'Pluto ate Judo!': Mum's horror after son's first pet only survives a week

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

We held off buying our son a pet. But after reading Maggie Dent's 'Mothering our Boys: A guide for mums of sons' I dutifully went out and bought him two guinea pigs for his 8th birthday.

Maggie advises that buying a guinea pig for a two to four-year-old boy 'is an opportunity for us to guide them and show them how to be gentle, how to pat very gently and how to take care of that little creature.'

Ned - now past this age range - had been developing an alarming propensity to mansplain. This, coupled with increasing pressure to buy a puppy, led me to believe that he could use a lesson in empathy and responsibility.

Unfortunately, the little wooden home turned out to be less Fort Knox more torture chamber a la The Three Little Pigs. A week after purchase, standing at the sink with my morning cuppa, I blearily wondered what that squeak-squeak-squeaking was.

Looking up, realisation dawned. Our evil mastermind Tabby had unlocked the little wooden hatch and was skulking across the back deck, squeaking piggy in mouth.

'Noooo,' I wailed as I scrambled with the screen-door. But like a shot, he was gone.

Ned, horrified by my horror, came running to my side. 'What is it mum?'

'Oh darling, I'm so sorry,' I said, hand to mouth. 'Pluto ate Jude!'

Hysterics followed.

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I'm not sure this was what Maggie had in mind when she wrote about the capacity for a small pet to pick-axe down the stony exterior of a 'rooster' son, and expose their sweet, spongy, soft side.

It did give us an opportunity to have a pet funeral though - another Maggie recommendation as a way to teach children that grief, though emotionally painful, does eventually lessen.

Without a body, we were limited in scope but Ned crafted a little wooden cross and wrote: Jude 1.3.2010 - 8.3.2020.

For nights afterwards, I'd wake at 3am and lie wide-eyed, cursing myself for traumatising my son and failing that little, tiny beating heart. I too had been won over by the guinea pigs.

Ned was too heartbroken to go to his friend's party the next day. The sight of Pluto would enrage him, 'Get outta here!' he'd yell. But within days, the force of his passion had ebbed and a level of acceptance arrived. 'Poor Jude,' he'd say, and then potter off to play some Lego.

Meanwhile, our other guinea pig Rango sat still and white in his cage. My workmate said he'd no doubt die of a heart-attack. We rapidly bought Rango a new friend: Jude Junior, with the same sticky-up black fur but with an orange streak for added flair.

Almost immediately, the pair were warbling away like pigeons. I liked to imagine Rango was saying, 'You wouldn't believe the shit that just went down. They set a fricking tiger on my brother!'

This time we were taking no risks. The little wooden house moved into the bolted back shed and the outdoor chicken-wire run was reinforced with bricks and concrete.

A couple of weeks later we went into lockdown and the piggies became a god send. We'd sit at the firepit, a pig on each lap, listening to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter until the stars blinked out.

When I went to hang the washing out I'd see them startle and freeze in my peripheral vision. Their little eyes would watch me and once I'd passed, they'd go back to nibbling the grass in fast-forward.

I wondered how big their brains were and what they thought about. I imagined them to be our tiny livestock. Sometimes Jude Junior would pull out some dance moves, stag-leaping around the run until Rango gave him a nip.

Who knew such tiny little animals could bring such comfort?