Mama’s Milo

BijouImage courtesy of In Camera Photography

Bijou is Stephanie's current guinea pig. Bijou & his litter mates were "unexpected" when they were born to a guinea pig purchased for Christmas 2007. Stephanie adopted Bijou when he was 10 weeks old.

He wasn’t always given the respect he demanded. He knew he was Mama’s Milo, but it truly didn’t matter to him what you called him as long as he knew he was acknowledged. He had a non-discriminatory policy about who talked with him and who held him. Any able body that walked passed his cage was eligible to provide his little heart’s desires. He willing gave everything he had: love, affection, joy and zeal.

Milo holds a treasured place in my heart, for he was the first pet I could call my own. He arrived at the tender age of six weeks and the size of 12 ounces. He fit in the palm of my hand with plenty of room to spare. Instead of fur, he had hair. It was longer than most guinea pigs; this characteristic is typical of the Sheltie breed. His hair was fine like corn silk and soft to touch. He needed a barber more often than a grown man; every three weeks his hair required me to give him a full-body trim. His beauty routine included being brushed every day. This caused him to look fluffy, soft, and vibrant. He absorbed all this attention, purring like a cat whenever he was touched.Despite his size, Milo carried a zest for life that rivaled a toddler’s. His favorite passion was food. Night or day – it was always a good time for something to eat other than pellets. The noise of a rustling plastic bag would solicit sharp whistles of ‘wheeeeek!’ from deep within him. Anticipation would grip him and his little body would tremble with excitement, salivating over the delicacies he desperately craved. When the bag did not produce goodies for him, he simply spread the guilt trip super thick with louder whistles, ambling around the cage and tossing around his irresistible pout. It succeeded in granting him a pepper, carrot, lettuce or alfalfa hay every time.

With the zeal of an athlete, wood shavings would fly through the air as Milo dashed around his cage. Whether he did it to relieve his boredom or simply needed to run, he zipped around the cage as if he was possessed. He put the two lazy cats and I to shame with his dedication to exercise.

Unlike my fickle cats, he never minded it when I needed a pet to embrace. He could sense my negative moods and would snuggle close, giving kisses by licking my chin, purring and relaxing as if he didn’t have a care in the world. As I worked around the apartment I would mimic his ‘wheek’ and he would whistle back. In this manner we carried on many conversations, though I never knew what the topics were.

Milo’s charm reached beyond the confines of his cage. On multiple occasions he accompanied me to the nursing homes I worked. The elderly welcomed him with open arms, empty laps and veggies borrowed from the kitchen or removed from their lunch trays. I would place Milo in a stranger’s lap, where he would immediately give kisses and sample the treats. He would then curl up and snooze. More than once, the nurses and I would be desperate to calm the anxiety of a patient; when the medication didn’t work, talking about Milo and imaging him in his or her lap would be the only tonic to calm a racing, elderly heart. At the stage in their lives where all they had to look forward to was death, Milo brought my residents peace, hope, joy and serenity. He never left a patient without leaving a smile on a once-dismal face.

Milo was also tenacious. He firmly laid down the pecking order when first one, then another cat joined the family. He never knew that they were bigger than he was. With a clatter of his teeth, he’d send both cats scampering for cover. Neither cat dared trespass after a vicious scolding by the piggy the size of a baked potato! He tattled on them when they misbehaved. Whether it was because they knocked the Christmas tree over and into his cage, leaped on top of his cage, or created some other catastrophe, his sharp squeals of protest as soon as I walked through the door would cause me to investigate the latest carnage and punish the cats.

But Milo’s bravado was no match for the enemy that stalks all guinea pigs: drafts. He caught a chill and began to sneeze. He lost his appetite and began to shrink before my eyes. The sudden change alarmed me. Like any devoted mama, I took him to the guinea pig doctor various times. She gave him several injections of fluids and Vitamin C, the miracle drug for healthy piggies. He ingested three rounds of antibiotics in my hopes of starving off an infection. He rallied, but not for long. He began to spend vast amounts of time lying still, not eating, not greeting his mama and not begging for veggies. He behaved as if he was in extraordinary pain. He cried and protested every time I picked him up. Somehow I knew he wasn’t going to survive this illness.

The end arrived the holiday morning I found blood on the shavings in his cage. He hadn’t eaten in two days. I prayed and wrung my hands in turmoil, wishing the blood away. The following day, with immense dread, I took him on one last car ride. His weight had dropped from a healthy three pounds to less than one pound. There was nothing more to be done for him, so I gave the vet permission to administer Milo’s final shot. With tears streaming down my cheeks and chin, I picked him up and held him close, telling him he was a wonderful guinea; Mama loved him and he’d feel better very soon.

He fought the urge to sleep for five agonizing minutes. He started talking again, but this time his chatting got softer and weaker. He finally picked his head up, gave his Mama two last kisses before he snuggled under my chin. With a final ‘wheek’ Mama’s Milo was gone.

Milo taught me how to make a difference with my life no matter what I do or how important and significant I might become. For a small little animal who some people called a rat, he was a teacher and a morale officer to everyone who had the privilege of meeting him. He scattered his ecstasy for life far and wide and the feisty, caring spirit that possessed him carried him to the very end. And in his dying moment, he reached out to comfort his mama instead of worrying about himself. I can only hope to be half the human that Milo aspired to be.

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Stephanie Umbro

Stephanie became a guinea pig lover for life as a child, when her sister had a couple as pets. Milo, her first guinea pig, taught her the basics of guinea pig slavery from 1997-2000. Since than she’s had four more in her life and is currently owned by 4 year old Bijou. When she’s not bowing to his ever whim, Stephanie volunteers with the small animals at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, Bijou’s former place, doing rabbit & guinea pig counseling to perspective adopters, cleaning cages, taking their photos & writing their stories for their online biographies.

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5 Responses to “Mama’s Milo”
  1. Emma says:

    What a wonderful story! It brought tears to my eyes. Many of us have gone through the same hardships with our pets during their final moments of life, and it is never easy. It sounds like Milo was a really great pig who helped out a lot of people in his life.

  2. Diane says:


  3. Stephanie says:

    for those of you interested in what Milo looked like…. here are a few of my favorite photos. Thank you for your kind words!

  4. Stacy says:

    Aw, what a beautifully written tribute to a very special guinea pig fellow. Your hearts are forever connected in love and paws.

  5. Lo says:

    You managed to make me cry so early in the morning.
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story, Milo is so like my Hayai.

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