Page Forty-eight


the rabbit is Peter, the calico is Tina the wife, and the orange and black guy with only three legs who’s talking to Peter is Tony.

Names, names. I’ve said before that I like to name things and people, regardless of what their accepted names might be. I’ve encountered this so far in only one other person with Asperger’s, namely, John Elder Robison, in his book Look Me in the Eye. He discusses his re-naming of the people in his life. And beyond that, I also take a fair interest in how people, animals, places and things got the names that they got. To wit: how Tony got his name.

When I was a kid, the Marx toy company one Christmastime put out a plastic pony you could ride on: a new version of the rocking horse, which I already loved. But instead of rockers on his feet, Tony the Pony had wheels on his feet and joints in his shoulders, and when you rocked back and forth on him, you could ride him around the room. I wanted that pony for Christmas real bad. I didn’t get him, and it didn’t kill me, but all these decades later I still remember that I wanted him, and what he looked like, and the jingle from the ad.

So along comes a little half-grown guinea pig in 1991, and something about him — don’t ask me what — brings to my autistic mind my unmet desire for that pony, and thus Tony gets his name.

But before that, there was Tony’s injured ankle. I thought I would never, ever forget which ankle that was, right or left, but years have thrown their mists over things and I’ll say I’m fairly certain it was his right. He was one of a batch of young pigs that had come into the pet shop where I worked, and when it came my turn to take care of the pigs one day, I saw his foot was swollen. It hadn’t been that way the Saturday before when I’d had pig duty. So I called the boss and we both looked the pig over and pretty much decided that his foot had got caught in the wire mesh when the litter tray was being pulled out for cleaning (that’s why one must pull out these trays slowly). Boss decided that pig was no longer sale-able so boss would have to think about what to do. An injured piglet could not be returned to the breeder when it some was employee of the shop who’d caused the injury.

Fearing, as I always did (because at times it happened), that half-grown, unsale-able piggy would be fed to a very large snake, I asked if I could take him home and try to cure his injury. Then I would return him.

It went great for a while. I was soaking the injury in epsom salts daily and also applying antibiotic cream from the drugstore. The thing was healing. A little slowly, but it was making steady progress. Alas, Tony wasn’t willing to wait. I went to his cage one morning to find bloody shavings and a pig who was dragging a limp and useless foot. Examination told me that Tony had done chewed his foot nearly off, halfway through the bone, and it was hanging by the remaining section of bone and a thin tendon. Later in the day he was in to the vet, and she said the same thing. I had heard of animals doing this, but had never encountered it personally. The vet said that she didn’t see it that often herself, but that Tony had definitely done it. Nothing to do but amputate. He would be more unsale-able than ever. The vet said: Congratulations. You’ve got a new guinea pig. She said this with a big smile. She knew that I would never turn my back on an amputee.

Not yet the end of Tony’ troubles. A month or so after the surgery, he started to lose his hair and scratch, scratch, scratch. I will very briefly summarize the long struggles of the next twelve months. Hair fell out daily. Itching was costant. Skin turned grey as an elephant’s, and a discharge oozed from cracks. Tony was at the vet at least once a month, and he was bathed in every concoction from soup to nuts, including stinking, nasty, foul sulphur. Many things were tried, and his skin was scraped for Sarcops. No Sarcops. No fleas. No lice or mites of the common varieties.  At about the eight-month point, he was scraped for Demodex, which the vet had never seen in a guinea pig, and voilá.

Sarcops is the curable, contagious form of mange, and Demodex is the non-contagious, incurable kind.  At least those were the facts in the early 90′s. Maybe there’s a cure now. Anyway, after a year, Tony had almost no hair at all. It would come out in clumps every time I bathed him in the newest treatment. I went back to the vet. I can’t let him go on like this, I said. He’s the calmest pig in the world and he lets us do all these crazy things to him, but his life must be one itchy misery. The vet was gloomy. Just let me try one more thing she says, and I sigh. I was at a conference last weekend, she says. And I talked to a rodent specialist. He told me how to treat Tony with a drug that’s usually only used in dogs and cats. Please let me try.

I let her try. At first the Ivermectin was given by injection, so off to the vet every two weeks for a needle. Eventually the vet did more research and found that she could make a suspension with Ivermectin and propylene glycol. PG is nasty stuff, and not something you want to give an animal unless there’s no choice, and there wasn’t. With the liquid, I could dose Tony at home without having to drag him out all the time. And the liquid cost less too, which helped the family budget.

It was a miracle right with the first shot.  And though I believe that all the doses of propylene glycol eventually gave Tony the cancer that killed him (helped by old age), I would not go back and do anything differently. With all his troubles, Tony lived to be six and a half years old (almost twice as long as any other pig I’ve had), to have a wife, to play outside in a pen with his three legs. None of that would have happened without the treatments. He would have been dead at a year and a half.

I am amazed to this day at his patience, his utter calm.  Guinea pigs tend to be somewhat nervous, and some are moreso than others. But the only frantic moments Tony ever knew were the ones in the dark night when he decided to chew off his foot. Otherwise he was nothing less than a pillar of strength.

The cancer took him on 18 February 1998. But he had been nearly dead four months before that. With Noni juice, antibiotics, spinal massage, and lots of green grass, Tony once again rose like a phoenix from the fire. He got three and a half more pretty happy, comfortable months before the end. I remember his patience, his courage and his spirit, now matter how much time passes.  Often I called him Tony my pony. Though I would have loved Tony-the-Pony-by-Marx a whole lot if I’d got him, I ended up loving the Tony I did get much, much more. And he loved me back, in spite of all the yucky things I and the doctors had to do to him. Ain’t no plastic animal ever gonna do that.


read…    Cutting the pie…    Extemporaneana

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all photos, graphics, poems and text copyright 2011 by anne nakis, unless otherwise stated. all rights reserved.

Published in: on December 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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