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March 17, 2016 | Kellie Duckhorn

Sixteen Guinea Pigs and Twenty Nine Hamsters

To understand the title of my blog, I first have to share a bit of my childhood...

A few of my friends had horses or ponies, when I was in grade school. A typical adventure included riding Midnight (black pony) from Bale Lane up to Larkmead Lane to visit Suzie (brown & white pony)...or, taking the train to Reno to watch another friend compete with her Quarter Horse and win beautiful, shiny silver belt buckles! Before I had a chance to even consider what large animal I might like to own, my father pre-empted any discussion with the following edict:

  • No animals that required a pasture

  • No animals that can't survive a couple of days on their own with a bowl of food and water

  • No animals that can't live outside

Simple enough...and naturally, my brothers and I created our own counter attack. We had rabbits and guinea pigs, fish and turtles and of course a beloved black lab and a cat that looked like a skunk. Despite my father's strict rules, he was the one that brought home all variety of wild life that had experienced some adversity: there was a crow named Ajax, a Great Horned Owl that was quickly sent to the Lindsay Wildlife Hospital, and three baby chipmunks that had fallen out of their nest. The final contradiction was my father's total passion for duck hunting and fly fishing, which meant we ate a lot of his passion!

Childhood pets

 

Forward my life, twenty years, and suddenly I was a parent with two sons who wanted to experience the wild kingdom. We had the requisite and adorable Golden Retriever, a bit of a rotation of cats, and then the menagerie which titles my blog. It started out with that classic line from the Kindergarten teacher: "Who can keep the hamster for the summer?" One small Habitrail and cute hamster on Friday afternoon became 10 baby hamsters and an aggressive mother, two weeks later. The quick trip to PetCo to expand the Habitrail distracted me from reading up on the average gestation cycle (21 days) and within another three weeks, we were at twenty-nine! The next trip to PetCo was not to buy more Habitrail...

The Guinea Pig experience was more nuanced...same baited question from the second grade teacher, but this time, the pigs came as a pair and were quickly lodged outdoors, in an awesome pen built by me and the boys. Fortunately, the litter size (2) and the gestation cycle (approx 65 days) were much more reasonable and we settled in to a nice rhythm of breeding guinea pigs for PetCo. They told us that since they were raised outside, they were stronger and less susceptible to disease. The project lasted about a year and then baseball and swim team, soccer and camping took over. The dog travelled with us, the cats met my dad's rule of self-feeding and the rodents all found other homes!

Napa Valley Wildlife

 

Today, my boys are grown and out of the house. I have a dog and two cats, but my real interest is in the wildlife in the Napa Valley. If you are into birds, grab a pair of binoculars and head out to Lake Hennessey or Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Another local resource is the Napa-Solano Audubon Society

The Napa Valley has an amazing diversity of wildlife...wake up early and drive your car down to the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area. You won't regret it!

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