I just have a lot to say.
February 10th, 2014 by

Ode to Critters

“I am 18 years old. Can I PLEASE have a bunny?”

Emma had begged for a bunny for a decade. “NO! NO! NO!” What was the purpose of a bunny as a pet? She would play with it for a week and then tire of it, and I would be stuck with trying to get rid of a nasty bunny and its stinky cage when she left for college.

But, an 18-year-old is different from a 10-year-old:

“It will be all your responsibility.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“You will buy it all of its food with your own money.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I will not clean the cage.”

“Yes ma’am.”

After the pinkie promises, I caved. Jessie found a cute Dutch Bunny in Auburn. A War Eagle bunny. Jessie hid it in the dorm on the night before she brought it to Dothan. Her name was Ruby. I didn’t expect to hate her, but I didn’t expect to like her, either. However, that nose was pretty cute. 

To quote J.K. Rowling, “All was well.”Ruby

Except that Phillip had some Christmas money burning up his pocket. Now, evidently, Phillip needed a guinea pig:

“It will be all your responsibility.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“You will buy it all of its food with your own money.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I will not clean the cage.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Abby took him to Pets R Us. He found a black guinea pig with a white stripe on his face and a perfect little French mustache. His name was Pierre.

They had such happy little lives. Emma and Phillip would let them out of their cages to frolic together in the playroom. (I must have misplaced my spine.) Biscuit was certain we had all lost our minds. We kept the critters in the playroom behind closed doors on a table out of Biscuit’s reach.

“All was well.”


Until one dark and gloomy Wednesday night about a week later. I was helping with youth supper at church when I received a text from Abby: “Biscuit killed Pierre.” I uttered some mild swear words under my breath (I was at church!) and called Abby. 

Apparently the attack was premeditated. Biscuit watched us leave for church (Abby was in her room, so maybe Biscuit thought she went, too). She discovered the door to the playroom at least cracked. Pierre’s cage was on Granny’s Hoosier cabinet. Biscuit jumped up on a nearby chair, leaped towards the cabinet, and knocked the cage to the floor. The cage door flew open! Pierre squealed a terrified squeal! He ran for his short life! Biscuit snatched the rodent and snapped his neck.

Abby heard the racket and knew EXACTLY what had happened. She hurried downstairs with hopes of saving his life. Alas, Biscuit was standing over the broken Pierre, looking guilty . . . and yet proud.

I told Abby to leave the body for Chuck. “It’s a man’s job to kill the bugs, and a Daddy’s job to bury the pets.”

Back at church, I showed Abby’s text to my friend sitting next to me. And her son. And his friend. And Emma. And all the other moms. Soon, everyone on the youth floor—except Phillip—knew of the homicide.

There are things you instinctively know when you find out the baby is a boy. You know you will genuinely grieve when he doesn’t make the Team or when the Team loses the Big Game. You know you will pretend to grieve when Miss Priss Who Thinks She’s All That breaks up with him. You never imagine when you see the tally on the ultrasound that you will some day have to be The One to tell The Boy that The Dog murdered The Guinea Pig.

But I did. And I did. And I promised my sadder, wiser, now worldlier son that Daddy and I would buy him a Second Guinea Pig.  

Although he could never replace Pierre in our hearts, the next night, Chuck and Phillip returned to Pets R Us to purchase another guinea pig. Phillip named him Hardison, after a favorite character on a TV show. The cashier at the store told them that there is a two-week return policy on animals. If the animal died of natural causes, we need only to return the body for an exchange . . . .

We all made sure the door to the playroom stayed tightly shut. 

Again, “All was well.”


Until Hardison seemed lethargic. As the days progressed, he got stiller and stiller and stiller. Until he quit moving all together.

The moment Hardison ceased breathing, I was at a funeral with 89-year-old Aunt Betty for her first cousin that I don’t remember ever having met. It was on a Saturday. Chuck was at the office. The kids were all at home. Phillip came upstairs to find his sisters, cradling his Second Dead Guinea Pig, who had died in his arms. They didn’t know what to do. They texted me at the funeral. (I only checked my phone because we had spoken to everybody and were sitting in silence waiting for the service to begin. I PROMISE!) I told them to call Their Daddy.

We had been googling about lethargy in guinea pigs. We discovered a parvo-like illness that is passed around in pet stores.

Emma immediately began to fret about Ruby. She thought she noticed some lethargy. She texted me—still at the funeral—that she was concerned that Ruby (a RABBIT!) was not pooping. Emma said her tummy was swollen and hard. Weary, I texted back, “THEN SQUEEZE HER!”

That afternoon, after the funeral of the cousin I didn’t know, they all three took Phillip and Hardison’s corpse back to Pets R Us with the receipt and came home with the Third Guinea Pig in as many weeks. Meet Trip.


By now, Ruby really did seem a little lethargic.

Emma was an editor for her school yearbook. The yearbook staff went to a local photographer to have pictures taken. They could take fun things with them for their photos. Emma took Ruby, but she just didn’t seem herself. She died later that afternoon. She is forever memorialized in the 2012 edition of the Northview High School Spectrum.

The day Ruby died was sad. A guinea pig is a rodent, but a rabbit is a mammal. There is a kinship with a rabbit. Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter were rabbits. The Easter bunny is a rabbit. Pooh’s friend, Rabbit, is a rabbit.  Emma cried, and I sighed, and Chuck disposed of the body.

Trip was living on borrowed time. We waited. And checked his breathing frequently.

On the Saturday of Disciple Now weekend, two weeks to the day of the death of Hardison, the seniors came to our house for lunch. They were briefed on the dire situation. In hushed whispers, they asked, “Is he dead yet?” Chuck offered to give him a shot of insulin to hasten the dying. I wasn’t sure if that was morbid or kind, but I didn’t let him. Trip finally died. And Chuck disposed of the body.

The whole Critter Episode took place over the course of only about a month.

After the cages were cloroxed and Emma’s wounds had healed, we found another Dutch bunny at a different pet store. Her name is Cas, and she lives a happy, hoppy life to this day. She has a cute lime green leash and an Instagram account. Phillip’s guinea pig need had been sufficiently met. He likes to watch his turtle, Poseidon, splash around in his tank. Abby, not to be left out, has a betta fish named Bailey that she won in a vicious game of Dirty Santa. (She stole him from Bailey.) Biscuit suspiciously tolerates the current arrangement. 

All is well. (Knock wood.)





4 Responses to “Ode to Critters”
  1. This series of tragic events reads like a sad children’s book.

    I have a bunny story, too. Actually, it was our neighbor’s story. She had a little dog named Wimpy. She loved Wimpy and thought he was perfect. The lady bought a rabbit and set about doing behavior modification so that the entire family could live together in harmony.

    Over the course of several weeks she introduced the dog to the bunny and the bunny to the dog. Eventually she let the bunny out of the cage in the room with the dog. They did fine. She went into the kitchen while the two animals stayed in the family room. They did fine.

    Finally, one day she put both animals in the basement while she went to the grocery store for milk. This was the first time they had been left completely alone. It was just a short trip but long enough for Wimpy dog to eat the bunny.

    Wimpy is a terrible name for a dog, don’t you think?

  2. Annetta says

    Lordy mercy girl, I do love to read your blabberings. When you get famous I will plan the road trips for your book signings. Now get busy and write…..I need some trips to plan!

  3. This is so good, Celeste! Truly, I see a book in your future – even a children’s book based on this pet saga!

  4. Linda Bailey says

    Glad things(critters) are well. Your back yard is another Memory Hill.

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