Farewell Leona the Large

Eight year old Lucy begged for a pet–a fish, a bird, a guinea pig or hamster– because she knew a dog was out of the question. Sherin, who grew up in Jos, Nigeria with more pets than anyone I’ve ever known, including Alfred the turkey and a monkey whose name I’ve never known, said “if the fish comes, I go”. I took a chance. On Lucy’s 9th birthday in 2007, Leona the guinea pig entered our lives. Six year old Ben was thrilled.

Lucy with Leona, July 2007

Lucy had wanted to name her new pet after her two heroes, Leonardo and Galileo, but when learning that the guinea pig was female, she settled on Leona. Like many children with new pets, she was initially very attentive to this pig–fed her daily, cuddled her, complained little when it came to cleaning her cage. But with the passage of time and new activities to spark her interests, Leona–who became Leona the Large in her older age–was of less interest to her. Feeding and cage cleaning became a source of mother-daughter angst, and cuddles happened only when I was feeling up to it.

Ben and Charlotte felt put out that Leona resided in Lucy’s room. To make Leona accessible for Ben, we would roll up Lucy’s rug so that he could roll his walker in and scratch her cute nose–and practice his reflexes when Leona would attempt a nibble of his finger. Eventually, we got rid of the rug altogether. When Ben was asked to write about a pet at school, it was only natural that Leona would surface in this writing.

We’ve marveled over the last year at Leona’s long life, and wondered if she might become the longest living guinea pig ever. But yesterday she died, an hour before we were due to a friend’s house for dinner. I took her death surprisingly hard, with Ben the closest behind. Sherin, who never wanted this pet, took the lead in finding unfrozen ground in our backyard where we held a short but sincere burial and said our goodbyes.

I’m not sure why I’m so sad. Yes, I had two guinea pigs growing up, but I think it is more than that. Lucy is now 14 and Ben 11–Leona’s life and death marks the passing of childhood into adolescence. Only 7 year old Charlotte will ever again be excited about caring for a guinea pig, but I can assure you we aren’t going there again. Our kids are growing up, and this realization brings such mixed emotions.

Leona also taught Lucy that a pet is for life, something that at age 9 she couldn’t comprehend but as she entered middle school and then high school, she had to realize this commitment, no matter how inconvenient it was. Isn’t that so reflective of so many things in life?

One day, when Lucy is in college, she’ll bring her boyfriend home and show him where her childhood guinea pig is buried, and she will think fondly about the 5 1/2 years that Leona shared her room. I know she will do this, because I did that too.


Melissa Golembewski Wilson posted on February 3, 2013 at 11:23 am

Rani, so sorry for your loss. She was a sweet girl. I will miss visiting with Leona the Large.

deidra posted on February 3, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Pets can teach us so much. Including, I’m afraid, mortality.

Andrea Ghose posted on February 3, 2013 at 8:30 pm

As your Dad said, Leona the Large has joined Cinnamon and Butterscotch in Guinea Pig Heaven. We are sorry for your loss but happy that you enjoyed and learned from your pet for so many years.

Rani Elwy posted on February 25, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Thanks so much for caring about Leona. It’s still so strange not to remind Lucy, every night, to bring munchies (carrots, celery, lettuce) up for Leona. She is missed.

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