Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cleaning Colonel Snuggles

Dear Reader, you hear about chickens and cooking a lot from the TUF.  and there will be more on those topics coming soon, though i've clearly been a bit delinquent lately.  but i believe that it is time i address a topic dear to my heart, tangential to the business of TUF philosophy and food: the care and husbandry of the singular Colonel Snuggles.

he is a member of the species Cavia porcellus, the guinea pigs.  his kind originated in high mountain meadows in the shadows of the formidable Andes, providing a source of both food and companionship for native peoples.  his ancestor charmed queen elizabeth I, enjoying the royal lifestyle and lavish vegetarian menus cavies desire and deserve. his close wild relative is the largest rodent in the world, the aquatic and adorable capybara.  it's possible i'm biased.  i LOVE guinea pigs.  specifically Colonel Snuggles.

the Colonel lives in our living room in a perpetually open-door house designed for a rabbit, so it is a veritable guinea pig mansion.  it is a split-level affair, with two hammocks and a tshirt-covered ledge comprising the upper level, and the traditional bedding (care-fresh recycled woodpulp mixed with natural lavender compostable granules) below.  he fully participates in most family room activities, is cordial with our other pets, and gets dedicated couch/lap time most days.  he has a special ball full of timothy hay and a bowl of the finest guinea pig pellets for his gastronomic enjoyment, and his day is not complete unless he partakes of a fresh spinach and baby lettuce mix salad.  though a strict vegan, he maintains a portly composition at a solid 2 pounds.  his impressive size is enhanced by his dense and fluffified fur.  he is, in short, Absolutely Precious.  And absolutely spoiled rotten.

though guinea pigs are practically perfect in every way, like all of us they have some less than delicate habits and tendencies.  for instance, cavies are coprophages--rather than chewing a bovinian cud, they create special poops that they re-eat to facilitate the digestion of all that dietary roughage.  yup, special poops.  and, the boars (that's what you call male guinea pigs) really like to mark their territory by peeing in a spot and then d-r-a-g-g-i-n-g their substantial bellies through it, ensuring more complete scent coverage on both the area and themselves.  the Colonel is a boar, and is no exception.  luckily, through multi-level caviomansion technology and regular attendance to bedding cleanliness, Colonel Snuggles generally maintains high levels of snuggleability. but occasionally...say, every couple months or so...a bath is in order.

there is another aspect to the little darling boars.  they produce...well, a musk.  grease, really.  from a grease gland, a strange sticky dot where their tail should be on their fluffy butts.  unfortunately, the Colonel's grease gland was becoming unbecoming.  and everyone needs a toe-nail trim every once in awhile!  so, today Colonel Snuggles had a guinea pig full-service spa treatment.

*A NOTE: guinea pigs do not enjoy spa days especially.  they do enjoy being kept clean and fresh in fresh and clean environments. but, if you have a traumatized guinea pig or one whose health is compromised in any way, or one who just seems really opposed to any of the following caviogrooming activities, i don't recommend continuing them.  the Colonel is a highly tolerant and forgiving guinea pig, and i am honored to have his trust.  but he certainly complains sometimes when receiving full-service spa care, and if yours screams bloody murder or goes terrified-catatonic, please cease and desist! END OF NOTE*

i assembled the necessary items: many towels of different sizes, a dye-free fragrance-free all natural puppy/kitten shampoo, sharp high-quality tiny toenail trimmers, a soft slicker brush, and some gojo.  yeah, the stuff car mechanics use to get heavy duty grease off their hands.  for the grease gland.  (it's a good thing these dirty boars are so adorable!!) i then included an as-yet unsuspicious Colonel.

to facilitate nail trimming and reduce squirmage, i practice a technique called 'burritoing' with a clean dishtowel.  (if he didn't suspect something out of the ordinary was happening before, he does now...)

the best way to trim anyone's nails is to be very conservative, shaving the very tips off at first and ever so gradually easing toward the quick.  Colonel Snuggles has light colored nails, so it's pretty easy to see where his quick begins.

way too long!
much better!

the trimming of the toenails is really the most stressful part on both human and cavy.  next was the cleaning of the grease gland with gojo creme--a technique i had read about, but had not yet tried.  it worked like a charm! i used paper towels to dab tiny amounts of gojo onto his grease gland and the surrounding fluff, and after working it in for mere moments, the grease wiped off easily.
dirty grease gland

fresh clean grease gland!

soapy suds

and then, of course, the final spa treatment: the bath.  i do his bath in the kitchen sink, dish towel on the sink floor to make him feel more secure, water warm but not near hot.  the bath is definitely not his favorite, but he suffers through it for the drying off afterwards!

after a thorough wet-down, lather up, and rinse off (with EXTREMELY GENTLE shampoo!), it's time to start the drying process.  i have read that some caviobathers employ a hairdryer for this.  i don't own one, so i just use multiple towels and the air.  he has never caught a chill, though i've heard that guinea pigs are prone to them.  he loves to shake and groom himself dry, and i help by providing warm towels, fresh from the dryer!  guinea pig spa!
the indignant post-bath Colonel.
almost dry, but not totally for hours

cleaned house!
it's not a bad idea to hand-launder your guinea pig while you machine-launder other things, like hammocks or other dirty cage accoutrements.  guinea pigs LOVE to be home in a freshly cleaned mansion that they can proceed to freshly pee-mark to their hearts' content.
clean hammocks installed

so as the Colonel spends some time under a warm towel in his post-spa beerbox, i set up his caviomansion.  he's almost ready to get back to the normal day of munching, petting and napping.
warm towel treatment
frantic after-bath groom session

back to normal!
so there you have the rundown of the Colonel's approximately quarterly spa session, a regimen i highly recommend for spoiled, patient guinea pigs everywhere. for some video evidence of the Colonel's adorability...

here is a post bath shake off, which he also employs after receiving multiple nose-kisses.
here he demonstrates his appreciation for a good petting session.

anyway, Dear Reader, thank you for accompanying Colonel Snuggles on his journey from stinky boar to decidedly unstinky fluffy flufferness.  more traditional TUF stuff to come.  as always...stay tuned!

Saturday, October 1, 2011


i walked out this morning and felt fall.  seriously!  i had gotten so used to the ridiculous heat that i forgot there was any season other than broiling summertime.  i have been so consumed with the gentle lifetasks of job and chores and pets and home that i haven't been paying as much attention to the weather and the progression of days.  but the progression of days happens so quickly, and suddenly it's going to be 56 tonight, the first 6-weeks is over, the chicks are huge, and it's october.  yesterday i had a moment when i realized that it's getting dark before 8pm, and the chickens had put themselves away before we went out to dinner.  the earth is tilting away from the sun!  there are cold fronts coming!  perhaps merciful fall begins to cast her gaze toward texas!

so i scored a ball python off craigslist as a class pet.  he is a beautiful snake, about 2 feet long, and has resided in my classroom for about 1.5 weeks now.  i had a wonderful moment with nearly 30 7th graders, silent to the point of reverence, as they watched the snake stalk a (frozen/thawed, humanely killed, locally raised) mouse.  the deathlyquick strike of the snake as he captured his weekly lunch elicited a collective gasp of awe from the class.  this is funny, but i really think i can _feel_ the sense of total collective focus from students, and this event was a prime example.  it gives me the goosebumps.  it's the reason i'm a teacher.

unfortunately, this same snake felt the need to BITE me on my thumb the day after i brought him home about 2 weeks ago. it was entirely my fault--snake in strange and new environment that smells of rodents, me sticking my hand in there willy-nilly.  it was reminiscent of what could have happened on a far worse scale once, but really it wasn't that big a deal....a little blood, a little drama, hardly anything really.  and the toothmarks went away immediately.....until they reappeared recently as red itchy bumps EXACTLY in the shape of a snake bite mark on the meat of my thumb.  at the behest of my husband, aunt, uncle, cousin, and cousin's friend, and what i imagined my parents would say if i told them i WASN'T doing anything about it, i went to the doctor today.  the doc visit resulted in ganesh getting a tetanus shot right in the trunk, and the assurance that the chompsite wasn't infected or otherwise going to result in the amputation of my hand.  of course, extreme caution is warranted in the handling of our cherished class pet.  but he has been a perfect gentleman since this unusual occurance two weeks ago.  whew!

anyway, now it's saturday evening, that most sacred weekly holiday.  we are going to cook a (locally, humanely raised, organic) chicken in the rotisserie.  (don't tell the flock!) you, Dear Reader, will probably hear about that sooner than later, as well as other developments around the TUF...i have been most delinquent lately.  but, as always, stay tuned!  more soon!