Special Stories

April 09, 2017

Melody and Lyric

In late September of 2016, two lovable guinea pigs that came to be known as Pig Pen and Fern were surrendered to our rescue from a local animal shelter. These two abyssinian pigs were both friendly and comical, and obviously closely bonded. They had been housed together at the shelter under the faulty assumption that Fern, who was still quite young and petite, was too young to get pregnant. It was soon apparent to us that she was indeed pregnant, and of even greater concern was that Pig Pen was most likely Fern’s father, as well as the father of her babies. As with any animal, inbreeding is not a good idea, and can increase the risk of fetal death and congenital birth defects. With Fern’s best interest at heart, we made the decision to seperate Pig Pen into a different foster home, with the intention of finding him a new companion while Fern was busy gestating and then caring for her babies. Pig Pen and Fern were not in favor of the seperation however, and after several days of neither pig eating well and both seeming quite depressed, we made the better decision to neuter Pig Pen and replace him back with Fern, where he obviously belonged.

The weeks passed, and Fern grew bigger by the day, until it seemes she would surely explode. Pig Pen watched over her and was an attentive companion. They were such a sweet, funny pair, that everyone who met them couldn’t help but be enamored with them. And though we never like to see our fosters contribute to the overpopulation problem we are so achingly aware of, we were all eagerly anticipating the adorable babies that two such special parents would no doubt produce.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity of waiting, Fern gave birth one afternoon in mid-October. Three snowy white babies were born that day, but only two of them alive. We grieved the loss of the stillborn pup, but the well-being of the remaining two babies was of even greater concern. The two surviving babies were like round puffs of white cotton with funny little feet sticking out. It soon became clear that they were not like most other guinea pigs. Where most pups are born with their eyes open and able to see, these two little girls had only slits, without any visible eyeballs. They also seemed unable to hear Fern’s calls to them when they wandered too far or were taken out of the cage. Thankfully, they were nursing well and even picking at the hay, pellets and fresh veggies in the cage. They also ran and played like normal guinea pig babies, but still we knew we had a problem on our hands.

Our beautiful baby girls were named Melody and Lyric, and both Pig Pen and Fern were loving parents. The only problem was that Melody and Lyric weren’t normal baby guinea pigs, no matter how much we might wish it were true. They were both born as what is known as ‘lethal white’ or ‘double roan’ guinea pigs. It is a genetic condition, seen in some other species as well, caused by the expression of a recessive gene that results from two animals that are carrying the gene being bred. There is a 25% chance that any one offspring from this type of breeding will be a double recessive, or lethal white. Fern had just been unlucky enough that all three of the babies in her litter were affected. Plus, neither Pig Pen or Fern outwardly exhibited the roan or dalmation coloring usually associated with the production of lethal white babies. Pig Pen is an agouti, and Fern an agouti tricolor, but somewhere hidden in their genome, must be the roaning genes.

For lethal whites and those who love them, every day is a blessing. Many lethals die at birth, like Lyric and Melody’s littermate. Another high risk time is around weaning, usually 3-5 weeks of age, when the babies must be able to eat enough on their own to sustain themselves without the sow’s milk. Eating is often difficult for lethals because they can have severe dental deformities in addition to being blind and deaf. Lyric and Melody both had only 2 front teeth, both on the top. While Melody’s two incisors were small and rudimentary, Lyrics were long and would overgrow without regular trimming. Both girls seemed to be able to eat pellets well, though slowly, and could eat minced vegetables from a bowl. In spite of having a good appetite, and eating what should have been plenty of food, Lyric began to lose weight and have persistent diarrhea shortly after weaning. Syringe feeding was begun to try and supplement her calorie intake, but she continued to decline in spite of our efforts. Lyric was a feisty, funny girl who really seemed to enjoy life. But within weeks, her body just couldn’t continue, and she succumbed to the maldigestion and malabsorption that was preventing her body from getting the nutrition she so desperately needed.

On the day Lyric died, Melody sat huddled against her body inside the pigloo. When her beloved sister was removed from the cage, she ran frantically, wheeking and bumping into things, as if she couldn’t bear the loss. Gradually, however, she resumed her normal patterns of eating and playing, though still seemingly lonely. So when another female guinea pig about Melody’s age was surrendered to a local pet store, it was decided that she could be Melody’s ‘seeing eye pig,’ and a new match was made. It initially seemed that the new pig, now named Blossom, would be the boss of the relationship. But as time has passed, it has become clear that Blossom is much more dependent on Melody than Melody is on Blossom.

Melody and Blossom are still in foster care with our rescue. They are a very special, delightful pair of girls. Blossom continues to grow in size and girth, while Melody remains tiny and slender and fragile. Melody loves to come out for a snuggle and a cuddle, and seems to enjoy going outside with the sunshine on her face and a breeze blowing by. She is as full of life as any guinea pig we have ever seen here, although we know that every day she is with us is a gift to be treasured and never taken for granted.