King of the Guinea Pigs

In 2005, Pat (my husband) and I decided we were responsible and settled down enough to have pets. More specifically, guinea pigs. I had one as a kid and I remembered it being one of my favorite types of animal to live with.

I scoured online adoption sites, and checked local pet stores. The pet stores had no guinea pigs at that time, and I honestly wanted to adopt, so I kept looking. At I saw a photo of a “bonded pair” of guinea pigs named Chip and Tinsel who lived at the Twin Cities Guinea Pig rescue. The first thing I noticed was Chip’s big smiley face. I could tell that he had a world of personality, and I knew that he was going to come live with us.

Cobhan at the shelter.

The shelter was in St. Paul, and not looking forward to that drive, I continued to look at more local shelters, but I couldn’t get that big smiley face out of my head. There were a pair of guinea pigs in a closer town, and we thought about getting them, but we waited too long and they were given new homes. I waited too long on purpose, really, because I wanted to bring home Chip and Tinsel. I already had new names chosen for them, based on their photos…Cobhan and Arkham.

Cobhan is Gaelic and means “one who dwells near the hillside hollow” and Arkham is a town in HP Lovecraft stories.

When we got to the ST. Paul shelter, we were amazed at how big Cobhan was. We saw in the photo the size difference between the two guinea pigs, but we thought Arkham was just very small! Wrong. Cobhan was huge! We were told Cobhan was about 2 years old, Arkham only 3 months. Cobhan was a lilac Agouti with white spots and ruby eyes. That is a very rare color combination for cavies.

Little Arkham, BIG Cobhan.

Cobhan had a hard life before he came to live with us. He had been “surrendered,” which is a polite way of saying abandoned, to the Jack Pine Guinea Pig rescue in the cities on January 18, 2004. The girl who brought him in also had a female guinea pig named Raison, and abandoned her as well. She had tried to breed Cobhan and Raison, but both litters had died, so she lost interest in the parents. Cobhan was then paired up with another male named Andy and they were adopted in March 2004. That owner then lost her job and could no longer afford the guinea pigs, so Cobhan was transferred to the Twin Cities Guinea Pig rescue in January 2005. He did not get along with his friend Andy, so they were separated, and he was then paired up with Arkham. They came as a match set, and we had to adopt them both, which I was more than happy to do.

When we got to the shelter, they were out for floortime, munching on apples and carrot sticks (both foods Cobhan later came to reject out of boredom). When their little pigloo house was removed, Arkham ran behind Cobhan and Cobhan just stared at us. Then Arkham made a bolt for it, and Cobhan tried to follow, but his belly got stuck on the edge of the cage and he couldn’t get out. We held them, Cobhan in Pat’s lap, Arkham in mine, which would later be the way things were. Cobhan always preferred Pat’s lap, and Arkham preferred mine. Not that they wouldn’t sit in opposite laps, that is just how they were most comfortable.

We signed the necessary paperwork, and then lured them into a carrier with fresh hay.
We made do with one carrier for the both of them, not knowing how close quarters that would be, and drove an hour and a half home to the sounds of them chewing paper and whining every time the van would shift gears. Occasionally one or the other (but usually Cobhan) would look out the carrier window at me as I drove and I would wave hello.

It was 26 March, 2005.

Cobhan under the hayloft, baby Arkham taking his chance.

We started out letting Cobhan and Arkham live together in the same cage. We quickly found out that wouldn’t work. Cobhan would bully Arkham and take all his food, and Arkham would drive Cobhan crazy wanting to attention and wanting to spar. The short time that they lived together in the same cage was a learning experience for everyone. Cobhan liked to sit under they hayloft and sleep, or claim the hayloft first thing in the morning and not let Arkham up there at all. From the hayloft I learned that Cobhan was scared of heights, even ones he could easily jump from.

Once Arkham’s adolescence fully set in, we had to get separate cages. It was hard at first for him to not sleep near Cobhan, but Cobhan had started to pull out Arkham’s fur in fights, and I had to watch them constantly to make sure they would get along. Cobhan was older, and he just needed his space. We joked that our place was Cobhan’s “retirement home.” He was immediately thankful to have the entire cage to roam around in and his own food to eat. We had to get rid of the hayloft altogether, but we set up a mirror image of cages instead. Each piggy had his own water bottle, pellet bowl, veggie bowl, tent, tube, brick, haypile, pillow, and paper tunnel house.

Cobhan’s favorite spot was on top of his pillow, under his paper tunnel. He would also sleep deeply in his haypile.

At this time, we still let Cobhan and Arkham play together during floortime. At first, they would pee all over everything, including each other, marking their territory. They finally learned that peeing on the floor didn’t make us happy, so they learned to go before floortime, and immediate after. Cobhan initiated this protocol, and Arkham eventually followed. I was always amazed at how much Cobhan understood what we said to him and how he truly did care about what we thought of his behavior. Arkham became determined to show his male dominance, however, and eventually they had to have floortime separately, which again, made Cobhan happy and Arkham annoyed.


Arkham really looked up to Cobhan, and Cobhan took it upon himself to impart his knowledge and wisdom to his little friend. Cobhan and Arkham usually talked telepathically, just sitting near their shared cage wall or even across the room, looking at each other, deep in thought. Cobhan taught Arkham the ways of being a guinea pig, and now when I look at Arkham, I can see traces of Cobhan there.

A conversation.

Cobhan was not only a teacher, but he was also a listener. He learned the names of most of the vegetables and fruits he ate. I would run down a list of what we had in the fridge, and he would jump up when he heard what he wanted to eat. His favorites started out as lettuce and…more lettuce. But he loved seasonal melons, and at the end of his life, he was most fond of tomatoes and strawberries. All food we gave him was organic. He used to take his metal veggie bowl and toss it against his brick when it was empty and he wanted more food. That became our REAL alarm clock in the mornings.

Note the dented veggie bowl!

When we gave him some food he loved, he would grab it out of our hands greedily, and back up as far as he could to eat it in secret, his head darting from side to side in what we called his “victory dance. I once saw him carry in his jaws an almost full slice of cantaloupe across his cage! We used to jokingly make a beeping noise when he would back up, because he was such a “wide load.” He also loved the smells of human food cooking, especially spices. He always begged for ginger snap cookies and Spanish rice, but the only human food I broke down and gave him were corn chips, which he also loved. He would puff up his fur when he got food he liked, until he looked even more round than he was already.

Melon time!

If I took too long getting his snacks, he would scream at the top of his lungs, sounding just as loud as a fire alarm! His little ears would go up and down with the force of his screaming, and he would dance around in a circle trying to see the food above him, getting up on his hind legs to beg. He would jump against the cage, throwing his full weight against it, and stretching as far up as he could, chewing at the bars like a crazy piggy.

All this was an act, of course. He got fed whenever he wanted, for the most part, and whatever he wanted. He was a Oscar worthy actor, letting us know exactly how he felt about everything. I got very used to his language, what wheek meant what, and it was a comfort to hear him talking.

He'd even eat a car!

Cobhan was not only a big talker, but a big smiler too. He was usually very content with his life, it seemed, always smiling, getting into mischief. He would chew on everything and anything at least once. He would popcorn for doing something “naughty” which made me laugh. He loved to chew on plastic, which I always tried to discourage him from doing, but never really succeeded. He loved tunnels during floortime, and he would do laps up and down the hallway, thumping on the carpet like a kid in army boots. He knew we would not truly get angry no matter what he did, and he would look at us out of the corner of his eye and gauge how much trouble he could get into that day. Chewing on magazines, plastic dropcloths, bags…or hiding the corners we could not reach and harassing Arkham still trapped in his cage.

If something scared Cobhan, he would put on a show for days in order to get sympathy, attention, and yes, more veggies and fruits. I always told him I knew he was putting it on, but then I’d give him what he wanted. He hated Mondays, because the sound of the garbage trucks scared him. Occasionally something (or nothing) would make him scared of a certain corner of his cage, and I had to baby him back into not being scared. He was tolerant of other people, but preferred the company of his immediate family. He was somewhat camera shy, and would only allow a few photos to be taken at a time.

Pretending to be serious.

He got kind of overweight, probably about 2000 grams. His little belly would touch the floor, but still he would sprint and dart around in laps, through newspaper and paper bag tunnels. He was difficult to catch and bring home because he was scared of being picked up. We never dropped him, but he definitely had a phobia about heights that he never fully got over, although he slowly was overcoming it and I have no doubt that he would have given enough time.

Floortime tunnel fun.

He loved art. He loved color. He had a definite opinion about color schemes, and loved to watch me paint, but got embarrassed when I would look over and see him looking at me. Just getting my painting supplies together would make him excited. He used to pull brushes out of my tub, and I took it as a sign he wanted me to paint. I would always show him my finished product, and he would usually (but not always!) give his approval.

He liked to watch me put together my zines, and would sometimes start tearing paper when I was folding and collating! I’d never had a pet who so obviously appreciated art before, and that was my special bond with Cobhan. I tried to explain to him about the written word, and how people were simple and couldn’t communicate telepathically, and I truly believe he understood.

He also loved the houseplants. He enjoyed watching them flower, and would get concerned if we moved them around or blocked his view for any amount of time. He appreciated all life had to offer.

His was usually carefree and playful, and his favorite toy was paper; chewing away at his paper house, or pieces of kraft paper, which he would throw from side to side. He was an interior designer, moving his tube around just where he wanted it, and chewing his paper house in a little musical rhythm until it was shaped just like he wanted. Sometimes he would play with hay blocks, tossing them around his cage and eating them.

The last photo I took of Cobhan.

Once we were able to give each piggy a three foot by three foot cage, however, his already established personality just flourished. Cobhan was so ecstatic at the amount of space he had, he could hardly believe it. The first thing he did when we put him in his new home, was run laps. His huge body was shaking the cage as he bolted from corner to corner, then turn around and go the other way. He would get out of breath and just plop down to sleep wherever he was at the time, with his eyes wide open.

Smiling in his sleep...

It got to be a morning ritual for him to do laps in his cage. He loved it when we would hold up newspaper to make tunnels for him to add to the obstacle course. He would be so happy and popcorn so much he would roll over on his back and get embarrassed at not being able to control himself. It was quite a sight to see such a big guinea pig popcorning like he was having a seizure. Once he got his big cage, he acted even younger than Arkham!

When Pat and I would sit in the kitchen to eat, we would look over and see his little shining eyes staring at us over the top of his cage. He would stand up and we could see his happy little smile, and of course he would get a treat, either food or a wave and a hello . Over the years, he had collected quite the collection of nicknames: Cobe, Cobe-Cobe, The Cobhinator, Little Buddy, Big Guy, Sweetie, My Friend.

In the big cage, he started to chew on the fruit tree sticks that he had usually ignored, and he loved to taunt Arkham and try to “bite” Arkham’s nose through the shared cage wall. He learned to make nests out of his hay, and did so almost daily. He loved to run though the hay and make lots of intricate little tunnels to play in. He would do half laps, taking the long way from his haypile to his water bottle all the time. We pinned a piece of fleece to the side of his cage and called it his blankie. He loved to dart under that, or get under it and push it around, or sleep under it. It was adorable to see him half covered by his blankie and munching on hay. He had a better view of the outside from his new cage, and he began to enjoy sitting up at his pellet bowl and watching the world go by outside. He liked to watch the snow fall, but he didn’t appreciate it being brought inside!

The snowcone incident.

At this time, my life was very difficult. I would sit and talk with Cobhan, and he would give me his undivided attention. I could tell he was trying very hard to understand what I was saying to him, and I felt that for the most part, he did understand. He never wanted us to be upset or sad, he would be very concerned when we would cry.

It was never said that Cobhan was Pat’s pet and Arkham was mine, but they did seem to favor us that way. When it got close to the time for Pat to get home from work, all I had to say was “Pat will be home soon” and Cobhan would look around and start to figit. The moment he heard the door open, he would come running out and say hello to Pat. He could judge just by Pat’s body language when he had to work, and when he had a day off, and Cobhan would get really excited when he figured out Pat would get to stay home with the family.

But, after my hardships, Cobhan and I grew even closer, and I really got to know him as he got to know me. He had always appreciated having art to look at and good food, but I think what he appreciated the most is that he was equal in our family. He was asked his opinion about things, and told what was going on. I would never leave without saying that I’d “be back soon” or “be gone for awhile” and handing him a bowl full of veggies. He always had felt a sense of responsibility to Arkham, and I think he appreciated that we felt a sense of responsibility for him, too. He liked to pretend that Arkham just annoyed him, but when Arkham was upset or concerned about something, Cobhan was right there, ready to help defend him or listen to his stories. He was the same way with us, which was really touching.

Not long after my birthday in July of 2007 Cobhan started to whine. We found blood in his urine and took him to the vet who diagnosed him with a urinary tract infection. We had to give him antibiotics, but he took them with his usual strength of character and slowly got better. At one point he was whining almost constantly, which was too much for me to bear. He seemed to heal up, though, and for a week or so, he was slowly getting back to his old self.

He did major laps out on the floor during floortime, he would explore all the corners of the room, chew on plastic and cardboard (even though I kept pushing them out of his way), jump up and beg for food, play “show him who’s boss” with Arkham. He was eating normally, drinking normally, and even chewing on the fruit tree sticks again. Then one morning, he would not come out of his hay. He would eat only small amounts, and he wouldn’t drink water.

His ears, which were usually up, like an elephant, were hanging down, and his eyes were starting to crust over. His head was tucked under his body. We tried to bathe him, but he was so weak, he almost drowned in a few inches of water. He would not walk around, and he would not struggle to be picked up, even though he used to run and hide because of his fear of heights. We took him to the vet again, and he was diagnosed with kidney failure. The vet also said that he was probably older than we had thought, closer to six or seven years old at that point.

We had to force feed him liquid type food, and give him more medicine. It was horrible. He got so thin we could see his hipbones, and he would not move, would not eat, would not drink water. The force feeding was degrading, and I knew that he was unhappy having to be subjected to it, but he put on a little weight, and tried his best to eat some veggies. We had to do the force feeding and medicine for a total of three days.

The last night Pat mashed up some bananas and strawberries for him and we force fed him some of that. Arkham came running out of his hay making noises I had never heard him make before, and looking back I now think Cobhan was telepathically telling Arkham he had decided that was the night he was going to go. He was too proud to live like that, and he did not want to cause either Arkham or his human friends any more suffering at his expense. With his usual wisdom, he held out until Pat actually had a day off work, so we could take care of everything when we had time.

That night we had a violent thunderstorm and record amounts of flash flooding. I went in to say goodnight to them as I usually did. “Goodnight Arkham. Goodnight Cobhan. Sleep tight. I love you.”

When I went in to check on them the next morning, Cobhan was already gone, a 'Rider on the Storm.' After a few delusions of thinking I saw him breathe, I realized he wasn’t going to wake up.

Arkham seemed to have already made peace with it, and he was calmly drinking water and eating his breakfast as we prepared Cobhan’s tomb.

We gave Cobhan his blankie with his favorite pattern on it, his favorite pillow, and as a burial shroud, we gave him his tie-dye tent that he had ever since he arrived here. We made a bed of hay, gave him a perfect organic strawberry, and I let him keep my healing crystal that had been in his cage for the past week. We found a nice spot in the backyard, near nightshade and violets, and lit incense on his grave to help carry his spirit to the heavens.

It was 19 August, 2007.

Cobhan was a special guinea pig. He loved art, and he loved his life. His heart knew only kindness and compassion. He loved to smile and to bring joy to others. He will be strongly missed by all who knew him, but never forgotten. He was wise beyond his short years and a good friend. I know I would not be here today if not for his support and unconditional love. He taught me patience and he could always make my soul laugh.

We love you Cobhan, and I hope we will meet again someday.

Until then, good journeys, my Friend.

This tribute was written by and copy right Love Beth Drew for the memory of Cobhan.
Contact: lbd @