This month's find: A Warm and Fuzzy Friend

A Monthly Feature That Celebrates The Ritual Of Shopping

December 29, 2007|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

Oh, Chloe, was it just your time?

One minute you're happily nosing around, mussing through the hay, a furball on the sniff. The next, you've gone on to the big guinea-pig cage in the sky.

When your owner, Cecilia Wright, saw you so still in your cage and then gave you a little poke and you didn't move, she knew.

That was last Saturday. On Wednesday, the day after Christmas, Wright was at the Towson Pet- Smart, bending down and peering into the small animal cases, looking for your replacement, if there could be one.

See, after the holidays, Wright's preschool class at Father Kolbe, a Catholic elementary and middle school in Canton, will expect to see both you and Claire - the white one and the black one, the shadow and the light, the yin and yang of class pets. Just Claire - nothing personal, Claire - would be quite the post-vacation comedown.

When Wright first brought the pair of you to school last year, she hoped that you could help the 3- and 4-year-olds learn about animals. By taking turns feeding you carrots, they'd learn about responsibility. By holding you gently, not squeezing too hard, they'd learn how to care for another.

The lesson about not dropping things into your cages - alleged treats such as Cheetos and little pieces of peanut-butter sandwiches - they're still working to master.

Wright introduced you to the class and entrusted them with not merely your well-being but your very identity. "Does anyone have a name for this one?" she asked, pointing to the dark one.

"Claire," a little girl matter-of-factly said.

And when Wright asked about you, the white one, the rest of the class turned to the same little girl, clearly some kind of naming savant. "Chloe," the little girl said with certainty.

The tyke's mom later told Wright that her daughter names all of her dolls either Claire or Chloe.

That class graduated to kindergarten, but many of the kids still come to visit their beloved former pets - as do many Father Kolbe students.

Though Wright is 35, she still remembers when her parents yielded to her near-constant pleas for a pet, and bought her and her younger sister, Kathleen, each a guinea pig.

She was 8 or 9 then, and named hers Minnie to Kathleen's Mickey. Unfortunately, Minnie, like you, Chloe, wasn't destined for a long life. Mickey, a hardy one, even outlived Minnie's replacement, Lady.

Through the years, the Wrights, who live in Northeast Baltimore, have always reserved room in their household for some nonhumans. Besides the guinea pigs, there was a dog, some fish - and another sister, Bernadette, befriended a gerbil.

"I just love animals," Wright said at the store. "They always, always, always like you. They're always happy to see you."

Though Wright brought you and Claire to school every Monday, she'd pack you both up every Friday so that the three of you could spend weekends together with Jacques the puppy, Buttercup the yellow cockatiel and a newt named Oscar.

She handled all of your expenses - keeping you in hay, litter and treats for the nearly two years you were in her life. Guinea pigs aren't known for longevity, Chloe, but most of your kin enjoy four to eight years.

Though Wright entertained the idea of passing off the new girl as you - the old substitute-pet switcheroo - she thought the better of it. There was only one Chloe.

"I'm not really sure they'd fall for it," she said.

So after the holiday, she'll break the news to the kids and hold another naming ceremony for the so-called replacement.

With only a few guinea pigs in stock at the store, and only two that came even close to your Chloe-esque coloring and charm, it didn't take Wright long to zero in on the new girl.

She found her in the last cage on the right, half-buried in a cozy pile of wood shavings, hanging out with two other gals.

When the store assistant reached in to scoop her up, she put up a bit of resistance, darting around the cage with her buddies. But she relented quickly enough, allowing herself to be eased into Wright's carrying case.

All white except for black ears, a black derriere and a tan spot on her left cheek, the new one nestled into a corner of the cage, nervously sniffing and waiting to be rung up by the cashier. She was $29.99.

"An adorable guinea pig," the cashier said. "I hope the children will like it."

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