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Building the bond: Regarding Alfred


A compassionate animal lover rescued a guinea pig near death and nursed it back to health, renewing my belief in the healing power of love.

It was one of the worst cases of neglect my team had ever seen. In the decade Central Marin Cat and Exotic Hospital has served the community of San Rafael, Calif., our veterinary team has cared for thousands of ailing animals that required urgent medical attention and aged pets that needed assistance for a peaceful passing. But the pain a little guinea pig called Alfred experienced still had the power to gall us.

Alfred's new owner brought him to our practice on a chilly fall day. She didn't have an appointment, but our front office team only needed one look at Alfred's open sores and purulent eyes to realize he required immediate attention.

While guinea pigs can live up to eight years, at 2 years old, Alfred looked like a more antiquated specimen closer to death than life. Alfred's new owner trembled and her eyes filled with tears as she shared Alfred's tale.

She had been friends with Alfred's previous owner. When she discovered Alfred's serious condition, she whisked him away and told the previous owner the friendship was over. We blessed her for adopting a pet that would require extensive care—if he survived the visit.

And it was clear Alfred was suffering. His body was hairless and limp, his skin was scabrous, and he emanated a rank odor. We assured Alfred's new owner we'd care for Alfred the best we could.

The fight to live

The doctor opened Alfred's mouth and examined his mucus membranes. Then she checked Alfred's skin, eyes, and ears and found a generalized mite infestation that had progressed into the ear cavity. Radiographs indicated Alfred didn't have any broken bones or an infection of the bones. The doctor soaked Alfred's feet in antiseptic, the first of many soaks along his arduous road to recovery. Then we administered antibiotics, intravenous fluids, and pain medication.

Alfred's new owner listened intently as the doctor shared a rigorous home treatment plan that included six soaks per day, several medications, and force-feeding. The owner squared her shoulders and replied, "Whatever it takes." So we provided written instructions for Alfred's home care and silently prayed the guinea pig would live the three days until his next scheduled visit.

The healing begins

A flame too bright to extinguish burned in Alfred's damaged body. Over the next months, Alfred visited our practice regularly. Our team patiently removed the scabs on his feet so the infectious serum could drain. We rejoiced as his protestations became stronger and we struggled to hold his wiggling frame during exams and treatment. Alfred recovered more slowly from the mite infestation, but eventually his hair began to grow again. Alfred's new owner never complained about the rigorous regimen, and we witnessed her faithful care as Alfred gradually transformed from a painful animal to a healthy pet.

There are few rewards in our profession that compare to a victory fought well and hard. And no success story is sweeter and no pet is more deserving than Alfred. Neglect brought Alfred to our practice and the power of love restored him.

Caitlin Amans/Photo by Ken Smith

Caitlin Amans lives in Lucas Valley, Calif. Please send questions or comments to firstline@advanstar.com

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