besotted when they were at primary school.
They asked for one each.

I said no, you will get bored with them.

They swore they would find their cavies, should they get them, endlessly fascinating.

I told them they would have to feed them and clean them out.

They said that would be an absolute delight.

I cavied - sorry caved - in and once again heard the patter of tiny cavy-claws around the house and the gnash of little teeth as the girls fed them long pieces of grass and laughed at them.

Within a week I was nagging them to feed and entertain their new pets.

A fortnight later I was feeding and entertaining the wee beasts.

A month later Alfred our terrier decided to entertain himself by digging into their hutch and, in the tradition of the Andean culture, he attempted to have them for Sunday lunch.

There was wailing and grieving when the deed was discovered. The girls were bereft.

A funeral was held for the dearly departed. They were lowered into a guinea-sized grave and sprinkled with flower petals. The grave was marked with a stone, with their names written in shaky felt tip pen.

The next day the terrier dug them up and tried to finish his meal.

More wailing ensued. The terrier was berated, piggies were re-buried with extra pomp and circumstance and the headstone placed firmly back.

The next day he dug them up again and scoffed the lot.

I quickly and furtively filled in the hole, bunged the rock back on top and to this day the kids don't know the cavy grave was effectively empty. Sorry kids.

We decided bigger, terrier-proof pets were more appropriate and I eventually got them a miniature horse instead.

The girls greeted it by feeding it handfuls of long grass and giggling as my husband eyed the hairy, chubby, multi-coloured arrival with a baleful look.

"Giant guinea pig," he announced.

"Cavy," I corrected him.