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My Pet Project
by Marilyn Bagel

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for pets. When I was a tot, I had a goldfish. Goldie lived in a large fishbowl on the kitchen counter next the cookie jar. I would talk to it, but then also I talked to dolls . . . walls . . . myself. Later I could chalk it off to being creative. Anyway one morning, Goldie committed suicide. There’s no other explanation for it. She simply jumped out of the bowl and went over the wall. At first we couldn’t find her, but then there she was behind the cookie jar. I still have that cookie jar. Old memories die hard. Now it’s filled with doggie treats.

When I was a young girl in elementary school, I was the proud owner of a cute miniature turtle named Nippy. My conscience still pains me at the thought of his untimely demise. As you recall, back then, these mini-turtles were all the rage. Today I think they’re illegal, like most things that are fun. Anyway, you probably had one or had a friend who did. Of course, like any responsible owner, we bought Nippy his requisite plastic condo, complete with wading pool and palm trees. It came with everything but condo fees, and Nippy lived a good life. I taught him “tricks,” like crawling over a pencil. Then one day I decided to set him outside in the safety of his plastic abode to get some fresh air. However that summer afternoon turned into a scorcher, and I forgot he was out there. You can see what’s coming. The water in Nippy’s home had evaporated, not to mention that this was long before the debut of the Food Network, and baked turtle is a traumatic experience that no young child should discover on her own. To say that I wailed loudly at the realization that I was a turtle murderer is an understatement.

Now fast forward through parenting two children and pet ownership of lovable hamsters, cats, and dogs, all of whom I treated like my own kids. Within this time frame when my daughter was in first grade — she’s 19 now — we entered the guinea pig era. It began innocently enough. We became weekend sitters for her class’s pet. Every Friday we took it home in her cage and brought her back on Monday morning. Guinea pigs really are quite adorable and before long we were hooked. Around the same time we learned from the mom of a class friend that they were raising guinea pigs for The Animal Exchange, a reputable pet shop in our area that specializes in critters and birds. Our first pair of male and female guinea pigs – Elvis and Madonna – launched us into multi-generations of these adorable furry beings.

Now I have to share with you that the mom I mentioned is a renowned portrait artist, extremely creative and quite sane. I say this so you will have a context to what followed. In a weak moment, she told me that when she and her family were home from school during a snow day, they held a guinea pig wedding. Turns out she had made elaborate Vera-Wang-like outfits for the entire guinea pig bridal party – wedding gown, tux, and similar outfits for the bridespig and best pig. She graciously invited us to bring Elvis to be betrothed to her female Clarissa.

As parents of the groom we were responsible for the bridal party “flowers.” We brought a head of cauliflower studded with carrots. I kid you not. It was a garden wedding out in her backyard. We have pictures to prove it. I think this is what happens to creative people with too much time on our hands.

After many years as GPOs (guinea pig owners), we thought we were winding down. We had one female left. But guinea pigs are social beings, and we felt sorry for her being in solitary. So we went to Petco to get her a gal pal. Three weeks later my daughter said, “Mom if I didn’t know better, I’d say she was pregnant.” Turns out the guinea pig we brought home had been knocked up at Petco. She gave birth to two sons. So we’re back to two separate cages again.

So here I sit surrounded by six muses -- four guinea pigs and two dogs -- and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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