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 voluntarily!

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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