Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wrangling Wired Pigs

One decent group shot
If I didn't know better, I'd swear my trio of guinea pigs had gotten into the Halloween candy yesterday.  They were certainly jacked up on something!

All I wanted to do was a quick November-themed photo shoot.  I put them in their scenery around 3:30 so they could get used to their surroundings.  I figured they'd be done sniffing and taste-testing in about 20 minutes and we could get to work with a minimum of fidgeting.


In 20 minutes Willow was yelling that she was tired of Pinni chasing and climbing on her.  Bertie was taking pot shots at Willow whenever she ran by.  There was rumblestrutting, butt-dragging, teeth-chartering and humping galore.  It was like I suddenly had a trio of boars.  What gives?  It was chaos.

Bertie on the move
So I gave up and let them loose on the floor.  I hoped some more space would let them burn off the extra energy.  The noise!  Pigs were percolating all around the living room and kitchen.  Willow was still squawking at Pinni because she wouldn't leave her alone.  Pinni was grousing at everything.  Only Bertie was fairly quiet and placid, only reaching out to bite Willow as she ran by.

At 5pm I decided to get something productive done and clean their cages while they were on the floor.  The girls get pretty excited when I scoop out old bedding and wash down the cage.  But they get truly hyped up at the sound of fresh bedding getting dumped in the cage.  They line up at the edge of the kitchen doorway and look longingly at their cages.  Please, can we go home now??

Sweet, innocent Willow
Fine.  I put them in their cages.  I figured they'd been running around enough that they'd spend 10 minutes checking every nook and cranny, then plop down for a nap.  Wrong.  Those pigs were so wired, it was nearly another hour before they started to settle in.  Three hours of running around, non-stop, and they still showed no indication of sacking out.

It was getting late I needed those photos.  I decided to take my chances.  Stuffing the cornucopia with hay, parsley and Willow helped a lot.  In the end, after all of that waiting, the photo shoot went pretty smoothly.  One set of shots did the trick.  Amen.

Aren't they adorable?  Such lovely photos with apparently calm, well behaved guinea pigs.  Who would ever believe me if I said it took over three hours to get those little hellions to pose for a few deceptively simple pictures?  They're lucky they're cute or I'd be contemplating Bad Pig Stew for dinner.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Rehoboth Dance

I always love the Halloween contra dance at Rehoboth.  People dress up in all sorts of neat costumes, get together and have a good time.  Lots of goodies at the break.  Charlie (the cookie man) even brought Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies, which were positively evil.

There were some great costumes, as usual.  I always get a kick out of the simple, clever costumes.  One girl came as pumpkin pie: an orange shirt with a jack-o-lantern on the front, and the symbol for pi on the back.  There were tons of beautiful and elaborate costumes there last night.  I saw several swashbuckling types with costumes to swoon over.  I even danced briefly with Dr. Horrible!  There was a witch doctor, a couple of flappers, a Hands of Blue (without his partner?), Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Zorro, a ballerina, some clowns, some farmers, some pirates and others in generally festive/spooky gear.  What fun!

Usually I plan my costume several weeks in advance, to make sure I can get all of the bits and pieces I need.  But somehow Halloween snuck up on me this year, and I found myself wondering what to dress up as on the morning of the dance.  I dug through my closet and came across my goth paraphernalia which I hadn't worn in many years.  Alas, my black nail polish was unusable and I lost my extra tattoo.  I had to do without.

It's one of those basic outfits that can cover a lot of bases.  I was asked if I was a ghoul, a vampire (with a cross around my neck?!?), a dominatrix or a zombie.  Whatever.  It was fun just to dress up in something different.  I kind of ruined the whole severe effect by laughing or smiling (which I tend to do at a dance). 

A new guy is starting work at my company on Monday.  I plan on dressing up like this.  Wonder what kind of first impression that will make?  Whee!

Friday, October 28, 2011

An Abundance of Apples

A couple of weeks ago I bought a bag of apples at my local farmer's market with the intent of making several things, which never quite happened.  I inspected the apples last night and found that one or two of them had gone soft.  Obviously I needed to cook them up, quick!

My first apple pie
Someone in this house (I won't name names) is not overly fond of my apple crisp because it's not sweet enough.  So I decided to try my hand at apple pie.

I dug through my Joy of Cooking (I wonder if anyone in my family has my grandmother's "secret" recipe?) and roughly followed the basic apple pie recipe.  I followed the instructions for a 9" crust, and then discovered I have a 10" pie pan.  Oops.  I will need to fix that if I make this again.  But it covered enough., and into the over it went.

Isn't it a thing of beauty?  (not)  I am obviously not ready to compete with Ever So Humble Pie Company.  The whole kitchen smelled delicious, regardless.

But wait!  There's more! 

French Apple Cake (which passed Poison Check)
I had more apples than would fit in the pie.  While flipping through my cookbook, I came across something called French Apple Cake which seems to be an upside-down cake.  It was an odd recipe:  all of the sugar goes into the fruit; the batter is unsweetened.  And there's not much batter.  I gave it a try.  I had a hard time spreading the batter over the apples because there wasn't that much of it.  So this thing ended up being mostly apples with a bit of biscuit/cake over it.  I didn't had a chance to flip it out of the pan; it was still a little too warm to chance it.  But as you can see from the photo, I did a poison check (there was even less of it left by the time I finished writing this).  Maybe this will make it easier to turn upside-down?

We did not get a chance to try the pie (it was late by the time it came out of the oven).  If the taste-test of the apple cake is any indication, I think pie will be a keeper.  But that awaits the final verdict of the Judge.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Discovering Adoption: Athena and Victoria

This is a bit of history as to why I adopt my guinea pigs from shelters (and don't support pet stores).

I had guinea pigs when I was a child. I bought my first pair as an adult from some large pet store chain.  There was a pen filled with dozens of guinea pigs and I decided to take two home with me.  Pandora and Abercrombie turned out to be perfect breeding-mill specimens:  so tiny they couldn't have been more than few weeks old and looked nearly identical to every other guinea pig in the pen.  They must have been terribly inbred.  The health problems started within weeks of bringing them home.  Pandora had a series of abscesses and and an ear infection which left her with a permanent head tilt.  Poor Abercrombie died at 18 months old, due to a congenital heart defect.  They taught me how hard it was to find a good cavy-savvy vet and the heart breaking results of breeding mills.

I vowed off of the big pet stores.  After Pandora passed, I found Teddi and Eclair at a locally owned pet store that bred a small number of guinea pigs.  These guinea pigs appeared much healthier and this pet store seemed to have a genuine interest in their care.  They stocked a good brand of pellet and stressed the importance of having a cage large enough for the pair of pigs.  I had these two for several years.  Eclair broke my heart when she died from a spay (due to tumors all over her uterus).  Teddi's heart started to fail soon after.

In researching Eclair's illness, I found out that there were guinea pigs in animal shelters.  I had never considered this before.  Shelters were for cats and dogs.  You could find guinea pigs at an animal shelter?  I discovered animal shelters had all sorts of small animals!  There were rabbits, mice, ferrets, hamsters and, of course, guinea pigs.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What's Wrong with Bertie

It turns out I wasn't the only one in the house hit with a virus this summer.  I got word of Bertie's blood work on Thursday night.  I had been a little worried because the vet hadn't called me back a full week after the results were supposed to be in.  It turns out that Bertie has pneumonia virus of mice (PVM) and guinea pig adenovirus.  These viruses affect the lungs, can have the symptoms of a URI, causes dramatic weight loss and may cause listlessness or depression.  Any of this sound familiar?

Typical virus:  there's nothing I can give her to fix the problem.  From what I understood from the vet, this is commonly diagnosed after an otherwise healthy-looking guinea pig has suddenly dropped dead.  The viruses can lurk, then hit quickly.  I wonder if Bertie picked up this virus a long time ago.  She has had bouts of wheeziness that disappear after 24 hours many times since I've had her.  She had been brought to a shelter with a large group of pigs.  I don't know where else she could have picked up the virus.

So the good news?  It's not heart disease.  It's not kidney failure.  If I'm lucky, she'll fight off this bug and gain her weight back.  However, I am once again dealing with a long-term illness.  Seriously?  And the added bonus... it might kill her sooner than later.  The vet said Bertie will be more susceptible to URIs, so we will need to watch her carefully for that.  And it's possible she will have a shortened life span, because of damage to her lungs (if a URI doesn't kill her first). 

I have a diagnosis, and that's a start.  There's plenty to do, even if I can't treat the virus itself.  I will need to weigh Bertie more often than the other girls.  I know the symptoms of a respiratory infection and can start treatment immediately.  And we can have some bonding time while she endures syringe feedings of Critical Care when her weight drops too low.  These, at least, are all things I am capable of doing.  Who knows?  She may pull a Willow and last longer than anyone's wildest predictions.  Go Bertie!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Vacation Day Goods

Goodness - a blog post not about guinea pigs.  Can you deal with that?

I took vacation day today just to have a day for me.  Call it a Mental Health Day.  Often, the day is spent doing catch-up and errands, but I try to do something enjoyable.  I didn't quite get to the sewing projects or starting on my ornaments.  I did a bit of writing.  But the good stuff was some cooking in the afternoon.

 Life is uncertain, so the dessert first:  Chocolate Chip Shortbread.  The photo is before I cut them up into thin little rectangles.  But doesn't that look good enough to just eat the whole thing?  It's a simple recipe my mother made for a Christmas cookie swap years ago.  If you cut it up small enough, they're just about guilt-free goodies.  Unless, of course, you find you've just eaten a half dozen of them.  Hmm...

Pot pie, ready to bake

My other cooking project this afternoon was Chicken Pot Pie.  We had lots of leftover chicken from a roaster last week.  I visited my parents over the weekend and came home with a fistful of carrots fresh from their garden.  Carrots never go to waste in this household.  The guinea pigs were very appreciative of the carrot tops and trimmings.  I kept the big carrots for myself. 

The gravy is still a work in progress.  I've improved a lot since my first pot pie I made last year:  the gravy was so thick you could stand a knife upright in it!

I had enough ingredients for two pies; one goes into the freezer for another day and the other will be dinner tomorrow.  A perfect meal for a cool Fall evening.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Totally Tubular

Bertie can move a tunnel from the second floor to the first in less than a minute, but not every attempt is successful.  I managed to video one such botched attempt.  Bertie seemed to be making a good go of it, but then Pinni decided to get involved.  It seems that instead of getting the tunnel down to the first floor, they end up using it as a sort of a slide.  I've seen several examples of the tunnel hung up between floors like this, or jammed like an elbow pipe jammed in the corner.  It seems that neither one has figured out that they can pull the tunnel down from the second floor.  Yup - these two are not the brightest bulbs in the bunch.

Watching Pinni's involvement makes me wonder if she's has been involved every time the tunnel gets stuck between levels?  I always thought that Bertie was the more air-headed of the two of them, yet she applies herself to the task with more intent than Pinni.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Readjusting to the Neighbors

I spent part of my last two Saturday afternoons rearranging the cages because Willow seemed a little lonely.  She couldn't easily interact with the other pigs except when they were outside or during floor time.  I wanted to give her more contact with Bertie and Pinniped.

They entered the new cage layout after spending an afternoon together eating grass.  Initially, Bertie and Pinni were too preoccupied checking out their clean cage to even notice there was a wall missing on the far side of the cage.  Willow, though, immediately discovered the difference and appeared both fascinated and terrified by the lack of the wall.  She taste-tested some of the coroplast and watched Bertie and Pinni cautiously.

Pinni was the first Newbie to realize that she could see and hear Willow.  The hackles went up and she was all set to chase Willow out... until she bumped into the grids between her and Willow.  Willow seemed a bit intimidated, but didn't budge from the grid wall.  There was nose sniffing and Pinni went off to examine the rest of her clean cage.  Bertie came over to chew the bars a few times and touch noses and also lost interest.

Certainly not the reaction I had anticipated, although I guess I'm not too surprised.  Willow's behavior reminded me of when the three of them lived together:  she moved as little as possible lest she draw attention to herself and get attacked.  But by morning she was eating her pellets pressed right up against the shared grid wall.  A few days later, it's back to business as usual.   Pinni and Bertie largely ignore the missing coroplast.  Bertie checks out the grids a few times a day, but Willow isn't always nearby to notice that Bertie is looking for her.  Willow occasionally chews the bars when she wants their attention.

I had expected Willow to sleep against the grids more often, like she had with Vicky, years ago.  She and Bertie seem the most sociable and I'm still hoping to see more interaction between the two of them.  That corner is one of Bertie's favorite places to snooze, so I wonder if Willow will eventually move her napping spot to be closer to her.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cage Revamp Part II

I obtained coroplast during the week, so I was ready to complete the other half of my combining cages project.  Last week I pieced together the grids (Cage Revamp Part I), this week I added in the new coroplast base.

First, I gathered all of my tools to measure, cut and assemble the coroplast.  There are a good set of instructions on how to do this on the website: How to Make a C&C Cage. I measured the grid size of Willow's cage multiple times and wrote it down, and then double checked.  I am a big believer of "measure twice, cut once," mostly because I'm prone to transposing numbers and adding the wrong bits together.

Normally, you want to cut the bottom of a cage in one solid piece. I cut Willow's in two pieces, in part because it was the most efficient way to cut the large piece of coroplast I had.  It's also an odd-shaped cage, with a partial wall on one side.

I brought the coroplast in to test-fit it a number of times when I started taping the ends together.  It was going to be a snug fit, which is good:  I find that if the coroplast and grids are tight, the whole cage can be moved about with little risk of anything coming apart.

I did not zip-tie Willow's cage to the Newbie's cage.  The three edges that touch (two side edges and the overhang on Willow's cage) are connected to the Newbie's cage with binder clips and a grid connector.  This is to keep the cages portable.  Occasionally I use my dining room as <gasp!> a dining room and the pigs aren't invited.  There is no way I could move this monstrosity in one piece from one room to another.

I duct taped the seam on the bottom, from one cage to another to keep urine from leaking under the cage.  I realized after I had done this that it would have been better to make a 1.5" wall to each side of the cage and avoided trying to make a common seam altogether!  At this point, it's done.  If the tape starts to come up or when I have to pull apart the cages, I'll rework the two cages with their own individual thresholds.  Sometimes the most obvious solutions don't present themselves until after you've tried something else.

The new layout
Willow's cage gained about one square foot of space from the reconfiguration.  Over half of that extra space was due to replacing the store-bought bottom with coroplast.  Store-bought cages are deceptive because the sides slope in at an angle, but the measurements are usually taken at the top of the cage (at it's widest point).  It's amazing how much space is lost on the bottom!

I'm glad I had cut her fleece a little long, so it still fits across the bottom with no gaps.  I had to replace her perching shelf with the stool because it no longer has the support it needs.  I'll have to figure out how to best re-attach that.  In the meantime, the little stool is giving her something to hide under.  She no longer has to perch in order to see into the Newbie's cage.

The girls' first reaction to the new cage?  Not quite what I had expected.  But that story will have to wait for another day.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Blood Tests for Bertie

Bertie completed her meds on Tuesday.  Dr. Holmes had told me if Bertie's weight did not go up after the antibiotics were done, that Bertie should come in for more tests.

Bertie's weight was the lowest since her teeth were filed in August:  886g.  She and I returned to the vet this morning.  Dr. Holmes listened to Bertie's lungs, felt around in her tummy and, as in the past, nothing felt or sounded amiss.  If it wasn't for the tremendous weight loss (nearly 200g), we'd swear Bertie's in perfect health:  she is active, is eating, has bright, clean eyes, clean ears and a full, healthy coat.  She isn't sneezing, wheezing, or bleeding and isn't crying or whimpering when peeing or pooping.  Which means it was time for the dreaded blood work. No one was happy with this next course of action, especially not Bertie.

Guinea pig skin is tough.  Anyone who's ever had to inject a guinea pig knows this.  I have bent my share of needles trying to pierce Willow's skin.  They have small blood vessels, too, so drawing blood is very difficult.  Dr. Holmes allowed me to watch her and a tech draw blood from Bertie.  They worked on her left front leg for two or three attempts (and at least two needles) before switching to Bertie's right leg.  The right side needed to be shaved a bit, so they could have a clear shot at the vein.  After a couple of attempts on the right side, they successfully drew enough blood for testing.  Whew!  Bertie was worn out and rather bedraggled.  Both legs were wet from the alcohol and water.  Her left leg was pink because one of the punctures on that side that had bled a bit. 

Bertie had fussed and cried very little and she didn't struggle too much through the whole process.  I was impressed with how Dr. Holmes and the tech handled her.  As quiet as Bertie was, I could see about halfway through that she was getting pretty stressed.  She was so relieved to get back in the carry case to go home.

The reward for a hard morning's work
After Bertie got home, she and the girls got to spend an afternoon in the beautiful weather.  I'm sure she felt a lot better with a belly full of grass and the vet a distant memory.

Test results should be in on Tuesday.  I'm dreading it.  Either the blood test will be inconclusive and we'll still have no idea what's wrong, or we'll know what's wrong and I worry it will be something untreatable.  So for now, I'm trying not to think about it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hand Feeding the Unwilling

Bertie is one of the few pigs I've had that is not crazy for Critical Care.  I have been hand feeding her lately, mostly in an attempt to get some probiotics into her.  She has been taking a high dose of Baytril and after several days it began to seriously upset her digestive tract.

Bertie often eats about 8ccs in a sitting before she starts making a fuss.  If I'm lucky, I can get about 12ccs into her.  It depends on her attitude of the day.  In contrast, I believe Willow has sucked down 15cc of critical care at one go.  I don't think she even came up for air.  Willow will try to pull the syringe out of my hand if I don't feed it to her fast enough.  She's more than happy to take any leftovers Bertie is unwilling to eat.

So many hand feeding videos on YouTube are of guinea pigs like Willow, happily slurping down Critical Care as fast as they can.  It makes it look so easy.  Hand feeding a problem pig can be a real challenge.  I finally got a decent video of Bertie demonstrating what it's like to feed an unwilling pig.  This is about half as bad as she can get.  Her worst attitude can be pretty funny, especially when she flat out says NO!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rolling Coroplast

I found a place just down the street that sells coroplast at a decent price (Graphic Images).  I had to buy a whole sheet, which is a bit of a drag since I only need at most four square feet.  I'm sure I will either use the extra or find someone who needs it. 

On Monday, I spoke to the owner and agreed to buy a whole sheet.  I told him I'd be by on Tuesday morning on the way to work to pick it up.  I'd be putting it in my car.  A whole sheet?  Impossible.  I told him it would fit, that I'd roll it it up.  He proceeded to tell me at least three times that I could not roll coroplast.  I told him saw how to roll coroplast online.  I'd be fine.

So I go in on Tuesday morning to pick it up.  I was thrilled that they had a large front office, because it had been raining and I didn't want to attempt to roll it outside.  Looked like I could roll it in the office.  At which point the secretary tells me, more than once, that I cannot possibly roll coroplast.  Sure I can.

I had to help her haul it from the back room, because it's bulky and we put it flat on the floor.  I was a bit nervous at that point, because I've never actually rolled coroplast before.  I really didn't want to crimp it.  But I had read the instructions.  How bad could it be?

Pretty easy.  The hardest part was getting the packing tape dispenser to work while holding the coroplast in place.  I put way more tape on it than was necessary; I was so afraid the thing would spring open before I left the building.  I packed it in the car with no problems and headed to work.  At home, at the end of the day, I discovered that leaving it rolled up all day resulted in warped coroplast.  It has straightened quite a bit in the last day, so it should be in good shape when I cut it.

The secretary was pretty impressed.  She said it was too bad that I was in so early, because the owner would have liked to have seen that.  It was a good thing I brought my camera!  I've emailed him the proof.  See?  You can roll coroplast!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tunnel Teleportation

Enjoying her success
The second level of the C&C cages isn't easy to furnish.  A cozy is too much of a dead-end since the girls often pass through on their way to the third level of the cage.  A cuddle cup is okay;  Pinni likes to curl up in one of the corners on occasion.  But a tunnel is perfect:  something to hide in, but easy to run through or around if all you're doing is passing through.

Someone doesn't share my opinion:  I often come home to find the tunnel on the first floor.  I have returned the tunnel to the second floor and come back in less than one minute to find it on the first floor.  Kind of reminds me of when the hay rack kept coming off the wall.  Hmmm....

Surprise!  Surprise!  Bertie is my culprit.  It took a while to confirm this because she never moved the tunnel while I was in the room.  Yesterday I set up the camera and was entertained with what I witnessed:

I timed her several times and she moves the tunnel in about 30 seconds when she really wants to.  This morning I moved the tunnel back to the second floor and Bertie stopped eating her pepper, brought the tunnel downstairs, then went back to eating her pepper.  Okay.  I understand.  I am not to touch the tunnel.  It belongs on the ground floor.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cage Revamp Part I

I never intended to have Willow in a cage all by herself, let alone the old store-bought cage I stopped using eight years ago when I built my first C&C cage.  But that's what happened after her fallout with Pinni and Bertie (Good fences make good neighbors).  When I separated them, Willow had been in declining health and had lost her daughter less than 6 months before.  She was not very mobile.  I honestly thought she would be in that cage for less than a year.  However, 16 months later (at 7.4 years old!), Willow is not slowing down one bit.  In fact, she's in better health than she had been the year or two prior!  I can't house them together, but I'd like Willow to have a bit more company.  It was time to bite the bullet and reconstruct the cages to allow for more daily contact.

Two cages, one wall
My plan requires attaching the two cages together, replacing the store-bought cage bottom and removing one coroplast side of the main cage.  The girls will be separated simply by a pair of grids.  I had done a similar design years ago, when trying to integrate Vicky, Pippin and Willow into a single herd.  Vicky and Willow enjoyed laying next to each other on opposite sides of the grids.

Willow is a nosy old lady:  she often watches the Newbies from her second level and tries to rubs noses with Bertie.  I think the new design will let Willow be closer to the Newbies without them stealing her food.

New grid layout but still the old store-bought bottom

I normally tackle cage redesigns on cleaning day, so I had my day all planned out.  Unfortunately, I didn't have enough coroplast to construct the bottom of Willow's cage.  I plan to pick up the coroplast during the week.

Regardless, I took the opportunity to reassemble the grids.  I hate deconstructing a cage.  Clipping away zip-ties makes me feel like I'm wasting good work.  But the end results should be worth it.  Both cages now share two grids as a common wall and the coroplast along that wall was removed.  Willow's cage has a sturdier base and was lengthened to a full three grids.  So far, it all looks pretty good.  All I have left to do is the coroplast.