“Two small and furry pets are coming to visit,” I explained as I introduced our reading for the day. The small group of girls were gathered for an alternative version of Guided Reading class.
“Are they pigs? Because I can’t be around pigs,” one student asserted. “Will they bite?” a wise question to be sure. I gave reassurances that guinea pigs are not pigs, but are rodents and are very gentle. We read and wrote about guinea pigs and how we can care for them on the visit. We basically completed a mini version of the year-long research my own children had completed prior to getting these pets. (This family project had gotten me through the pandemic year of virtual school; a fact I have to keep reminding myself of every time I’m now stuck cleaning the guinea pig cage.)
The next morning, I went about setting up their blanket and little pen on the reading rug. We gathered around and coaxed them out of their little pouch. They are shy and would rather be sleeping or eating. So, we tried treats. Americorps members, Rachel and Tynese, lead the way, using the lettuce to encourage interaction. Some students gently tossed the leaves and carrots toward them and then recoiled back, hiding behind a friend or sister, not unlike the guinea pigs themselves. By the end though, everyone had warmed to each other. Most students had fed them or even touched them. Our bravest animal handler held one and seemed like she might take them home.
We laughed and talked, asked questions, and hosted a surprising number of GVP staff. We learned that our Family & Student Engagement Manager, Mr. Crispin Ilombe Wilondja, had worked with guinea pigs (Cavia Porcellus) for his undergraduate dissertation in Biology. He realized that their blood has almost exactly the same characteristics as human blood. Some of the gathered group panicked as he picked up the feistier one, who wriggled in protest. But then he calmed her, and we added “guinea pig whisperer” to his many titles.
Could guinea pigs be another contender for regular GVP therapy animals? I’m not sure yet, but this first visit was certainly something special.