"And can it be that in a world so full and busy,
the loss of one small creature
makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep,
that nothing but the width and depth of vast eternity
can fill it up?"
When I first visited Cindy's house in 2005, I was most struck by a small, special-needs guinea pig named Minerva -- and the obvious and tight bond that had formed between her and Cindy. When we launched the rescue's first real Web site later that year, it seemed logical to crown Minerva...from several dozen worthy candidates...as the rescue's mascot and post her photo at the top of every page.
Born on February 1, 2005, Minerva and her mother and siblings came from a home that had 20 guinea pigs. The authorities had forced her owner to turn all the pigs over to the Animal Refuge League shelter in Westbrook, Maine. Because the shelter was filled to capacity, Minerva and 14 of the other guinea pigs came to Cindy because they were in danger of being put to sleep. Minerva was just two weeks old when she arrived and was understandably scared, but with Cindy's patience and TLC, Minerva learned to trust humans and became an extremely personable guinea pig.
Tragically, Minerva had a condition called micropthalmia, a genetic defect due to inbreeding. The condition left Minerva blind, and susceptible to recurring infections. Where others might have given up on her, Cindy and the vets at Pieper Olson vet hospital tried a "Hail Mary": surgery to remove her eyeballs and stitch her eyelids closed.
Miraculously, Minerva pulled through the surgery and the post-op recovery, and grew to be a big girl with a lot of attitude, a strong will, and a ton of personality. An affectionate piggy with all, she clearly favored Cindy over all humans and seemed to radiate joy and light when Cindy picked her up and carried her around.
Finding Minerva a roommate was no easy task. Her attitude clearly stated: "I may be blind, but I'm not going to let just anyone in my cage." On her own, she did just fine navigating around her C&C cage, and knew just where her food, water, hay, pigloo, cozy cup, and treats were. Knowing that a roommate could enrich Minerva's life, Cindy patiently tried multiple matches. Minerva ultimately accepted Gracie (another special-needs pig with paralyzed back legs) and happy-go-lucky Pogo (a neutered male happy to have a couple of girlfriends).
This tightly knit trio lived together happily for years, hamming it up for visitors and photographers alike. Minerva seemed to always be aware of a camera's presence before it made a sound, and quickly struck a pose, like Madonna "vogue-ing" in a video. She always seemed to have a smile on her face, as you can see in the photo here and the other photos on our Web site. Together, Minerva, Gracie, and Pogo gave us some of the best guinea pig photos we've seen anywhere.
Gracie and Pogo passed on first, and Minerva -- now elderly -- accepted Tally and Summit as her new roommates. Unfortunately, the effects of old age began to take a toll on Minerva and for the first time in a very, very long time, she and Cindy resumed the old routine of vet visits as everyone worked to cure her or, at least, make her comfortable.
On February 17, 2011, we lost Minerva. While every loss riddles Cindy's heart with more holes, losing Minerva...her partner and her touchstone...was a devastating blow -- and giving Cindy time to grieve in peace seemed the kindest thing to do. (And, honestly, it's taken me a while to get through writing this without crying.)
More than 800 guinea pigs have been helped by this rescue in 7 years of operation, and we have many sanctuary pigs right now with stories that would qualify them to pick up the mantle of Rescue Mascot. But that title will forever be Minerva's. She is why we continue doing this work: A guinea pig who needed a second chance and someone kind enough and wise enough to fight for her.
Rest in peace, sweet girl. We hope you're happy romping in Heaven's lettuce patch with Gracie and Pogo. Holding that picture in our minds softens the grief of missing you.