Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pig Rights

By guest blogger Penny Mallory.

I have a huge heart for the domestic rights movement, especially concerning domesticated Cavia porcellus. Most people don't understand guinea pigs and their needs, and we seek to raise global awareness about these issues so that all guinea pigs can be treated fairly.

The most common misconception about the species is that they don't have cognitive abilities surpassing a 6-month-old human and therefore don't understand what is said around them. Indeed, we don't meet such high intelligence standards, but we're still aware of what you say to us. A good exercise demonstrating this is to look deeply into a guinea pig's eyes while speaking to it. You'll see the understanding deep in the mostly-black eyes that adorn this most beautiful species.

Seen in our natural environment:
eating food, in a cage, under the care of humans.

Thus when jokes are made about quwi/cuy, we are not ignorant. Such references are insensitive and can be extremely hurtful. Thousands of our brethren die every year to the scourge of restaurants in Latin America, and making passing reference to the genocide brings up genetic memories many of us are eager to forget. Implying that one of our persons would make good cuy is beyond insulting. Threatening to make cuy out of us if we don't stop squeaking is not going to make us feel any safer.

That brings us to the second common misconception: squeaking. It's commonly believed that our squeaking is ignorant and annoying, but in fact it's neither. We squeak to communicate, and if we're squeaking at you, it's probably an attempt to tell you about our day, or that the food bowl is empty.

Improper responses to squeaking include: rattling the bars of the cage, yelling at the top of your lungs, or throwing things at us in the hopes of scaring us into silence. We aren't so easily cowed. (We're pigs. If we had extra stomachs, we wouldn't have to eat our own cecotropes for extra digestion, a process known to us as coprophagia but known to humans as eating poop. Your language can be so uncivilized.)

Relaxing after a long day of intensive scholarship
regarding the composition of hay when eaten.
(Study involved lots of experimental work eating the hay myself.)

Proper responses to squeaking can be anything from petting us to giving us an extra dollop of timothy hay. Get creative! Most guinea pigs appreciate being rubbed along their spine, while it's common for the stomach and dewlap to be particularly ticklish and cause us to squeak even louder if touched. If you're gentle, you can corner us and rub our noses (along the grain of the fur, please), a process which puts us in absolute heaven if done correctly. If not done correctly, we'll make this clear by squirming.

The third misconception is that guinea pigs are irrationally fearful. While extremely skittish, this is perfectly sane for someone of our size and tastiness. Many species consider us synonymous with snack-time, so it's necessary for us to fear anything moving over us, next to us, or in the vicinity in general. Homebodies, we don't like being evicted from our cages, for that's our haven. Eviction is traumatic and should only happen when you're going to snuggle us for a prolonged period of time.

This only barely counts as snuggling.
Still, it was fun.

If you observe a guinea pig for awhile, you'll notice how sneaky our defense mechanisms are. If a perceived predator* approaches, we run straight at them. The predator will either be too startled to do anything or catch us quickly so that we die as fast/painlessly as possible. This is a mark of our intelligence that I previously mentioned.

Our other defense mechanisms are to stay frozen in place (this one is still in testing and hasn't proven effectiveness yet) and to look as cute as possible. This last one tends to be looked down on humans, who claim that we are dependent on them for our protection.

This is a hybrid mix of freeze-in-place and look-cute-for-the-humans.
It was in response to a loud noise that terrified me. It turned out to be the vacuum,
which I assessed for danger and discovered to be high on the predator list.

In truth, our cuteness allows us to take advantage of various anomalies in the human species that cause them to care for any apparently-helpless mammal smaller than a breadbox. We're not so much dependent on you as we're manipulating you to like us. Even after knowing this, you'll continue to protect and love us, showing how good we are at being adorable.

Now that you're more educated about the guinea pig species, I hope you will afford us the respect we deserve in future: namely in the form of food (vegetable matter preferred). If you have any questions about guinea pig rights or the science of coprophagia, you can direct your queries to me, although I might be too busy eating and pooping or else too afraid of you to answer.

Penny Mallory, some-time blogger.

Penny is a spotted, red-furred guinea pig with the rare occurrence of three black feet and one white foot. She spends her leisure time eating hay, lounging on sawdust, and scurrying away from potential predators, including her mother. The rest of her time is spent sleeping and pooping.

Word count: 754.

* I say perceived predator since just about anything can be seen as a predator and reacted to as such. Even the hand that feeds us can be terrifying due to our extreme nearsightedness.**
** Nearsightedness in guinea pigs is not verified by any scientific source, though I can personally vouch for it in my personal experience. I cannot find lettuce that's put directly in front of me unless I sniff around for it first, since my eyesight is too poor for me to see it. (I am 5 years old, which translates to over 100 in guinea pig years and may account for the difficulty.)