On October 13, a cool windy Wednesday
afternoon, I received a call from Theresa, a metropolitan animal
control officer. "Can you guess why I'm calling?" she
asked. Being perpetually deluged with unwanted cavies, I told
Theresa I knew why she was calling - I was just worried about
how many she had. Turns out it was only one, but what a one!
Animal Control had picked up a sad looking
long haired cavy dumped by the Mississippi River. Theresa said
she didn't know exactly how bad off it was, but it wasn't moving
when they got it. Theresa also told me it was fairly common to
find animals dumped by the river. Happens all the time. Unfortunately
I couldn't pick up the cavy until the next day. I was very worried
about its condition, wondering how much exposure, neglect or
even abuse the cavy may have suffered. Theresa was also concerned
and kindly agreed to take it to an "exotics" vet who
has been helpful to my shelter. There the cavy could be checked
over and kept safe until I could get it.
My first sight of Twain was a horribly skinny, filthy creature
eagerly trying to poke his bony little head through the cage
bars for attention. My first thought was -- oh Lord, there's
no way this cavy is going to make it. I don't recall ever seeing
anything that skinny and still alive. A quick check showed the
bottom front teeth were overgrown, while the upper front teeth
were tiny black stumps. A vet tech said the little boar was very
friendly and had eaten some of the pellets in his cage. We thanked
everybody for their kindness and headed home.
I stopped at another clinic nearer home
to introduce Twain to a friend working there. Deb was appalled
at Twain's condition and his story. I showed her his teeth, worried
that the molars might also be overgrown. Deb immediately had
one of her vets check them. Thankfully the molars look good,
and they trimmed the bottom fronts. Just this quick procedure
was enough to stress the weakened cavy, making his breathing
ragged and choppy.
I had decided to name the scrawny little
cavy Twain, in 'honor' of his being left by the river.
Obviously Twain hadn't been fed well,
if at all, for a long time. He suffered severe malnutrition and
was a poster child for "skin and bones". Lack of vitamin
C (scurvy) made him even more decrepit, causing joints to be
sore and walking painful. Twain hobbles rather than walks, his
hind legs seem fused at the joints. His black eyes were sunken
from dehydration. Twain guzzled water for 10 minutes when first
put in his cage. His long coat was in horrible shape. Some hair
was matted painfully tight to the skin, some hung in stiff sticky
clumps reeking of urine. Much of the coat was cold and damp.
Twain also felt cold and shivered frequently. His ears were packed
with black gunk. His belly and the tops of his feet were coated
with grime. Apparently Twain had lived in filth for a long time
before being dumped. He was also impacted, his shrunken little
anal sack blocked up tight with a large hard clump of stool.
We took care of the impaction first. Twain
was so appreciative he immediately rewarded me with some tiny
dried stool. Looked more like mouse stool than cavy stool. Syringe
feeding was next. Twain ate with gusto, like it had been ages
since he last had enough to get full. Afterwards, exhausted from
all that hard work, he laid quietly while I cut off his dank
dirty matted coat. I quickly discovered something extremely right
with Twain - he has a strong and loving spirit.
My heart hurt as I cuddled Twain's fragile
little body. How could anyone do this? How could somebody feel
this sweet innocent little creature wasn't worth feeding, wasn't
worth cleaning or caring for, wasn't even worth a second thought
as they tossed him out of their life? I began a routine of chanting
to Twain when I hold him, "You are special. You are important.
You are my beautiful boy." Even my husband, who is not a
cavy lover, has taken pity on this gentle endearing cavy. I actually
found my husband and a towel-wrapped Twain doing some male bonding
in front of the TV one evening! My husband NEVER holds cavies
Twain's home is now a small but clean cage on our kitchen counter.
He is unimpressed with the cute teddy bear meant to keep him
company. I use flat folded towels on his floor to make it easier
for him to hobble about. A heating pad under half the cage helps
keep him warm. The cold and damp seemed to have settled in Twain's
bones, and he continued to shiver the first few days. This cavy
simply cannot get enough attention, and he is constantly sticking
his face through the cage bars in search of rubs and admiration.
Which he usually gets.
After 3 days of serious sleeping, eating
and cuddling, Twain got a much needed bath. He took it calmly
and seemed to enjoy the warm water and even the warm blow-dry
afterwards. Much gunk was wiped out of Twain's ears, and most
of the sticky grime washed off his belly. Small sores were found
under the sticky whatever-it-was cleaned off the tops of Twain's
feet. With his soft fragrant fur sticking up in tufts all over
his body, my "river rat" is finally starting to look
like my "beautiful boy".
Progress is slow but steady. I am thrilled
to see nice white upper front teeth growing back in. He eats
lots of pellets and easily takes his liquid vitamin C supplement.
Carrots and parsley must be served in tiny bite size pieces -
but he absolutely loves them. Twain can't manage hay yet. He
seems to get it stuck, while I have a heart attack worrying he's
going to choke. In less than a week Twain has gained a whopping
4 ounces! Even his stool is bigger and plumper!
This weak bony little cavy has completely
captured my heart. It is amazing an animal that has suffered
such neglect and abandonment can still be so trusting and loving.
I now think this little "river rat" will make it. He
will live and grow strong and become the beautiful cherished
pet he deserves to be.
Unfortunately, even with enormous effort
on the part of myself, my vet and Twain - the little angel did
not survive. After weeks of eating everything in sight it became
apparent that something was seriously wrong with Twain. The poor
guy had been severely starved for so long that his body's metabolism
had been thrown off. His protein level was very low, which made
his body unable to absorb fluids and process nutrition. No matter
how much Twain ate, he continued to look like a living skeleton.
The fluid he took in went straight to the lower parts of his
body (chest, legs, feet) instead of being absorbed into the tissue.
My vet consulted with other exotic vets all over the country,
while I researched the problem as well. It turns out there wasn't
much we could do, except keep Twain comfortable, eating well,
and hope his body eventually recovered enough to correct itself.
The few things we tried didn't make much difference. Sadly, Twain's
condition worsened until fluid got into his lungs and we were
forced to euthanize him. That was a truly horrible day. I had
grown to love this scrawny little boar so much, and admired his
spunk and attitude. I wanted so badly to give him the safe healthy
happy life he deserved and had obviously never gotten. After
Twain's death I did plan to update his story, but kept putting
it off because it was too depressing and I wasn't ready to face
it yet. Many of the cavies I rescue come to me in awful condition,
and sometimes we don't always get the happy ending. It's a harsh
reality I have to face, but losing Twain made me very bitter,
frustrated and sad. At least I can take comfort in the fact that
Twain was greatly loved and cherished while he was here.
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