If you’re my Facebook friend you may have seen my recent announcement about becoming a published author. For those of you who are wondering, here’s the inspiration for my children’s book.
After a brief stint living with my Grandmother after college, I found a “big kid” job and moved into my own apartment. It wasn’t glamourous, but it was decent and mostly quiet (unless the maintenance man and his meth-addict girlfriend were furious at each other, or had lost their cat, which always seemed to be at 7 a.m. on my days off). Those are stories for another time.
At some point, I decided I needed a pet. I was too cheap to pay a pet deposit, so I needed something besides a dog. I thought of guinea pigs because I had some growing up. I did some research and adopted my first pets, a trio of female guinea pigs that I drove to Wichita, KS to acquire. Their cage was in my “dining” room (I don’t cook so a table wasn’t a necessity). They were fun and I got into them. At some point I acquired a fourth, the girl’s dad, who had since been neutered and was the sweetest GP. I did a little bit of fostering for the Kansas rescue. But then one day I literally stumbled upon a message in an online forum. It was from a local girl who wanted to give up her guinea pig. She said he had an eye infection, and my heart went out to him. Note: It did not go out to her. Even in the beginning stages of animal rescue my sympathy for poor pet owners was low. It remains as such.
My rescue contact said I could foster him, and take him to the vet. At that time I had no idea the guinea pig, Joey, would connect me to my life’s passion, yet he’s the reason I rescue as many animals as I can every year.
A couple of days later I picked him up and I was furious. He was disgusting. His long white hair was dirty and matted. His nails were severely overgrown, and his eye was definitely infected as it was covered in a brown gunk that resembled melting peanut butter. His cage was a storage tub. It was “clean” but I could tell that it had only been cleaned in anticipation of my arrival. It took me HOURS to clean him up, and the cage went promptly into the garbage. In hindsight, I should have called the girl into the authorities for animal neglect, but all I could do was focus on him.
After doing what I could, I called the vet I had been using and they said it would be days before he could get in. I didn’t think Joey had days. So, I opened the phone book (it was the early 2000s kids) and started calling vets to see if they took piggies, and if they would see him the next day. That’s when another amazing thing happened….I blindly found an amazing vet who was willing to go on this rescue journey with me. When I arrived, the vet talked to the guinea pig in baby talk, and I was swooning. He’s been our vet ever since.
Over the course of about the next year, the vet helped me nurse Joey back to health. He guided me on home care for his eye (it would never return to “normal”), he counseled me through what I could do to help him because he had suffered neurological damage because of the neglect, but mostly, he was my friend. He would even let me bring Joey into his office on my way to work on days where I was really worried about him and didn’t want to leave him alone. Those days were many. The vet had Joey’s best interest in mind with every decision he made, and every decision he let me make. We agreed that as long as Joey was eating and drinking, that we would keep trying everything we could, even though we knew he would never be a “normal” guinea pig.
I didn’t rescue Joey because I thought I should or because I knew someone would tell me I was doing a great thing. And I didn’t rescue Joey because I thought I’d get a book published about his story. I rescued Joey because he needed help. He needed a human to take care of him (the one thing both of his previous human families had failed miserably at providing). I didn’t think twice about picking him up, and I didn’t ever regret the decision to bring him into my world, even though it took a lot of work, a good chunk of change, and some tremendous heartache.
On December 2, 2007, I awoke to Joey struggling to breathe. I picked him up and wondered what to do. Could he get to the vet in time? Should I make him a “spa” tent using warm water to ease the struggle on his lungs? Probably a million other thoughts passed in those minutes. Somewhere in those thoughts Joey took his last breathe in my hands. I was crushed. Already life without Joey was a bit lonelier, a bit less purposeful, and I missed him greatly.
I’d like to say I recovered from this loss or that I felt peace knowing I’d “done everything I could,” but everyone wants to feel that way with the passing of any being, but thinking those thought doesn’t make them feel true, even when they are. We all wonder “what if” when death comes calling, and we all wish to have that being, whether animal or human, back with us, even for a final few moments and a “proper” goodbye. We never recover fully. It’s never “okay” that they are gone from this form.
After my heart started to heal, I felt a pull to tell Joey’s story. During Joey’s time with me, I’d met so many people who never considered that small animals, or pocket pets, are also the subject of neglect or that there are rescues devoted to them. I met people who couldn’t believe the intense care that I, or our vet provided (even other vets). It wasn’t fair that Joey had endured everything he had and was never able to be “normal” because of a worthless set of humans who wronged him early in his life. So, I started play around with his story, but I was not serious about it.
At some point I wrote a draft. I saw it as a book I thought could be used as a fun way to educate kids on the responsibilities of small animal ownership, and the idea of rescue. Although there wasn’t a printed copy in my nightstand, the draft spent years hidden in a folder on my computer. I did nothing with it, partially out of fear, and partially out of debating if it was okay to use his story. I kept returning to the fact that Joey didn’t suffer all of that loss to be forgotten, but I was still frozen.
Until one of my best friends got published and kept urging me to try it, she said to just send it in and deal with the rejection when it came, because if I didn’t, it would always just sit in that electronic “nightstand” and I would wonder forever if I had missed an opportunity to help more creatures through his story. Joey deserved more. Around my 32nd Birthday I kept getting signs it was time to try. So on my Birthday, I sat in a hotel room in Wyoming (I was there for work…woot) and just started sending it out. And one day, I got the call that it was picked up.
The Adventures of Joey: A Guinea Pig Rescue Tale is make-believe, but based on a guinea pig that lived a very real, very hard life. The hardest parts aren’t in print, but the truth in the tale of needing his people, and the truth in the dreams of the life I wanted him to have, are intertwined in the narrative. I hope you’ll read it someday, and I hope it speaks to you, like Joey’s existence spoke to me. Maybe it will go somewhere, and maybe it won’t, but in the very end, it’s a tribute to Joey, and the fraction of life he spent with me.
That’s your piece of me,