GUESTCOLUMNIST

My life with a blind guinea pig

Mia may be blind, but her owner, the author, still loves her.

Ken Helle/tbt*

Mia may be blind, but her owner, the author, still loves her.

I walked into Petco with the intention of getting a rabbit. Instead, I left with a guinea pig.

The plump little butterscotch-and-cream creature just won me over — unlike the rabbits, who kept ignoring me.

There was only one hitch.

"She is blind," a store employee said.

I thought: She is mine.

Hence her name: Mia, Italian for "mine."

Petco general manager Steve Bredt says the key to success with blind pets is to make them feel safe, give them lots of attentions, talk to them and make sure they know where their water and food are placed.

"It takes the right type of person to make the animal have a great life," he said. But he said most customers are compassionate and willing to sacrifice to care for a needy animal.

On our way home, I sang Bob Marley's Three Little Birds as a lullaby to Mia: "Don't worry bout a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right." To be honest, I sang it mostly for myself. How was I supposed to take care of a blind guinea pig? Was I the right type of person?

I prepared her home, placing food bowls and water bottles with sipper tubes where she could easily find them when walking around the cage.

I tried to direct her: "Look, Mia, here is your timothy hay," or "Hey, look, here is your water bottle." But I felt guilty. She couldn't look. Was I mocking my new pet?

Paradoxically, I leave the lights on at night for her. When I go to sleep, I can't bear the fact that Mia will be surrounded by total darkness. Does it really make a difference, since she's blind? I always wonder. Still, it may give her a sense of security.

I found that Mia loves lettuce. In fact, she binges on it. It weighs on my wallet, because I buy the Fresh Express pre-washed lettuce, which sells for $3.59 a bag, since I'm too lazy to wash it myself, and Mia eats it all in a day. (I hope I'm not overfeeding her, and if I am, I hope CalVan's Guinea Pig Rescue isn't reading this.)

We also play a game. I shake a straw ball in front of Mia's face and she grabs it with her tiny mouth and tosses it away. The game can go on forever. But I'm still not sure if she really engages in the game or if she is just annoyed by the noise the bell inside of the toy makes.

You need patience and constancy to deal with a blind pet. Sometimes, I feel like Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates. Every day is a first date with Mia. Everyday, I have to make her fall in love with me again. She acts coy at first, but the more time we spend together, the more extroverted and happy she gets. Once, she peed on my buddy. "Take it as a sign of affection," I said while he changed his shirt. He was annoyed, but I was jealous. Although she had already peed on the couch, Mia hadn't peed on me yet.

Then, it happened. As she cuddled on my lap while I stroked her, I felt something wet and warm. I smiled.

Mia finally loves me.

— adapra@tampabay.com

Guinea Pig Latin

Ever want to know what your guinea pig is trying to say? The folks at Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue are here to translate. Their Web site offers a bank of guinea pig noises and what each one means. So when your little furball goes "Wheek!" you'll know it wants food; and when it says "Drr!" it means it's freaking out. To hear the sounds, visit mgpr.org.

My life with a blind guinea pig 04/17/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 20, 2008 12:29pm]

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