We’ve kept the pandemic pets alive for nearly three years.
According to the American Pet Products Association, 70% of U.S. households have pets at home, providing entertainment and companionship. Only 40% of American households have children under 18 at home, the National Association of Realtors says. There are many more pets than kids no matter where you call home.
Being a farm girl, I define our pets as companions, not our livestock or a form of income. Some pets have purpose on our farms, like many farm dogs working livestock. Cats keep the mouse population down and feel more practical as pets.
In the Pinke family, we have both pets and kids. Three years ago, when schools went to virtual-only in the spring of 2020, our daughter Anika, then 10, got the idea she/we needed guinea pigs as pets. She watched hours of YouTube videos about guinea pigs. She learned that the size of butternut squash was about the weight of a full-grown guinea pig.
She walked around the house and farm for hours and then days with two butternut squash in her arms, campaigning for new guinea pig pets.
We lived on the farm, where the girls had beef heifers, dogs and cats. Why would we add rodents to our family pets? Guinea pigs are rodents and had no practical pet purpose to me.
By late June, before her 11th birthday, I drove Anika and her sister Elizabeth 90 miles to West Acres Mall in Fargo, North Dakota, to the locally owned pet store. My husband called ahead and arranged for two guinea pigs to be ready for Anika’s birthday surprise.
The guinea pigs, Dolly and Penny, later moved us that summer from my parent’s farm to a small town rental we lived in for two years while we built a new family home.
The landlord approved to have the guinea pigs live in the basement in their cage. Anika diligently fed and cared for Dolly and Penny and cleaned their cage daily. She researched and ensured all aspects of their diet were met, including romaine lettuce, chopped celery, timothy hay and other pellets.
Pandemic pets surged across America three years ago. We saw that when a couple of Anika’s friends also added guinea pigs as pets to their households. Anika played outside a lot during 2020, with no scheduled activities, and being a “town kid” in our rental home her friends came over daily. They brought Dolly and Penny into the yard for playtime. The friend who also had female guinea pigs brought hers over for guinea pig play dates.
Now the girls are teenagers. Guinea pig play dates are a thing of the past from their elementary school years.
Recently, a welcome of squeaks from Dolly and Penny in our garage, in their “habitat” as Anika calls it, reminded me of these pandemic pets.
The rodents I thought my husband and I would never agree to have as pets have brought years of joy and fun to our daughter’s life … and we’ve kept them alive longer than I expected.
The companionship, joy and entertainment of pets are often their purpose I learned.
Seeing joy through the eyes of my child fills me with purpose.
What I love the most about Dolly and Penny is how much Anika loves them. She’s grown in responsibility, has a full schedule of activities, and still makes time for her favorite pandemic pets.
Do you have a favorite pet on your farm? Dog, cat, or others like Dolly and Penny? Share with AgweekTV Executive Producer Emily Beal this summer and she will feature them during the “dog days of summer” on some upcoming AgweekTV shows. Email photos to
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.
Katie Pinke serves as Agweek and AgweekTV’s publisher and general manager and since 2015 has written a weekly column. Pinke resides in rural North Dakota with her husband and children where she is a 4-H leader, active community volunteer, and a proud fifth-generation farmers’ daughter.
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