“Why didn’t we have guinea pigs?” My mother repeated the question slowly and then suggested I ask my therapist. Sarcasm runs deep in my family. It’s just that with the parade of pets we’ve had–hamsters, birds, cats, dogs, turtles and even a raccoon–well then why not guinea pigs?

So how did I fall for guinea pigs/cavies (cavia porcellus)–a species I knew only remotely?

Blame boredom and an open pet shop. With killing time in mind, I browsed the local pet store chasing parakeets, gazing at ferrets and finally grabbing one of those scrambling, squeaking balls of fur. The short-haired piggy that caught my notice was the color of a grey squirrel with a broad cream stripe running down one side. I told my boyfriend later that I had looked at “the cutest thing on the planet.”

A birthday “surprise” later and my boyfriend and I had acquired a herd o’ piggies. He fell in love with an orange and black, long-haired boy we named Lucien; we purchased the squirrel girl and named her Nuala; and last, but hardly least, we procured “Spike,” so named for the shark fin of white hair between his ears.

Like most new parents, we became interested in precious little outside of the “babies.” We canceled our cable account. Instead we watched the piggies “popcorn”–jumping like hot kernels and running in circles so rapidly we nicknamed the activity Piggy NASCAR.

To avoid any additions we keep everyone separate, which means daily “rumblestrutting” by the males. Rumblestrutting combines a chorus of low purrs, or “rumbles,” with vigorous rumpshaking. It allegedly intimidates other males and impresses females.

Lucien, our current Casanova, (his cage borders Nuala’s) has also gained the appellation of “Michael Jordan Piggy” by clearing a high jump over a bag of pine bedding. Piggies are escape artists. My 10-year-old brother laughed and cheered recently when they kept eluding us while we crawled on our knees behind the papasan to catch them. We’ve threatened to get a net.

Cavies are very crafty, sometimes in unexpected ways. For instance, our long distance phone card was found mysteriously tucked into Lucien’s bedding. He refused to squeal, but we’ve kept an eye on him and our phone bill.

Then there’s the suspicious way my passport ended up in Nuala’s possession. She feigns innocence, but this was a week after we found an uncovered newspaper article in her cage titled “Dismemberment case goes for analysis.” Naturally, we’re both horrified–can such menace lurk behind those glassy, almond-shaped eyes?

Despite his name, Spike remains the coward of the group, showing little to no criminal bent. We attribute this to his constant look of perplexity and/or the possibility that he’s pulling a Keyser Soze. I know you’re thinking it’s impossible for creatures with such cute, velvety noses to be evil masterminds, but that’s just the point.

How can you say “no” to that sweet face and tiny pink mouth?

Homeless piggies can be found at the Orange County animal shelter, www.allcreaturesrescue.org or www.raleighrodentrescue.org.