Monday, April 12, 2010

Introduction: Sophie-Mo

Greetings, readers! I hope you all are having as wonderful a day as I am.
The sun is shining, it's warm out but not freakishly so, and I have a houseful of things that love me.

I would like you all to meet my Sophie-Mo.

Of all of the creatures that I have had the good fortune of knowing in my years, Sophie-Mo is the sweetest, gentlest being that I have ever crossed paths with. Over the years she has just gotten sweeter, and more wise and humble. Whenever I see her, pick her up, or even when I just hear her wheeking, I can't help but smile. How did I come to share my life with this loving little spirit? A little bit of luck, and a lot of chance.

In the spring of 2008, I was Bundergrounding [to transport a bunny from place to place via a chain of pick-up/drop-off points, usually involving multiple rescuers] a feisty little lionhead bun from the Stevens-Swan Humane Society in Utica, NY to my hometown of Syracuse. At the time, I'd been trying to adopt a pair of guinea pigs for a little under a year and had basically given up hope. The first thing I did when I got to Utica was to get very lost. Then I finally found my way to the shelter.
Upon walking in, the first thing I noticed was all of the guinea pigs! They had at least 6 [two to a cage] in the little foyer. I retrieved the bunny--whose name was Fufu--and while I was signing him out, asked the woman at the desk how much the adoption fee for the guinea pigs was. "You want one? Oh, you can just have them. They've been here so long." I went over to check out a pair of texels that were very cute, but skiddish as all get-out. After a few moments, I decided on the pair that was against the back wall, a fluffy white pig and a tri-color covered in cowlicks. Their names were Mo and Sapphire.

Driving home, I just couldn't stop looking at them. I couldn't believe it. Guinea pigs were in my car. They were coming home to me, to stay and live with me. I decided to name them Olive and Sophie, but almost immediately started calling Sophie "Sophie-Mo," Because both names fit her very well.

Sophie and Olive were my very first guinea pigs and I'm happy to say, two years later, they're still with me. At first we thought that they were sisters, but these days I'm not so sure. Most guinea pigs don't really show that they're aging, but Sophie-Mo has certainly slowed down. We have had her checked for heard disease, but the results were inconclusive.

As many of you know, Sophie-Mo [and Olive and Natasha] got pregnant in the summer of 2009. When Olive was less than two weeks to term, and Sophie about three, I had to make a very difficult decision. I knew that if I just let them have the babies, someone would die--whether it was the mothers or the babies, it would be impossible to tell in advance. Sophie and Olive were two years old, at least, and had never birthed before. But an emergency spay could lose all of them as well.

I took all three girls, heavy with young, to my vet to get her opinion. She seemed very confident that they would survive the surgery. So with a very heavy heart, I kissed my two girls good-bye, wished my vet and them the best of luck, and headed home with one very pregnant Natasha. I called off of work that day, explaining to my boss that two of my friends were fighting for their lives and I could focus on nothing else. I'm lucky it was Scott.

Dr. Roach had promised to call me once the surgery was done, and at 6:30pm I was starting to get anxious. I called the hospital and explained that I'd dropped my two cavies off that morning for emergency surgery that morning, and just needed to know that they were okay. "Oh, Amy! Yes, they're fine! I'm so sorry for not calling you sooner--Olive's babies are still alive.. they're not doing too great but all the vet techs are doing their best to keep them going. They're such little dears. You can pick your pigs up tomorrow morning, honey, I'll call and let you know how the babies made out when my shift ends at 9, okay?" The woman on the phone was a nurse whose name I can never remember to this day, but she [and pretty much everyone else in that hospital] absolutely loves me and my pigs and bunnies. It turned out that the babies didn't make it, they had barely any fur and a necropsy showed that their lungs were under-developed. They would have had very hard lives.

My girls' impregnation was a complete accident, and I in no way promote breeding of guinea pigs as '"education for the kids," or for any other reason, but there's no denying that some creatures are just born to be mothers. I saw how proud and confident it made my Natasha. And I can't help but be a little sad that Sophie-Mo didn't get to raise her babies. Being with Tasha's babies gave her such joy, you could just see it in her eyes.

I could write novels about what a wonderful and caring soul my fluffy white girl is. But if I don't get up and do the girls' laundry, I will have five very disgruntled sows on my hands. So, I'll be going now. That is the story of my little Sophie-Mo. I am grateful for every day that I get to wake up and share my life with these seven guinea pigs and two rabbits. And you folks. Please do have a wonderful evening.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cutting Back, Episode 3: Veggies

Hello all, I'm back from the North Country! And man, I had such a blast and learned SO much. If you want to see photos from the trip, they are here on my Flickr page.

So this episode of Cutting Back is all about veggies. And I'll be honest, a lot of this is common sense stuff that many of us don't really think about. I've been back from the North Country for a week and a half now, and I've been working on this post for a while trying to compile all of the little stuff.

It seems obvious, but that isn't alway the case..
Know your veggies. It is definitely important to know your veggies. Too much of something, like spinach, kale or silverbeet [swiss chard] can be bad for guinea pigs. If you don't memorize well, I recommend you print out Ly's Nutrition Charts from and keep them in your purse/wallet or bring them to the grocery store. In a nutshell, your pig's menu should be lettuce-based, with a good variety of leafy greens each week. My guinea pigs usually get 1-2 kinds of lettuce, one dark leafy green and one or two kinds of herbs each week. I know my veggies very well because I have been doing this for a long time. Practice makes perfect.
Stick to your budget! I spend between $19-$21 each week on greens for my 7 cavies and two rabbits. More than that, and I know I've simply bought too much. Less, and I know I'll be back to the grocery store later in the week. Make a budget, and stick to it. This goes a long way with helping you to cut back on your expenses.
Prep your veggies ahead of time. Many of you are familiar with my post on prepping salads. If you need to cut down on the time that that prep takes, you can cut out the washing/spinning step, which takes the longest and can be done at the time that the salad is served. I do this when I have a busy weekend and don't have two hours to devote to making 10 boxes of salads.
Prepping your salads in advance allows you to portion out your greens so that you're giving your pigs the amount that they need, and you're not using too much and running out early, messing up both your budget and your weekly routine.
Grow your own. I'm not suggesting you go all-out and flood your balcony with 21 heads of lettuce, 3 tomato plants, 2 bell pepper vines and a 2 window boxes full of spinach. Though it you want to, by all means. The more you grow, the more you'll save. I grow about 1/3 of the greens that my cavies eat in the summer time. If you have space on your steps, your porch, your balcony or, if you're lucky enough, some backyard, I encourage you to get your hands dirty and grow some food for your pigs.
Get it locally/in bulk. Things like carrot and celery greens are something that most farmers remove before selling their product. Contact a local farmer and ask them for these perfectly nutritious, delicious greens. I also recommend shopping at the farmer's market when greens are in season. The prices there are much better and the money you spend goes back into your community.
If you have a lot a lot a lot of green-munchers, you can buy a box [about 20-25lbs] of greens from the grocery store for around $20. I know many fosterers who do this. Just be sure you can keep the greens cool. They won't last longer than 7-10 days at the very most.

Storing veggies
I have a lot of green-munching mammals in the house, and I am lucky enough to have two refrigerators. But it has not always been this way. There are many ways to store your veggies.
Coolers. While I was boarding my animals over this past summer/fall, I kept a large cooler in their room so that I could keep their food as close to them as possible. The downside was that, especially in the summer, I had to change the ice at least once a day.
An old chest freezer/fridge. I am a big fan of repurposing old chest freezers and refrigerators. These are very hard to 'recycle' and often they're doomed to hundreds of years in a landfill until Wall-E discovers a plant in a shoe inside one of them. You can use them just like coolers, except you have much more room! If you buy your greens in bulk this is the way to go.
Your ventilator drawer. If your house isn't overflowing with guinea pigs, you can just use the ventilator drawer of your fridge. Really, anywhere that is between 40-55F will do. Many people just keep greens in their basement.