The Back Story
When I was 17, I moved into an apartment a mile from where my mom lived.
At the time of this incident, I was living alone—no pets or roommates. I did own a guinea pig, but I left her at my mom’s when I made the move. I was making a big change and wanted to focus solely on this huge adjustment in my life, and my mom was gracious enough to keep her.
Her name was Hales. “Little Baby Hales,” as we often called her.
We thought it was a fun play on words—a cross between the name “Hailey” and the “bales” of “hay” she would eat. Kinda cute, very dorky.
She was a sweet girl, definitely overweight from all the veggies my mom fed her (talk about a good life). We had gotten her a year or so prior from Petco.
Unfortunately, one day, I went over to my mom’s and saw that she was sitting in her cage, seemingly traumatized. She had a bloody ear that smelled terribly of infection.
I immediately notified my mom, and we took her to the vet. We explained how sudden this was and that we weren’t sure what caused it. We wondered if one of my mom’s ferrets had somehow gotten to her and scratched her through her cage…?
(Reality check: they were actually my ferrets, and my mom also graciously kept them when I no longer wanted them. I may have had a poor track record with forfeiting pets I was not very attached to when I was younger—something I've definitely fixed since then 😊).
Anyhow, the vet ended up saying that ear infections were extremely common in guinea pigs and that the more likely reality was that she relentlessly scratched her infected ear, to the point of bleeding and tearing through skin.
Here's a pic of her at the vet. You can see her ear is a little bloody.
We had choices...
Pay for medicine and surgery, which would alleviate the problem temporarily. However, they explained, the infections were likely to return. This = big $$$.
Put her down.
If it were a matter of making one big payment to fix her medical problems, we would’ve done it. But to hear that it was highly likely for the problems to recur, we weren’t left with much hope.
As you probably guessed by now, we put her down. It was a huge solace to know she would not be in pain anymore. We hadn’t even realized she WAS in pain until the doctor said the severity of the infection indicates it had been a while. I HATE, hate, hate suffering animals. ☹️ I don't even kill bugs if I can avoid it.
So that was that...
Now, you probably thought this story was about Hales, right?
NOPE! She was just the necessary prologue to the actual story, as the events I’m about to recall happened a short WEEK after putting her down...
The Real Story
I was leaving my apartment for work one morning when I noticed a full guinea pig cage just thrown in the dumpster. For a split second, I thought, “Aw, there’s Hale’s cage,” until I remembered, wait. That's not her cage. She didn’t even live with me.
It quickly dawned on me that someone else must’ve just lost a small critter too, or had gotten rid of an old cage that was cluttering their home.
Either way, I ignored it, got in my car, and drove to work.
I arrived home from work a few hours later—mid-afternoon, probably around 3 or 4 pm. It was still bright outside. I took a few steps from my car, approaching the entrance, when a guy frantic as all heck comes running up to me and asks for my help.
Here I should note that I’m quite a skeptic, and I always have my guard up with strangers. I've seen enough movies to know where these things could lead. So when this random guy came running over to me, small alarms went off in my head.
Then they got a LOT louder when he said, “Can you help me? I found this guinea pig over there, and I don’t know what to do with it! Follow me, I’ll show you.”
YIKES. This is how people end up on the sides of milk cartons, I thought. (An antiquated practice, but you get what I'm saying). It sounded like such a cliche story too: Oh, please help me! This poor, innocent animal needs you. Follow me into the sketchy woods and come save it. I’m helpless.
He was indicating the guinea pig was right outside of my apartment building, where there was a small lake with a walking path around it and a bridge that extended over the middle.
I decided to assess the situation. For the most part, it was out in the open where people could see. Plus, if any funny business were to happen—which would really NOT be funny—I could still make a quick escape for my apartment.
So I made a mental promise to myself that I would follow him, but only for a short distance, and that I would keep my eyes peeled open.
And want to hear the craziest part? (Well, not THE craziest part.... That is yet to come).
He really did bring me to this adorable little guinea pig just sitting there, chomping on some dead grass, living its best life.
The creepy guy who wanted to abduct me was actually telling the truth.
He exclaimed that he wasn’t even sure it was a guinea pig. I chuckled in my head because it undoubtedly WAS a guinea pig, and a five-year-old could’ve confirmed so in a heartbeat. He went on about how he didn’t know what to do with it.
The poor guy was so frantic that I immediately decided to relinquish him from this stress. I told him I would take control and make sure the guinea pig was safe. He looked so relieved.
Now, looking back, all I can think is bless this stranger’s heart for seeking help when he could’ve all-too-easily turned his back and said, “Oh well, not my problem.” That’s what most people would’ve done.
And to make matters worse, this took place in the middle of February… in MINNESOTA. Normally, negative temperatures are prevalent during that time of year. We were very lucky that these events transpired on a rare, few-day period where the temperatures sprung to the 40’s or 50’s.
If this stranger hadn’t asked for assistance, that guinea pig would most likely have frozen to death within a few more days.
This goes to say, always go the extra mile—or even quarter mile. It will make a difference.
Anyway, the guy scampered off, and I scooped this lovely critter into my arms, beginning on my quest to find its owner—if it had one.
I knew that this could potentially be a looonnggg crusade if I had to knock on all doors in all four buildings—the main building of the complex being as big as two or three of the smaller buildings COMBINED. I was prepared to dedicate the time to do so, though. To continue the second half of the mile that the stranger started.
I decided I would start in my own building for a few reasons:
Ease of sake
It made the most sense, as it was closest to where the guinea pig was found
I had just seen that critter cage in the dumpster of my building that morning. (Although, if I'm being honest, I don't know if I remembered that considerable clue in those moments; I was just bouncing off of what seemed logical).
I lived on the first floor, and each floor of the smaller buildings like mine had 4 apartments. I cleared the remaining three apartments on my floor, getting either no’s or unanswered knocks.
I should note that I was NOT very social while living there. This was the first time I was meeting these people.
I got to the second floor and knocked on the first door. Here’s where the fun began.
This young girl—hard to remember, maybe 3-5 years old—answered. I asked her if her parents were home. She ran off to get them.
Her mother came to the door, saw me carrying the piggy, and stood there with her mouth gaping. I gave her the same spiel I had cemented in my brain by that point.
She said, “Hold on,” and walked out of her apartment over to her neighbor’s. She didn’t knock on their door but instead barged right on in and tugged out a man. She proceeded to tell him that I found this guinea pig outside.
They BOTH stood there with their chins practically resting on the ground. For I swear like two whole minutes, they exchanged a series of glances, disbelieving chuckles, and vague comments and questions, like “Could it be?” and “Is that it?”
Well, CLEARLY, they recognized this damn guinea pig.
Eventually, after standing there idle, still holding the pig for what feels like minutes, I butted in and asked the obvious question. “So this is yours?”
“Yes,” the man stated. He went on to explain the story of how this guinea pig got to where it was that day.
A few days before (days!) the guinea pig got out in their apartment and started biting through the TV cable. He said that, supposedly, it got ELECTROCUTED.
I can’t even make this up.
Apparently, it was dead. Very, very dead.
He decided to just toss it out, with their complete cage set, into the dumpster. (Garbage bags must not have crossed their minds??).
Essentially, I was holding a guinea pig that rose from the dead. A zombie guinea pig.
A number of questions scrolled through my brain. How was it even alive? Was it just knocked out from the shock, and eventually it came-to? How did it escape the LARGE dumpster? Maybe on trash day, when the truck picked the dumpster up? Are you guys going to take it out of my arms at some point?
I asked him if he was sure this was his same guinea pig, and he said definitely. He even identified it by some name. He also said his kids didn’t even know it was gone yet…?
Finally, I asked him if he wanted it back.
I should note here that when I asked my neighbor this question, deep underneath my layers of sympathy and confusion, I was secretly hoping he would say no. I missed my guinea pig, even though I hadn’t actually kept her at my place. I, for whatever reason, felt connected to the sweet, little guy and wanted to make my home his.
When the man basically said, “Nah, you can keep him if you want,” those layers of sympathy dissipated. Clearly, he didn’t care about this animal very much.
Well, hell—all the better for me, I decided. I felt I could probably give this guinea pig a better home than it previously had.
I said okay, went back down to my apartment, and wrapped the piggy up in a towel—for it was still nervous and squealing. I called my mom and asked if she could bring me Hale’s old cage, and while I waited, I shared all the events that had just occurred on my Snapchat story. My mind was still reeling.
And, well… the rest is history...
What Happened After?
My mom thought their story is a bunch of BS. This little critter just so happened to get knocked out, come back to life, escape from the dumpster, and survive in the wintry wild for three days?
She claimed that the more likely explanation was that they didn’t want it anymore—probably because their kids, much like I did when I was younger, promised to take care of their new pet and then shrugged the responsibility off their shoulders. So the parents probably just deposited it outside, not wanting to deal with it anymore. Which would be quite cruel, if it were the truth, especially given the time of year and likelihood of it not surviving.
I still don’t know where I stand on the matter. Here's a T-chart to compare the two possible realities (excuse my crappy chicken-scratch):
Either way, regardless of which story you want to believe, it is undeniable that the guinea pig was a trooper for surviving outside for so long.
I even almost named him “Trooper,” but it just didn’t fit his face—and I’m very committed to the idea that an animal’s name must fit their face. My brother advocated for the name “Oscar,” since he was originally in a dumpster like Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street. I loved that concept, but still, he just didn’t look like an Oscar.
Finally, I decided to name him Bruno. Why? He just looked like a "Bruno.” 🤷 My boyfriend at the time called him “Ed” for whatever reason. Don’t ask me!