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Ford column: Slinky and Cuddles get sassy

Bald guinea pigs tend to scare young children.
Well, it’s not entirely fair to call our guinea pigs bald.
I made the mistake once, when a fellow reporter was doing a story on bald men and heart disease, of recommending a gentleman who had very little hair.
She called him and quickly learned that he was, in fact, not bald, thank you very much. Apparently, I just thought of him that way.
I still cringe.
So, I will not label Slinky and Cuddles as bald, but rather balding.
Mostly around the middle.
They sort of look like little furry Hollywood starlets who attempted to shave their midsections so they could wear midriff-bearing tops and low-cut jeans. But without the attitude.
The fur started falling out gradually, over the course of many months.
We weren’t alarmed, just casually curious about why the pigs seemed less fluffy every couple of weeks.
Then, young visitors who happened to peer into the cage began to scream.
If a child jumps back in terror and asks in a fearful voice, “What are those things in there?” then you know your guinea pigs have a problem.
And so do you.
When I worked at the Fargo Forum, my editor sent me to cover the fair.
No offense to fairgoers or organizers, but reporters avoid this annual obligation at all costs because it’s so hard to find something new and different to write about.
“Find something new and different to write about, Ford,” my editor ordered, and sent me out the door with a notepad and camera.
I wandered around the fairgrounds, discouraged but determined. And then I saw her.
A bald dog. Well, balding.
Sassy, a Chinese Crested, was competing in the dog show. She was entirely hairless but for shocks of silky fur on her head, face, feet and tail.
In 1991, in Fargo, N.D., Sassy was something new and different indeed.
My story made the front page.
Our guinea pigs kind of resemble Sassy.
After a trip to the vet that set me back about two new pairs of really nice jeans, I began dipping the pigs once a week in sulfurated lime and letting them drip-dry in their cage.
This is akin to cracking a dozen rotten eggs and letting them sit on your counter for a good day and half.
If you don’t know, guinea pigs dislike bathing. They squirm, squeal and scratch.
If you don’t know, sulfurated lime stains just about everything.
Good times.
While I initially thought the hair was growing back, now I’m not so sure. But here’s the deal. The pigs are 4 years old, with a life expectancy of 5, and they eat, play, poop and squeak as if they were completely covered with lustrous fur.
They’re not contagious or otherwise sick, just balding.
And I like really nice jeans.
Apparently, the girls felt sorry for them one day and lovingly applied a hair product called Taffy, meant for humans.
So now, the fur that remains on Slinky and Cuddles is spiky and sticky and smells vaguely of ginger, green tea and isopropyl alcohol.
Better than rotten eggs.
nnn
Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.

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