A Tribute To Winston, My Favorite Rodent

winstonThis morning, Winston, one of our guinea pigs, passed away. That’s him in the picture, reluctantly wearing a tiny Yankees helmet (he wasn’t a Boston fan – he just didn’t like hats in general).

He’d had some health problems recently and we knew it was his time. I woke up this morning at 8 and knew he was on his way out. The vet didn’t open until 9, so I couldn’t take him in to be put down right away. So I sat with a hand on him the whole time while he curled up in his favorite spot in the cage and settled in for a nice long nap.

We had five guinea pigs, now four (Winston was my favorite, so don’t expect four accompanying eulogies in the years to come). I know you may be thinking that’s a peculiar pet and it kind of is. But Elizabeth picked them, and I picked her, so deal with it. Though to be honest, when we started dating, I didn’t think I could ever grow close to a guinea pig. After all, they are in fact rodents. But Winston definitely grew on me.

He was a dummy, for sure. I say that with love. Every time he looked at you, his mouth hung open like he was trying to figure out a really hard math problem. His blank stare made it like having a portable Keanu Reeves you could almost fit in your pocket.

The first thing you must understand about this pig is that he was incredibly tough. He went through medical procedures no tiny ball of fur should be able to withstand. He had surgery to remove a bladder stone. Made it through that. Had a cyst lanced. Made it through that. Unfortunately the poor guy’s health continued to deteriorate  and putting him through anything else would have been senseless and selfish on our part. Besides, short of turning him into some sort of guinea cyborg, there wasn’t really anything else anyone could have done. Though as much as I loved the little guy, I must admit he would’ve been much cooler with a bionic arm and a red eye shooting lasers from it. Unfortunately, ol’ Winsty never lived to see guinea pig technology get to that point. One day, old chum.

But as tough as he was, that wasn’t his defining trait or why I liked him so much. What I liked about him was that he let us pet him. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal for a pet, but it’s a bigger than you think. Understand this about guinea pigs: they’re prey animals. That means in the wild, they exist to be lunch. Instinctively, they’ve evolved to run from pretty much anything. So any time I go to pet any one of our other four pigs, they immediately take off and head for cover like a hawk somehow got into our apartment in Astoria, New York.

Winston never did that. He always let us pet him. Was he just too dumb to run? Maybe. Did he just like being pet? Probably. Did he know it brightened our day each time I got a chance to pet him for a few seconds? No chance. But he let us, and it did make us feel better, so what’s the difference?

That’s the thing: guinea pigs aren’t like dogs and cats. They have pea brains and I’m sure Winston was even more oblivious than other pets are about what he meant to me and Elizabeth. But it really didn’t matter. Our pigs live in a big cage next to my office, and I got to walk by them whenever I walked in there to do work. Each time I did, getting to pet our big guy made me a little happier. He could’ve scurried away, but he didn’t. It’s a small thing, but what a service he did us, letting our days get just a little bit brighter each time we got to say hi to him.

When I was 13, my family moved from Massachusetts to Virginia. It was tough for us, leaving one place for another place we knew nothing about. Soon after arriving, we got a cocker spaniel named Maggs. She was the best. When she passed in 2008, I told my family how I thought she was really the stabilizing force that helped us get through the transition (which for 4 kids in a new place with no friends, was pretty tough). Here we are in 2015. Elizabeth and I went from living in Virginia to the biggest city in the world. I can say that unequivocally that Winston, like my pup Maggs before him, made this transition  much, much easier. Whenever we get stressed about our careers, or living in New York, or life in general, we always had him to pet. No matter how frenzied life got, he provided a little bit of levity whenever we needed it. For that, we’re grateful to him. We’ll miss him dearly, but we’ll always be able to look back on how he made a trying time that much easier, all by just not running away when we came over to see him. Although if I’m being honest, he probably only stayed because he thought he was getting a piece of pepper. But I won’t hold that against him.

So rest easy, big guy. You earned it. I hope we gave you a great life. I know you made ours a little better each time we reached down to see you.

Thanks for letting us pet you.


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