It seems no animal is safe to keep as a pet anymore. There was a time when people kept turtles as pets. But no longer, thanks to research which proved turtles often carry the deadly Salmonella bacteria, which can easily be transmitted to people. Then came warnings against frogs and spiders as pets because some turned out to be poisonous. Millions of kids loved to keep bee colonies until two words changed everything: Killer Bees. Now authorities are urging families to take precautions against the latest deadly threat to their kids’ safety: guinea pigs. 

When you ask an American what comes to mind when you mention Australia, the first thing they think of is drunken Australians. But the second thing they think of is shark attacks – no wait, actually, second would be the Sydney Opera House. Third would be shark attacks, perhaps tied with Rupert Murdoch, but those are basically the same. 

Well, move over, sharks! A newspaper in Newcastle, Australia, the Newcastle Herald, recently reported a rash of terrifying guinea pig attacks throughout New South Wales, Australia (see actual headline below right).

New South Wales is a region with a worldwide reputation for shark attacks. But paramedics there say this past summer, they have treated as many guinea pig attacks as shark attack victims. While technically, the number of shark attacks and guinea pig attacks reported in New South Wales this past summer were two each (compared to 22 cat attacks, 230 dog bites and one kangaroo punching) authorities are taking no chances. In one shocking case, the guinea pig bit deeply into the hand of a five-year-old boy who required a rabies shot and four stitches.

Many Americans think of the guinea pig, whose sinister origins can be traced to some sinister region in South America’s sinister Andes Mountains, as a cuddly, adorable pet, perfect for young kids. Authorities warn that this naivety can spell tragedy. They remind people in denial to look no further than the scene with the killer rabbit from the documentary film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

Guinea pigs are not only dangerous, they can breed like, well, guinea pigs. It is not uncommon for a family to start with two guinea pigs and within 12 months have over 9,000 of them (assuming they purchased 8,700 more guinea pigs over the course of that year). And guinea pigs gnaw constantly, which has resulted in this reporter’s losing more than $700 in security deposits due to chewed-up carpets and irreparably damaged furniture. 

For years, most parents who bought guinea pigs as pets for their kids viewed them as harmless –  extremely annoying, obnoxiously loud, whistling, stupid-as-a-brick, but harmless (talking mostly about guinea pigs here) whose only mission in life was to gnaw through everything in sight and poop constantly. But few realized they were putting their children within striking distance of an 8-inch-long killer. 

If your young child is attacked by a guinea pig, veterinarians recommend taking immediate action to prevent a catastrophe. Wash the affected area with soap and water, apply a Band-Aid, and pray. And euthanize the guinea pig immediately, before it has time to breed more killer offspring. 

Animal rights advocates point out isolated anecdotal 40-year longitudinal studies documenting a small number of children (defined as less than 40 million) who have raised guinea pigs as pets and miraculously escaped death or serious injury. But NRA officials urge families not to take chances in light of the recent wave of New South Wales tragedies. As a precaution, they recommend arming your children with semi-automatic rifles in case one of the nasty rodents gets loose and comes hunting for their defenseless human prey. 

Meanwhile, elementary school counselors agree the best solution is to give away your child’s pet guinea pig to some other unsuspecting family you don’t particularly care for. And while you’re at it, they also recommend removing any gold fish from your home, as they represent a possible choking hazard. 

The latest safety warnings about guinea pigs have caused some state and local child protection agencies to question the safety of dogs and cats as pets, after news broke about one child in Amarillo, TX who was badly scratched on her arm by her Labradoodle when she attempted to perform acupuncture on it. 

For centuries children have nagged and pleaded until their parents caved in and gave them cuddly, furry animals as living companions, like bunnies or hamsters or wolverines.  But increasingly, authorities are looking into the issue of whether having any animals in the household is worth the inherent risk of loss of life and possible damage to the 60” high-def flat screen. 

If families insist on having a house pet, authorities recommend choosing one that lacks sharp claws, is more docile in nature and is unlikely to crap on your lap. That’s why they recommend buying an anaconda – the ideal house pet, just so long as you have a 30’ by 50’ industrial-strength glass-enclosed pen, keep the room temperature a constant 93 degrees, and always keep it well fed, preferably by serving the snake its favorite meal: live guinea pigs. 

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. 

PS:  If you enjoyed this week’s post, please let me know by sharing it on Facebook, posting a comment or giving it a.  True story: As a child, I had many guinea pigs as pets over the years. While I was never hurt badly by any of them, I never trusted them. I still think my guinea pig Barnabas stole $20 from my wallet and ate it. That bastard. 

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2013

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