First, catch your Guinea Pig

Last week I wandered into the Reception office of the Ferne Animal Sanctuary in Somerset, and offered my services as a volunteer. I had visions of playing with the pussies, walking the dogs, brushing a bunny or two… The lovely Laura, however, scanned my CV and said ‘Tours. School children, disabled groups, Old Folks’ homes. Only got one person to do them. You’re an ex-teacher. Tours are yours.’ Honesty clearly isn’t always the best policy on a CV. Thought I’d waved the little blighters good bye for ever, but no, not yet…
‘No pussies?’
‘No, we’ve got loads of cat socialisers. (I know- but it is a real job! — Now look here Felix, you can’t just scarf down all the biscuits. Share with Delilah. No Felix, don’t bite her on the leg. Bad boy. Now kiss it better… Joyce Grenfell lives)
I had one hour of ‘small animal training’ with Kathryn, which involved first, catching a rabbit and showing I could hold it correctly. No problem. The one I aimed for was huge and weighed over two stone- he couldn’t get away fast enough to avoid my groping hands if he’d wanted to. Lovely warm coat he’d make he had.
Then it was onto the Guinea Pigs. At the lift of the latch into their cosy shed they disappeared under several upturned baskets. ‘This should be easy,’ I muttered, turning over a basket to reveal at least eight Guineas with their heads tucked underneath their arms pretending I couldn’t see them. But as soon as I put a hand down they scattered like the last Rice Krispies in a bowl of chocolate milk. So I scrabbled about a bit. Practised lunging (good for the thighs) ‘Got one!’
‘Oh. That one’s not good to demonstrate with – it’s blind,’ said Kathryn. No wonder I could catch it. I caught another two blind ones. Didn’t get within a Guinea Pig’s wotsit of a young ‘un.
Ah well. Onto the ferrets. The ferrets were fast asleep wrapped in blankets. Easy. Kathryn tipped out the albino one (that doesn’t bite) and I grabbed his silky, half-asleep, shivery little body and held him close. What a delight. Battered ego raised its head just a little. Maybe I was getting the hang of this animal lark. Ferret fettler first class… (I know, step away from the alliteration box).
We looked at cows, at chickens, at ducks, at goats, at pigs, at horses, at birds, at dogs…but no pussies. They were torturing me for my insolence in expecting to see them straight away. I sighed.
Then, far too swiftly, induction was over. I signed to say I had received training, did Fire and safety stuff, and said goodbye to the staff. I took the tour notes and map home to swot. Lots of swotting.
Today was Tour Day 1. 100 ten year olds in groups of 25, for a 45 minute tour each. Had I lost my touch? Was I past it? (Jury’s still out on that one) Would it be terrible? Nah, it was great! Freezing cold, yes, bitter wind, yes, animals hiding in their sheds, yes. But I’d forgotten how enthusiastic the average ten-year old is- they ran around like monkeys, asked questions, laughed at my jokes (hey- I can re-use them!) Even the teachers smiled. Occasionally.
I really enjoyed my first day. It just goes to show that doing something for nothing is worthwhile. And I’m really looking forward to the next one in April.
Oh, and I did get to see the pussies. I’m in love with a stunning blue-eyed Bengal called Lucky. Reckon we could squeeze a little one in at home…


4 thoughts on “First, catch your Guinea Pig

  1. Hi Bernie, I loved reading this on the ‘cloud’ but somehow it reads even better on here. I love the neatness of your site. The ferret brought back memories of a polecat my ex-wife adopted a few years ago when our children were young. I built him a ‘run’ in the back garden, a bit like a bird aviary. Our dog at the time used to love playing around the garden with him they are delightful friendly creatures. I hope you enjoy your next outing. x

  2. Having a son with ferrets opened my eyes to their engaging personalities; of course, I ended up having to share their care. Cat and dog, however, are the warm companions of my days. Loved the humour of this; glad you haven’t lost your touch with kids.

    • I’d never been near a ferrt before, but I’m besotted with animals, so I thought it would be ok. You’re right though, it’s still our cat that brings us joy!

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