On May 8, I posted the following after bringing home Amal from the Dane County Humane Society:
I did bring something home. A few days prior, I had seen a small red and white guinea pig on the website for the Dane County Humane Society. When I first met him at the Humane Society, he settled right into my hand. The teenage volunteer who brought him in to me asked if I wanted some time alone with him to decide if I wanted him. I thought that the oddest question.
"No, thank you. We'd just like to go home now."
After we'd finished the paperwork (Amal helped with that part, too) the gal asked what I was going to name him.
"Amal, "I told her. "It's Arabic for hope." She gave me a brief, blank stare before smiling and wishing us well.
Amal was a ray of sunshine in my very stressful office for almost three months. No matter how bad the phones got or how large the stack of paperwork grew, all I had to do was turn to my right and look at Amal curled in a ball sleeping in his hay, or standing on his hind feet holding the bars of the pen so he could go nose-to-nose with Ginger, my pit bull, and I could not help but smile.
When he first began to show signs of illness, my regular veterinarian, Dr. Elizabeth Stokes at Odyssey Veterinary Care, trimmed his overgrown lower incisors and sent us home to fight our battle.
And together, we fought. Amal was a brave patient and willingly--if not forcefully--clung to the tip of the feeding syringe I had filled with warm Critical Care, a mixture designed specifically for ailing guinea pigs. He cleaned up every plate of canned pumpkin I set in front of him, giving him a permanent orange stain under his chin.
Unable to use his water bottle any longer, he eagerly placed his tiny front feet on the edge of his small crock of water and drank and drank, then would step back patiently as I refilled it with a small cup.
No matter how many feedings my mother and I gave him over the course of those two weeks, his weight continued to drop. His brother, 'Azoom, was weighing in around 2.5 lbs, while Amal was no longer reaching 1.5. This was especially discouraging since he had even finally regained the use of his incisors, and would now devour every leaf of Romaine lettuce, baby carrot, or backyard dandelion I brought in for him.
By last Thursday, he no longer showed any interest in his Criticial Care or his pumpkin. His incisors appeared normal (to me) but clearly he had taken a turn for the worse. I hoped it was nothing more than a molar issue, but I was starting to have serious doubts.
Friday, mom took him to Odyssey Vet again while I stayed behind at work. Amal bravely underwent blood tests which revealed anemia but little else. In the end, Dr. Stokes referred Amal to Dr. Shawn Hook of the Arbor Ridge Pet Clinic, whom she said had much experience in pocket pets.
Though I honestly did my very best to be a source of positive energy--and hope--for Amal, it was with much dread that I pulled up to Arbor Ridge Saturday morning. The new vet (new to me) proved very knowledgeable and, based on suspicions from palpations he made under Amal's jaw, he showed me with x-rays that Amal suffered from a serious congenital defect affecting his molars and incisors.
Both sets were growing in both directions, instead on only one, and the roots were forcing themselves down into his lower jaw, which was extremely painful. It would only grow more so with time.
I said to Dr. Hook, "Now I'm going to ask you the question you hate to get from your clients."
He replied before I could ask. "What would I do if it were my guinea pig?"
I nodded. He paused and let out a small sigh. My question was answered, and of course I began to cry.
"If he were mine, I would... I would..."
"Put him down," I finished for him. He nodded.
Not surprisingly, I lost it at that point and he politely gave me some time alone with Amal. While we were waiting for them to come back for the euthanization, Amal sat in my lap with his front feet resting on my fingers. Occasionally, he would squeeze them with his paws, which I could feel all the way to my heart. He eventually fell asleep in my hands as we waited.
When they returned, Dr. Hook and his assistant, Shelley, allowed me to hold Amal while they gave him the Isoflurane, which would ensure he did not feel any pain on his journey to the all-night buffet in the sky. Once he was breathing the steady breaths of a deep sleep, he was euthanized.
Despite my outward tears, I turn inwards when in pain, so I was surprised to suddenly find this burly veterinarian in front of me ready with a big hug. It would have been very easy for him to bow quietly out of the room, as many of the vets I have worked for in the past would have done (the male ones, anyway), but he didn't. I admired that.
I never ceases to amaze me that by surrounding myself with animals to fill any emptiness that avoiding humans might create, in the end it is my animals that lead me out into the world to meet the people I can't really do without. In this case, were it not for Amal's illness, I would not have met the great staff over at Arbor Ridge. And so, as much as I miss my daily dose of sunshine from Amal, I am thankful to him for helping me form new connections in my life.
You couldn't really ask much more of a guinea pig now, could you?