Tag Archives: animal health

Wild Paddy

8 Aug

Paddy, the patriarch of our seven guinea pigs, once lived in the woods with a cockerel. Their many wives roamed around the cottage garden in the Highlands where Bunty’s mother lives. Paddy and the cockerel spent part of the day with their wives, and then the two would cross the burn, climb the hill, pass under the fence or fly over it (depending), and return to their batchelor pad among the Scots pines.

The cockerel

Three pregnant wives

Paddy’s wives would nurture and wean Paddy’s pups in special enclosures where they would be safe from cats and owls. When they were old enough, Bunty’s mother would take them to Pets at Home and sell them. One summer, when Paddy’s wives had eleven pups on the go, Bunty’s mother decided to retire him from stud duties. Eleven was quite enough to be getting on with. Thus Paddy arrived at our home as a new member of our family. His arrival was unexpected and we had nowhere to put him, so we ensconced him  in a spare aquarium for his first few days of settling in. It was a far cry from his batchelor pad in the woods.

Not long after this, Pets at Home revised their policies such that they would only buy from a list of specific dealers – not casual hobbyists. Bunty’s mother was left with more guinea pigs than she could provide for. Paddy’s six sons came to live with us. We bought and customised a big hutch, with permanent access to our garden. Paddy had a new batchelor pad.

Paddy at bottom left

As they got older, the guinea pigs paired off, separating  into territorial areas of the garden. Paddy and his smallest son, Orkney, made their home on a patch of lawn edged by flowerbeds and a birch tree. Orkney spent all summer patrolling the edges of their territory against the other guinea pigs. Paddy had no inclination to follow suit: all his sons already accepted him as Top Pig.

In Wintertime, Paddy and Orkney shared the penthouse apartment in the guinea-pig tower block I had built for them all. The pigs like their tower well enough, but nothing beats the sight of them running and jumping unhindered through the grasses and Summer foliage. This year, the elderly Paddy began to take breaks from all the  running and jumping, to sit under a plank propped against the fence and watch the world go slowly by.

Paddy and Orkney in May (favourite plank in background)

Today dawned glorious and warm. As the sun was burning away the morning mist across the fields, Bunty fed Paddy some vegetable off-cuts. Paddy, feral creature that he is, scurried away to eat them in private. This afternoon, he was lying in the shade under his plank again, his boot-button eyes gazing into the buttercups. He had shuffled off his mortal coil, at the grand old age of five and a half.

I usually go to pieces when a pet dies, but this time it was different. He died quickly and quietly, in his old age, in his own territory – an expansive place full of grass to graze on and secret passageways that he had made among the bedding plants and beneath the tree. He died in freedom, with his favourite son close by. We buried him in his special place under the plank.

His last photo

Rest in peace, wild Paddy.


The Case of the Midnight Rabbit

5 Aug

Bunty and I have been exploring the joys and agonies of detective work, using an undercover camera. It came about because our rabbit Broccles suddenly started peeing about four times more than usual. The vets thought he may have a kidney infection. (Bear with me; this is relevant.)

“How much is he drinking?” asked Alasdair (of Rabbit Hypnotist fame).

I had no idea. Alasdair explained that if he’s not drinking lots, his urinary system is likely fine and he is probably eating more juicy food than usual. I was instructed to measure the water level drop in his drinking bottle. I explained that Broccles shares a water fountain with the cats, making it hard to judge how much he drinks. I said I’d keep him indoors and watch his drinking habits closely.

Bunty had a better idea. He stuck an infra-red webcam near the fountain, and set it to email us a series of snapshots every time its motion detector was triggered. The computer also sounded a noisy alarm every time the fountain was approached by an animal. This meant we could check the screen and watch the animal without having to walk through to the living room.

Broccles and the cats snoozed the long day away without having any drinks. In the evening, the alarm blared frantically over our TV show as a cat turned up for a drink. Ten minutes later, the other cat set it off. We couldn’t turn the sound off without muting our TV, which is Bunty’s computer. Ten minutes later, HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! Broccles turned up, took a few sips of water and groomed his bib for a while. We paused our show and watched him benevolently.

Ten minutes later, HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! He set it off again. We carried on watching TV. We knew what a drinking rabbit looked like by now.


Every ten minutes through the evening and night, he set the damn thing off. I felt sure his kidneys must be disintegrating.

It took a long time to trawl through the emails the next morning. The vast majority were of him taunting us:

Most of the rest showed him taking the odd sip of water and then grooming his bib:

Turns out he really likes to groom his bib. I called Alasdair and gave him the run-down. Alasdair said that, from my description, it sounds like he’s fine. He referred to the sipping and bib-licking as “wetting his cloth to use it”. We will continue to keep an eye on his drinking habits, but this time with less of the whole HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! I have had it with sleuthing.

The Rabbit Hypnotist

29 Jul

This is Alasdair, the head hypnotist at Broadleys Veterinary Hospital. He also happens to be the head surgeon, but it’s his shamanic skills that impress me the most. Like Gillian the Bird Nerd, who captures wild birds with her bare hands, he has this notion that he is not a wizard – but as you can see, he clearly is one.

The entranced Broccles in the crook of his arm is a rabbit of a few strong opinions. One must not pick him up. One must not touch his mouth or legs. One must not prod him with instruments or stabbity needles. As long as one follows these simple rules, he is a perfectly unfrenzied ball of non-fury.

For whatever reason (probably involving witchcraft), the vets and nurses of Broadleys can convince him to go along with all the sorts of things he normally disapproves of. Alasdair is the king of coercion, thanks to his hypnotic approach. He picks up Broccles, flips him onto his back and then sits there, stroking his forehead until that excitable rabbit nose stops twitching. At this point, Broccles will remain motionless while Alasdair presses his bad eye, feels his guts, sticks endoscopes into various orifices, shaves his leg or ear, inserts needles, and draws blood. Once he’s done, Alasdair flips him back onto his front and pets him. Broccles spreads out under Alasdair’s hand like he does at home when he feels relaxed and sleepy.

Chillin’ at home

Broccles is one of those incident-prone pets who always seem to be in and out of the vet hospital. Recently one of his back teeth grew all misshapen and gave him a tongue abscess. Then his tearduct got blocked and his blind eye got infected. Then we feared a kidney infection. It now looks like he will need to have his blind eye surgically removed by one of the Broadleys wizards.

Here he is bandaged up after Alasdair extracted blood from his ear this week. As soon as he got home, he went back to investigating ways of reaching Bunty’s herbage. Bunty has had to place his fruit, flowers and vegetables on higher and higher levels over the course of the summer. Several of his plants are on the roof, thanks to Broccles. That rabbit is fond of his Sky Cabbage and Sky Strawberries, and he brooks no argument – except when he’s being hypnotised.

I once asked Alasdair what his secret is. He was amused that I thought he had a secret. (Like I said, he is oblivious to the fact that he’s a shaman.) He replied: “I think it’s just a case of taking your time and not rushing it.”

He lies the rabbit along his forearm, with its head tilted slightly downwards, then gently strokes its forehead. “It helps if your forearm is the same length as a rabbit,” he observed.

I noticed that he has a very calm and low-pitched way of speaking around rabbits too. Nothing sudden, nothing loud. He sounds like my yoga teacher when she’s getting us to drift into meditation.

He makes rabbit hynotism seem like something any muggle could do. But it’s not true. I’ve tried it. Broccles was immediately beside himself with indignation. There was no option of “taking my time” about it. He kicked his way out of my arms and stamped every square foot of the living room floor, before retreating under the TV table to sulk. It appears that only wizards can hypnotise rabbits.