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Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

It’s Halloween — the most wonderful day of the year, in my opinion. I’m busy hosting a party and cleaning guinea pig cages today, so I don’t have much time for writing. But as promised, we have some super-adorable, reader-submitted photos of cavies in costume to share with you.

From Sharon, one of our Wheekly readers: cute Pokemon guinea pigs.

My daughter loves Pokemon, so it seemed perfect to dress up our cavies as The Pokemon Pigs. Kio the red roan was Flareon, Ebony the black was Umbreon, and Arlo the broken starred as Pikachu. She selected the right Pokemon characters for each pig, and I created the costumes. We had fun showing them off at our cavy club show.

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We also had some of our readers dress up with their pets, in coordinating costumes. Check out Gail’s Bacon and Eggs costume.

Pretty creative stuff, guys. Let’s keep them coming! If you have cavy costumes you’d  like to include, feel free to email me at thewritingguinea@gmail.com and I’ll be sure to put them up as well. The more pictures the merrier!

And thank you again to everyone who submitted a photo. We love seeing all your fun ideas.

 

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Cavy Costume Contest

26 Oct

Since this week’s post will land on Halloween, I wanted to try to do something special. I know many of you, on one occasion or another, have dressed up your cavies for Halloween. Well, this is you chance to show your creativity to the entire cavy community! Send your photos and perhaps a brief bio to thewritingguinea@gmail.com, and you may find you costume featured on the Wheekly Reader this week.

Big bonds with small creatures: my favorite cavies

24 Oct

There’s this thing going around on Facebook right now where cavy fanciers tag their five friends and ask them to post pictures of their five favorite cavies. I know a lot of people who breed and show cavies, so, naturally, I’ve been tagged.

But rather than share the pictures with a few Facebook friends — I choose to keep my Facebook closed to all except those I know in person — I decided to share a couple pictures and memories with the world.

I don’t have pictures of all of them. Sorry about that.

Aragon

Aragon was a self red Abyssinian, and my very first cavy. I got her for free from some kids my mom knew after months and months of begging my parents for a guinea pig. They had finally relented, agreeing that I could have a guinea pig if I could find a way to pay for one. So I scrapped up my pennies, and found a free guinea pig, for which I then bought a commercial pen, bedding food, hay, toys — all the necessities. I think my parents figured it was a phase, something I would grow bored with, eventually. I didn’t. I read everything I could find about cavies, and after some time of demonstrating that I could and would take good care of my new pet, my parents allowed me to get two more cavies. Even though I desperately wanted a long-haired cavy, I ended up with two more mixed-breed short hairs. That’s a long story I’ll have to tell you some other time.

I had Aragon for several years before she died after being treated for dental issues. She was old, and didn’t handle the procedure as well as she had others in the past. I, of course, bawled my eyes out. And my dad, doing what most dads do in this situation, offered to take me to a cavy show the next day and let me buy any guinea pig I wanted.

We came home with my first breeding pair of Peruvians.

Once we got our first little caviary set up, my dad made a big sign that read “Aragon’s Legacy” to put on the biggest pen we had. We later derived the name of our caviary, Legacy Caviary, from the sign.

Legacy Lloth

Lloth, a black-and-white Peruvian, wasn’t my first show pig, but she was the first I managed to get into some semblance of showable coat condition. Those of you who have tried to show long hairs know this in and of itself would make any guinea pig special. But Lloth also had the genetics to back up my fledgling grooming ability, and she became my first grand champion by the time she hit breeding weight. She gave us one litter, a pair of sows, and then subsequently refused to allow any other boar near her ever again. Since she wouldn’t breed, I decided to clean her up and coat her out again — an effort that earned her three additional legs, the equivalent of earning a second grand champion status.

Legacy Tycho

Tycho was born for the show table. He came out of a long line of show animals, going back to Lloth and those original Peruvians, but he came out as a silkie, which wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I went with it, anyway. Tycho was not only a stunning show animal, but also a bit of a character. He more or less tolerated being groomed, unless you were my dad, in which case, you weren’t allowed to touch him. Naturally, my dad took over the effort to coat Tycho while I worked an internship away from home for a few months. When he and my sister did manage to get all the hair out of his wraps, Tycho made a habit of spinning around and sitting on top of his hair so no one could comb it. He later tamed down and became quit persistent in his demands for attention: Whenever someone walked by his pen, Tycho would stick up his nose and wait for you to pet him. If you didn’t, he would chatter and wheek in protest.

Tycho just passed away while we were at a show two weeks ago. He had grown rather elderly, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Legacy Gapper

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It’s not his best picture, so he doesn’t look very impressive, but Gapper was the first Peruvian satin I had tear up the show table — or at least, he came as close to doing so as any Peruvian satin I have every owned. Gapper took best of show, once, after a rather amusing exchange. During the show’s best of show round, with all of the breeds on display, the judge paused to admire Gapper and remark that he was a rather nice Peruvian Satin. “But,” he said, “let’s compare him to this Peruvian over here.” The judged walked over to the Peruvian on the table, ran his fingers through its coat, and, with a rather shocked expression, pointed to Gapper and said “that one’s best of show.”

Gapper never bred for us; we sent him to a veterinarian friend of ours who thought she could persuade him to produce some offspring. We now have his son, David, and several grandchildren.

Legacy Padma

Padma is one of my most recent Peruvian satins, and also my most recent national champion — Padma took best of breed at the 2014 ACBA Specialty. He recently retired from the show circuit and is now in breeding.

Legacy Marshall and Legacy Rodney

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I’ve included these two together because they’re brothers, and because that is an important part of their history. Marshall is the oldest; we knew almost as soon as he was born — a singleton boar — that he would be a phenomenal animal. But after a month or two, Marshall contracted pneumonia. We caught it early and began treatment, but the prognosis for pneumonia in cavies is not good, so we didn’t think he would survive. Worried we would lose possibly the best Peruvian we had ever bred, we put his parents back together and hoped for the best. Marshall not only survived and went on to a long and successful show career (though he always has had a funny wheeze ever since), but his brother, Rodney (the black and white one), turned out even better and had an even more spectacular show career. Both are retired and in breeding, with litters on the way.

 

So that might be more than five. Oops. I guess I have trouble with basic math. Or, more likely, I can’t narrow it down to five favorites. I have felt a special bond with each of these animals, and I couldn’t narrow it down any further.

Pigtography: Tips from cavy photographer Vadim Petruchok

21 May

Though Vadim Petruchok discovered the cavy fancy just two years ago, his photography has garnered widespread attention, especially in the western United States, where he regularly documents the shows he attends with hundreds of photos.

Photo by Vadim Petruchok.

Petruchok’s work goes beyond group photos and posed shots of winning cavies. With an artistic flair, Petruchok strives to capture the personality of each cavy he encounters. He also shares freely — both the photos he takes, which he makes available for viewing online, and the techniques that make those photos stand out. When photographing cavies, he says, it’s important to pay close attention to your subject matter, your equipment, and your surroundings.

The Subject

Photo by Vadim Petruchok

Cavies can make for uncooperative models at times. They startle easily, and sudden movements, flashes or sounds can send them scurrying for cover. The trick, according to Petruchok, is to acclimatize your cavies to the camera. Petruchok starts early, with newborn photos.

“I also like to get their attention by making kissing noises like the ones made to other animals, such as dogs and cats,” he says. “Even though some may laugh at me when they see me do it, it works for a lot of guinea pigs.”

It’s also useful to keep the scale of your shot in mind. Guinea pigs are smaller than humans, so for great photos it’s useful to come down to their level. You can also use the macro mode on your camera to better pick up small details.

The Setting

Photo by Vadim Petruchok

Photo by Vadim Petruchok

The most important factor of photography, according to Petruchok, is lighting. Outdoor, natural light is ideal. Indoor lighting can be trickier. Your best bet is setting up near a window, or wherever a lot of outside light is coming in. Petruchok says full-spectrum lighting, lights that emulate the natural composition of sunlight, is also a great source of indoor lighting.

If effective lighting isn’t available, flash may help compensate.

“When it comes to shows or indoor lighting, the lighting is almost always not that great to work with,” Petruchok says, “so my flash is on the whole time.”

If you’re working on portraits, props can make fun additions. Petruchok suggests decorative boxes, stuffed animals, real or silk foliage, or hats. You can also design your own official-looking back-drop with relative ease. Petruchok arranges chairs, tables, even carrier to build the framework for the shot, then covers them with some kind of fabric — fleece works well — in colors such as navy blue, dark purple, or medium to dark green.

“Pastel colors work as well, but the most important factor in color selection is to have a good contrast between the guinea pig and the background,” Petruchok says.

The Shot

Photo by Vadim Petruchok

If you think you need swanky equipment to take great photos, you’re wrong.

“The bottom line with cameras is, no matter what kind you have, the more you learn about how to use it and its various settings, the better knowledge you have in your hands to be able to take great pictures,” Petruchok says.

Once you’ve mastered using your own camera, you’ll be able to best determine the settings needed for each individual shot. Then, when you transfer your photos to your computer, a free touch-up program can help polish you pictures. Photoscape, for example, is a good option, Petruchok says.

Most images will need to be brightened a bit in an editing program. Additional contrast can help the guinea pigs really stand out, and color enhancement can enliven the photo, but Petruchok warns against getting too far from the photo’s natural color. Easy does it.

Three simple, homemade toys cavies love

2 May

Let’s be honest: cavies aren’t hamsters. They don’t run in wheels, climb tubes or sneak out on midnight escapades. What’s a quiet, homebody of a critter to do for fun?

Our cavy friends like to keep things simple. Most of the toys they love, such as hideaways and cuddle cups, can be made at home, with supplies you probably have on hand.

Hideaways

These are most popular among cavies who still like to hide away in “burrows,” even if they’ve forgotten how to make their own.

Commercial hideaways come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials and colors, but they can cost $10, $15 or more. Hideaways from the store also sometimes run a little small for some adult guinea pigs. Fortunately, if you can’t find a hideaway that suits your needs, it’s easy enough to build your own.

Chances are you already have a hideaway tucked in some closet somewhere — a simple shoe box will work just fine. Turn the shoe box upside down, cut a door in one side, and voilà. Hideaway. Your cavy might eat the box, but that’s fine. It might even prevent them from chewing their cage.

The nice thing about this homemade technique is that you can convert just about anything a cavy could hide in or under into a toy. This might not be very fancy, but it’s likely your cavy doesn’t mind. But if you do want something nicer, and you’re remotely handy with a hammer, you can always build your own wood hideaway from scraps. Just be sure you don’t use any toxic paints or adhesives.

A commercial treat basket for vegetables.

A commercial treat basket for vegetables.

Treat Trappers

Guinea pigs fancy three hobbies in particular: running, hiding and eating. They’re naturally grazers and foragers, so a box or basket stuffed with hay and herbs is always a hit.

Again, your local pet store will have numerous commercial options for this sort of thing. Some will even come with mounts or chains so that you can hang them from the wall or ceiling of your guinea pig’s pen, which can be especially helpful if your enclosure is on the small side. However, making your own at home can be as simple as stuffing a spent toilet paper roll. No additional expenses necessary.

You could also build your own treat basket with just about any kind of wire mesh or grid, so long as the openings in the wire are large enough for cavies to remove their treats.

What sort of stuffing should you use? Just about any kind of treat your cavies enjoy will work. Anything long and narrow will work best — think hay, grass, dandelions, parsley or cilantro. If you use anything that comes out of your yard, be sure it hasn’t been sprayed, and wash it thoroughly. Herbicides, pesticides, rodentcides, even unknown molds and bacteria could make your pet very sick.

Cuddle Cups

Not every cavy will use a cuddle cup, but the nest builders in your herd — usually the females — will enjoy them.

These can be more difficult to find at a store, but larger outlets might have one or two options. Some cavy enthusiasts do make specialized cuddle cups and sell them online. You can also find detailed instructions for sewing your own, with pictures, over at guineapigcages.com.

In reality, a cavy cuddle toy doesn’t need to be especially fancy. The cavies that are inclined to use them will generally want to arrange their nest on their own, so any kind of soft fabric will do just fine. You could throw in a scrap of fleece, or an old tattered towel you were going to throw away anyway. In fact, a towel folded into quarters so that a few ends are left open will provide multiple warm, dark places for your cavy to snuggle.

Cuddle cups are probably best used as out-of-pen playtime toys, but if you do choose to leave one in the pen for your cavies, be sure whatever you use is easy to wash, and clean it often.