Girls and pigs

“These two are very delicate,” the Petco woman said. “Can you girls be gentle with animals?”

“Yes!” Josie lied.

“You’re not gentle with animals,” her older sister scoffed. “The dogs are afraid of you.”

“I am gentle! You say that again and I’ll punch you!”

My six- and eight-year-old daughters glared at each other. Ms. Petco held the Guinea pigs protectively.

“Ricki, Josie, stop kidding,” I fake-laughed. “This nice woman needs to know you can really be gentle.”

“Gimme the pig,” Josie demanded. “I’ll show you gentle.”

“Maybe your girls aren’t ready for Guinea pigs. Their bones break easily, and they’ll die if they’re under too much stress. Have you considered fish?”

“We already have fish,” Josie said. “They’re boring.”

“And they die a lot,” Ricki added.

Thanks for the assist, girls.

“What kind of dogs do you have?” Ms. Petco asked suspiciously.

“Two little labradoodles,” I shrugged. “They’re harmless.”

“Because the squirrels are too fast,” Ricki explained. “The dogs always miss them.”

“They’ll catch one someday,” Josie said sadly. “Daddy says the dogs are just playing, but I think they want to kill something.”

“Your dogs are half Labrador, half poodle,” Ms. Petco sighed. “Those are both hunting dogs.”

“Really?”

That’s exactly what I told my wife when she brought home baby chicks.

“And hunting dogs are bred to kill prey.”

That explains why they killed the baby chicks.

“And Guinea pigs are definitely prey,” Ms. Petco continued.

“These two look like they can take care of themselves,” I smiled.

“Against two hunting dogs?”

“My dogs are creampuffs. They’re females.”

Ms. Petco looked offended.

“Females are less aggressive than males, right?”

“Our dogs killed two chickens,” Josie noted. “That was sad. And there was a lot of blood.”

Again, thanks for the assist.

Ms. Petco made up her mind.

“I don’t think Guinea pigs are right for you. I’m sorry, but I can’t put these in your home.”

“So even though your store sells pets, and I want to buy those pets, with good American currency, you’re saying no?”

“I’m afraid that’s the case. My first duty is to protect the animals, and I can’t place them in an unsafe environment. I’m sorry.”

My girls cried. We left quickly. Then I sent my wife back to buy the Guinea pigs.

“Now girls,” Allie announced as she returned. “The lady at the store said we need to be very calm around these Guinea pigs for the first two weeks. They need time to get used to our house.”

“Can we pick them up?” Ricki asked.

“I’m taking mine for a bike ride,” Josie announced.

“Let’s leave them in their cage for now,” I said. “Why don’t you name them?”

They had already considered this. Ricki pointed to the brown one.

“That one’s mine. I’m naming him Oden.”

“Like Thor’s father?” I asked.

“Yes.” Ricki had been reading Norse mythology. “My Guinea pig is king of the gods.”

I nodded approvingly. There were no Vikings around to take offense.

“I’m naming mine Marshmallow.”

“Josie, your sister is naming her Guinea pig after a god,” Allie said. “Do you want to name yours something … I don’t know … more grand?”

“Mine is black and white. I’m naming him Marshmallow.”

“Marshmallows don’t have any black,” Ricki pointed out.

“His name is Marshmallow!”

Ricki and I shrugged. The rodent didn’t seem to mind.

“This was your idea.” Allie whispered. “So I’ll be in the garden for a few hours while you handle whatever disaster happens next.”

“Disaster? How can you be so negative?”

“I’m just playing the odds.”

Allie kissed me on the cheek and left.

“Okay girls,” I announced. “These little animals can die of fright, and everything scares them. I want you to just look at them today, okay?”

The girls nodded. I mistook this for a yes and went to the garage. I returned a minute later with some wire to hang their water bottle.

Josie stood at the top of the stairs, looking fifteen feet down into the living room. Over this void she held Marshmallow under his armpits. Josie raised the struggling little guy high over her head and sang Lion King.

“It’s the circle of life!”

Marshmallow kicked his hind legs and screeched.

“Josie!” I yelled. “Stop! You’re scaring him.”

“Daddy, he’s singing with me.”

“No, he’s screaming for his life because if he falls, he’ll die. Bring him downstairs right now.”

Josie kangaroo-hopped down the stairs. A terrified screech punctuated each jump.

“Josie! Put Marshmallow back in the cage right now. You’re going to scare him to death.”

Josie looked at me sourly and marched over to the cage. The top was open. From three steps away Josie tossed him like a basketball thre-point shot. Nothing but net — and panicked screech.

“Josie!” I yelled. “You’ll break his legs! You cannot treat him rough like that!”

“I play rough with the dogs,” Josie said.

“And the dogs hate you,” Ricki observed. “You should stick to dolls.”

Josie looked angry, and hurt. She wanted to be a kind pet owner. Tears flowed down her cheeks.

“It’s okay, sweetie.” I sat Josie on my lap. “You have to look at this from poor little Marshmallow’s perspective. He’s small. He doesn’t know you yet. He thinks you’re going to crush him or drop him or eat him. You have to be extra nice, to show him you’re a good person.”

“Okay …” Josie sniffed. “I am a good person. I’ll be extra nice.”

She reached into the cage and gently removed Marshmallow. She placed him on her lap and scratched behind his ears. The little guy emitted a low rumble, like a cat purring.

“That’s great, Josie,” I said. “See? He’s getting to know you. And like you.”

“That’s because I’m being extra nice.”

“We’ll see how long that lasts,” Ricki said as she scratched Oden.

Allie opened the door to the backyard to ask a question. Our two dogs trotted inside, sniffed, then rushed toward the Guinea pigs. The dogs barked. The pigs screeched. Josie stood up and kicked one dog in the head.

“I’m being extra nice!” Josie shouted. “You be extra nice too!”

The dogs considered this and retreated extra fast. The girls resumed scratching their Guinea pigs. The animals resumed purring. I led the dogs outside.

“Sorry about that,” Allie said.

I chanted who let the dogs out a few times, complete with woofs. My wife laughed.

“I asked the lady at Petco how to introduce Guinea pigs to dogs,” Allie said. “There’s a way that supposedly works.”

“Josie’s way seems to work too. She’s practicing being extra nice to animals.”

“Really?”

“One animal at a time,” I shrugged. “Today’s the Guinea pig’s turn.”

From inside, Marshmallow’s happy purr grew in volume and intensity. It sounded like a lawn mower. Allie looked through the glass door and gasped. Marshmallow lay on his back. Josie rapidly scratched between his hind legs.

“I’m being extra nice, Daddy! He likes it!”

“Yes you are … and yes he does.”

Allie looked like she was going to hit me.

“The dogs like their tummies rubbed,” Josie continued. “So does Marshmallow.”

“Should she be touching him there?” Ricki asked.

Marshmallow roared in ecstasy.

“If she wants to be extra nice,” I laughed.

Allie hit me.

My wife then went inside to end Marshmallow’s extra good time. And explain why we don’t touch our pets’ genitals. I was thankful Allie led that discussion.

Marshmallow was not.


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