This is Hector. I've posted this photo before.
My parents had a dog once, a German shepherd called Tosca, but that was long before I was born. Although I’ve never actually known the dog, my mother has told me many times how the poor thing came to his untimely end. It's quite a gruesome story. So, If you are of a delicate nature, you'd better skip the next two paragraphes.
Apparently, thunderstorms would freak Tosca out. During a particularly violent storm, the dog went completely mad and escaped by jumping through the window of the garden shed where he used to sleep. Injured and bleeding from the cuts it got from the broken glass, it ran off. My father followed it in an attempt to help it.
When he finally caught up with the dog, the animal turned against him, growling and ready to attack. There was no way of approaching it to see to its injuries. And my father had no other choice than to take his rifle and to shoot the dog. After this upsetting incident my parents decided never to have another dog.
At about that same time they also had a parrot, a medium sized grey and red bird that answered to the name Coco. It lived in a large cage next to my mother sewing machine. As far as I know, Coco died of old age. After its death, my parents stored the cage in the attic, where it remained for many years, until the early seventies, when I brought home an albino guinea pig that I had won at our village summer carnival.
I named the guinea pig ‘Mieke’ which is the Flemish diminutive for Mary! Mieke was my first ‘furry’ friend. Before that, we had had a yellow canary, called ‘Janneke’, which is the Flemish equivalent for Johnny. Janneke was almost ten years old when he died. During a large part of his life he enjoyed the company of Flipper, our goldfish, which lived in a large bowl that sat on a small table under Janneke’s cage. Flipper reached the respectable age of seven, which is quite an achievement for a goldfish.
But back to Mieke. My father brought Coco’s former cage down from the attic, scraped off the rust and painted it bright white. We put a layer of straw in it, in which the guinea pig could make a nice, warm nest. We also put in a bowl of water, a raw carrot and a special seed mixture. Mieke seemed happy in her new home, judging by the speed at which she gobbled down her daily food supply.
Pretty soon she became overweight, and I decided that some exercise would do her good. Once a day and weather permitting I would take her out of her cage and carry her to the far end of the garden – a good 50 meters – where I put her down. I then lightly slapped her fat behind and off she went … scurrying full-speed back towards the safety of her parrot cage and the waiting food. I would repeat this routine three or four time before letting her into her cage again. It worked just fine, and after a spring, summer and autumn of physical training Mieke had regained her initial waistline.
And then came winter. It was too wet and cold to continue the daily training program. Mieke remained in her cage most of the time, stuffing herself with seeds, carrots, lettuce and cabbage leaves, stale bread … Every day I took her out of the cage and sat her on my lap to watch TV together.
Finally it was spring again. One sunny day, I lifted Mieke out of her cage for a new run down the garden path. She was fatter than she had ever been before. I put her down in the usual place, patted her behind … nothing happened. She just sat there. “Come on,” I said “It’s time to take a little walk.” After giving her a gentle push, she finally started moving forward, gradually gaining speed.
Suddenly, halfway down the garden path, she stopped. First she remained motionless. Then a violent shiver went through her body. For a split second it looked as if she was lifted off the ground and then she fell down and rolled over on one side, … Mieke was no more. And I had killed her. I should have known better than to make a little fat guinea pig run like that after spending an entire winter eating, sleeping and watching TV! The sudden excercise had given her a heart attack! I still feel bad about it ... even today.