Saying Farewell to One of the Best of Us

"If there ever comes a day when can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever." - A.A. Milne

~*~

The first time I saw her I knew she was special. Her spiky red and white and beige fur was sticking up in a thousand directions, and her sour expression made her look more porcupine than pig. They told me her name was Cinnamon though she was 6 months old (but weren't quite sure) and was the kind of pig who would never stop talking. 

I liked her immediately. 

When we brought her (and her bonded mate Saffron) home from MSPCA-Angell and started getting to know her, we were delighted by her voracious appetite. The sound of the fridge opening or a bag rustling was enough to send her running across the cage wheeking and popcorning in gleeful anticipation. We also noticed that the more she ate the more she grew, until one day she could no longer fit in her tube. 

She had become convex nearly overnight. 

Cinnamon, you're obese! We teased, and considered putting her on a diet until reality dropped seventeen floors into our laps. 

Some investigation would prove that she had been carrying stowaways the entire time. 

Terrified by what we're getting into as first time guinea pig parents (and soon to be grandparents!), we watched her almost round the clock for three weeks. We gave her treats, made sure she had more than enough hay and water, we rubbed her tummy, gave her massages...until one morning we awoke to the most beautiful of surprises. 

Four little fur-buds: Ginger, Nutmeg, Clove, and Sassafras. 

Those teensy weensy pups followed her around for 3 weeks until we discovered one was a boy who was getting frisky and we decided it was time to separate them and give Cinnamon long overdue mommy alone time. 

In 2013 we moved to Salem and had a year and half of mostly uninterrupted bliss. She was happy, constantly demanding food, and despised being picked up. Although, once you got her swaddled into a towel on your lap she would coo and purr like she was the most pleased pigaroo who ever graced this big blue planet. She spent her days lounging in her hutch, wheeking loudly at meal time (or whenever she thought there was a treat coming her way). 

She was living the guinea pig life of legend. 

In early 2015 things started to take a turn downwards. We would hear her at night spasming and screeching in obvious pain, sometimes seizing and knocking the hutch around the cage. We took her to the vet close to where we live and they confirmed they she had developed sizable ovarian cysts and would need operation. Unfortunately, the vet we spoke to mishandled her so badly during the visit (she obviously had little experience with exotics) that Cinnamon refused to be touched for several days afterwards. 

A friend of ours recommended that we try VCA Wakefield Animal Hospital, and we are to this day infinitely grateful for that recommendation. Dr. Franquin treated Cinnamon with such patience and care, holding her against her chest and saying sweet things. Dr. Franquin was pregnant at the time of the first visit, and it seemed that Cinnamon felt that motherly kindred spirit and relaxed against her.

Dr. Franquin confirmed the diagnosis but said that the cysts weren't at the moment life threatening. She said our options were surgery or hormonal injections because as long as the cysts were there and continued to grow they would be problematic. We told her that we needed some time to think things over because operations can be life threatening, and we weren't sure if we were ready to take that risk. 

She sent us home with metacam (pain meds) and said if the seizures continued or if Cinnamon began to lose hair or stop eating to bring her back in immediately. 

Cinnamon has always been strong (and strong-willed) and over the next few months she seemed to be improving. She ate heartily and her crazy sheep-like fur stayed in tact, unlike her daughter Sassafras who soon began to decline. She also had ovarian cysts, and needed surgery immediately. Also, out of nowhere, we lost Clove - unexpected sudden organ failure. September and October were miserable for us. 

Fortunately, Sassafras did recover from her surgery (thanks to the loving hands of VCA's Dr. Corcoran) and began to bounce back. Since we had just lost one piggie, and Sassy proved that successful surgery could happen, we decided to go ahead with Cinnamon's surgery as well. 

The problem was, by this point (and having racked up $2,000+ in vet bills) we were broke. 

I launched a Fundly page called "Help Make Cinnamon Well Again" asking for $500 to help subsidize the $800 surgery. I didn't know what to expect, I had never asked for help like this before. I just knew that we needed to do what we could to make her well. 

To my immense happiness, the campaign was fully funded within 72 hours. She was going to be ok. I still have so much gratitude to the people who reached out helping hands to make this possible. You saved her. You gave her the change to be with us for these last few months. 

Her surgery went off with out a hitch. Dr. Corcoran said that she was the easiest surgery patient he has ever dealt with. I knew she must have charmed him with her chubby chubby cheeks. Even the recovery went well. She was eating normally within a day of coming home and she was back in with Saffron by the end of the week. 

And for the last few months, she's been her normal bristly self, in every sense of the word. 

Last night came as a surprise to us, as although she'd been a little lazy recently she hadn't given us any reason to think she was unwell. We think she may have suffered a heart attack, and there's nothing we could've done to foresee or prevent this terrible thing from happening. As my friend told me this morning, maybe she was needed somewhere else. 

Maybe she missed Clove. Who knows. All I can hope is that she didn't suffer, and that we were able to provide some degree of comfort and happiness to her while she was here with us. 

Over the last 4 1/2 years she has been the inspiration for countless images and videos and has become beloved by all who have seen her tubby face and crazy sheep fur. She was one of the first pets I photographed, and I have her to thank for me falling head over heels for this kind of life. 

I'm so grateful she picked us. It's incredibly difficult for me to write this because I miss her so much and I will continue to miss her for the rest of my life...but I'm also thankful to have had the time with her that I did. I'm surrounded by images of her, and in a way, she'll never really leave. 

Here are a few of the things she and I have made over the last few years.

I love you forever, Cinnamon Bear. 

© 2016 Salem Pet Photo

Tahoe the Golden Darling

“A dog can’t think that much about what he’s doing, he just does what feels right.” - Barbara Kingsolver
 

Earlier this year, Cavymadness hosted their annual Spring Pignic in Wellesley, MA. It was there that I met Doug and Rose, and their two little darlings Nibbles and Smudge. 

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I saw them again at the Fall Pignic, and Doug mentioned that he had an older pup named Tahoe that he would love for me to photograph. At first I was merely curious, that is until he told me that Tahoe was a 9 year old Golden. 

Every Golden Retriever I have ever met has been an absolute darling, and Tahoe is no different. When I walked in the front door, he immediately greeting me by sticking his little nose to my knee and wagging his tail in obvious delight. My heart melted. 

What's more, it was the most beautiful day. It was late Autumn, the yellow leaves covered the chilly ground and the sun was shining bright. It seemed the world was trying it's hardest to be like Tahoe.

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After the shoot, Doug sent me a picture of Tahoe when he was 3, and I paired it next to a picture from our session. He's become so handsome and so happy as he's gotten older. 

Many people don't realize how wonderful and special older dogs can be. They are attracted by the allure of new puppies...but old dogs are calm and sweet, and often have lost their families not because of anything they've done, but because a family member had died and no one could take care of the sweetie. 

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Anyways, the love of an older dog is a strong one...especially if it's a darling Golden like Tahoe. 

© 2015 Joey Phoenix Photography 

Ninja the One Eyed Cat

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Perfection has little to do with beauty...in fact, it can easily be argued that it's the imperfections, the unique attributes of a being that make it noticeable, that make it admirable...

That make it beautiful. 

I met and fell in love with a cat a couple weeks ago when I was photographing and him and his fur-moms for their Christmas card. When I came into the house, he was naturally terrified of me...and sprinted up to the upstairs bedroom to cower beneath the bed. I wasn't offended. I'm 12 times his size. 

Calmly, with a non-verbal apology in my body language for how I smelled and looked and sounded, I followed him upstairs and introduced him to my camera. Eventually his terror transitioned into cool indifference...and I only admired him more. 

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Ninja is a cat with well-defined tastes and a strong sense of self. His favorite things in the world are chin scratches, his little brown bunny, and the sound of a tuna can being opened. 

Several years ago, when he was a scruffy little guy living with one of his Moms in California, he got into a scuffle with another cat in the house. The scuffle led to an infection that would eventually take his eye. But, Ninja never let a little thing like perfect sight hold him back. Soon after, he made the cross country trip with his Mom and moved to New England. 

He's obviously much more suited to the cool calculated cucumber temperament of Massachusetts than to the laissez-faire absurdities of Californ-i-a. 

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Ninja will love you, Ninja will deign to approve of your existence, Ninja will be mad if you try to pick him up. 

He is a cat who knows what he wants. And I adore him for it. 

© 2015 Salem Pet Photo 

Did you know that Salem Pet Photo makes house calls? That's right. We will come to your house, set up a backdrop and/or follow your animal around to take pictures like these. Contact us today to inquire about a session of your own. 

The Chronicles of Disco and Phineas: Week 2

"Try to be like the turtle -- at ease in your own shell..." - Bill Copeland 

So last week we left you wondering what the size and shape of the turtles' new digs would be. Well, the wait is over. The materials arrived, coffee tables were purchased, various and sundry decorative (and practical) items were installed. It was like HGTV Red Eared Slider Style. 

It all began with a coffee table, picked up from Witch City Consignment for $20, and a sizeable Exo Terra Bent Glass Turtle Aquarium from Dr. Fosters and Smith for a bit more.

Next to arrive were the turtle river pebbles, decorative basking platform with built-in filter, extra filters, additional basking platform, floating decorative log and hiding place, and the heater. 

After opening everything up and inspecting for damage, we set about to cleaning. Unfortunately, the Zilla Basking Platform Filter had a piece missing (it had snapped off en route) from the bottom front. However, since it wasn't going to affect the filtration process we decided it would be best to go ahead and use it and just plug up the hole with a medium-sized rock. It's harmless, but we didn't want any little turtle parts getting curious, and as a result, getting stuck. 

Now, in cleaning and maintaining turtle equipment, it's absolutely essential that you don't use soap. It's white vinegar only, and lots and lots of rinsing. We began with the tank, scrubbing down the sides and removing all the styrofoam bits, rinsed it a bagillion times (ok like three, just until the vinegar smell was gone), and then moved on to the rest of the implements.

Photo by Chimæric 

Photo by Chimæric 

Half of the small river pebbles in the tank. 

Half of the small river pebbles in the tank. 

Once the pebbles were set, we added all of the rest of the magic and turned on the filter. We had to wait until the water heater became "accustomed" to the water before we turned it on (a 30 minute process), but we dumped water in that was between 78 and 82 degrees, with the aid of a handy candy thermometer, so that the turtles wouldn't have to wait. 

Chimæric filmed as I transported Phineas and Disco to their new digs. 

Photo by Chimæric 

Photo by Chimæric 

They were super wigged at first, thrashing about and wondering what on earth had happened to their old environment. Then, once they realized that more space didn't mean instant death, they came around and started exploring. 

Photos by Chimæric

One thing we noticed, however, immediately after we put them in the tank was that the rocks were too small. We knew this because the little guys were desperately trying to eat them, and almost succeeding. We checked the bag, and realized that we had picked up pebbles suitable for turtles less than 4 inches...and these turtles were at least 6 inches. 

Moving quickly, we took the turtles out, and then set to pulling all of those rocks we had so carefully placed in the tank. Chimæric went to the Doctors Foster and Smith website, fast track ordered a larger pebble variety, while I put some large rocks in the bottom of the tank for the time being.

Two days later, a new package arrived and we were able to remedy the situation.

Although they tried to eat these pebbles too, they weren't quite able to do it. Apparently they also try to eat/move rocks when they're bored...there's a whole wide world of turtle behavior that I have yet to learn. 

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The Chronicles of Disco and Phineas: Week 1

Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out. - James Bryant Conant 

A few months ago I had the privilege of meeting and photographing Annie and her two red-eared sliders Disco (left) and Phineas. It was one of the most fun and adorable shoots of my life, especially considering I'd never before photographed reptiles, let alone spent much time around them. Check out the whole "Princess and the Turtles" shoot Here

Needless to say I sorta fell in love with the adorable little guys. So, when Annie mentioned that she would be leaving the country for several months, I immediately suggested that I would be willing to look after them. I mean, I kinda have my hands full already with seven guinea pigs, but the last thing I wanted was for Annie to have to give up her turtles (animals known to live up to 50 years or more) when she will be perfectly able to care for them when she got back. 

Besides fostering is fun. :D 

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After a few weeks, she called me to see if I would still do it. I said, of course, and then on a drizzly Sunday went to go scoop them up from her apartment. 1 all-glass tank, 8 heavy rocks and a couple of smaller ones, a filter, shell maintenance ointment, water purifier, two medium containers of pellets, a bucket, a heat lamp, and two 6 inch turtles in a large metal soup pot were transported to my house. Annie showed us how to set everything up, how to feed them (once every two days, and separate from their tank so as not to make a mess), and gave us some info on when to turn the lamp on (it mimics the sun woot!). 

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The only snafu of the adventure was that the filter she had picked up needed a minimum water level much higher than what was conducive for the turtles. It's more suitable for fish, really. After saying her quick farewells to her kids, she thanked me profusely and then I took her home. 

When I got back to my house, I found my boyfriend pacing back and forth, deliberating over whether or not this was a good idea after all. I mean, he had a point, we hadn't asked the landlords first – which is a serious no no when bringing pets home (even if they're only going to be staying for a while). He also didn't like the idea that the turtles were in a tank sitting on the ground, which could be a leaking hazard if the tank cracked. Our landlords also live beneath us so we didn't to surprise them with accidental water damage. He also raised a few other concerns which I thought were legitimate. I assured him that if we got the landlords' approval, then we would work to rectify the situation. 

Fortunately, the landlords were ok with everything and Disco and Phineas were in the clear. They'll be with us until December 31 (or so), so we figured it was best just to make sure. We also started making a turtle shopping list. What could we do to make their lives better? I mean, it's a huge transition moving to a new house, and they probably missed their human Mom a lot, so we decided that the best way to help them along was simply to spoil them rotten. 

 

The goals: more space to swim, more space to bask (you can see them cuddling above, which is probably more out of necessity than affection), some way to monitor water temperature, some elevation (no tanks on the ground), and places to hide. 

With plans made, and general anxiety abated, we all felt a little better. 

Stay tuned until next week to see what we came up with! 


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