Well, Dylan and Dougall would have been six today, but it is nearly two years since they left us. The memory of Dylan’s cheeky authority and Dougall’s steadfast friendship remains. I’m glad I can write them into my stories, and of course, they are, as I imagined around five years ago, shortly to be immortalised as the Princelings of the North.
Dylan and Dougall
Dylan and Dougall arrived in my life a few days after Fred died. Vikki, who had been involved with the local guinea pig rescue for years, had been advising a new owner who discovered one of the sows she’d bought from a local breeder was pregnant. Vikki told me about these two newborns (and their sister), and suggested that by the time they needed to leave their mother, Victor (who had been Fred’s companion after George and Hugo died) might be a good ‘uncle’.
It’s one of the problems for rescues (and breeders of guinea pigs). Male babies can be fertile after as little as three weeks, despite the veterinary advice (six weeks). But babies really shouldn’t leave their mothers until they are six weeks old, or a big enough weight. Guinea pigs, by the way, and born ready to rock – fully haired, eyes open, and nosing for real food as well as mum’s milk.
So the solution is to separate male babies at three weeks, and wherever possible, settle them with an amiable adult male who will teach them their manners and how to look after themselves.
So I brought Dylan and Dougall home on 17th December, and introduced them to Victor. Poor Victor! His initial response was “For me?!” He looked as pleased as punch with these new little things to keep him company. He soon discovered that whilst Dougall was a dear sweet boy who would cuddle up to him for protection, and learn as much as he could, Dylan was a handful.
Right from the start, Dylan was into everything. The first photos of him, his brother and Victor, show Dyl looking for trouble. The good thing about Dylan—he didn’t have a bad thought in his body. His mischief was entirely innocent: escaping from his run, finding out who else was around, ensuring that his subjects were in their proper places (he quickly became the number one, with little competition from the others). He learnt his way around the garden and would get out of his run, check on everyone (including me, sitting at my table in the shade) and go back to his own run. I didn’t realise at first; I just thought he was getting out and being naughty. Dylan was simply in charge of our world.
Dylan and Dougall in my books
They were too big to put in as bit parts in the Princelings series. I wanted to take them up to Scotland, like I had Fred, George, Victor and Hugo. With so many pigs to transport, I couldn’t go up there, so I thought they could wait. I placed them up at a castle where I stayed instead – not a real castle, no more than Castle Marsh is real. But both are set in very real places. I wrote the first story to feature them for Christmas 2012 – Dylan’s Yuletide Journey. I’ve made quite a lot of that one, since it went into the BookElves Anthology Volume 1 in 2014, and is also a free ebook from Smashwords, novella length.
For the next BookElves book I featured Dougall, rescuing an injured reindeer who turned out to be one of Santa’s. Dougall was such a tubby, inactive boy, that I made something of this in the story. Childhood obesity is an issue that has many discussion points – I felt Dougall’s need to lose weight could help youngsters who had the same problem. So I wrote the story in the summer, when Dougall weighed in at 1600 gms. That was a huge amount until Midge came along and set a new record, but it’s still very big for a guinea pig.
Then in the September, my Dougall started losing weight – rapidly. Despite visits to the vet, and extra feeding, by early December he was under 900 gms. There’s me promoting the story of tubby Dougall, while the real boy is fading away in front of me. I was distraught. Sadly, we had to put him to sleep on 22nd December. Dylan coped through our seven week mourning period, but a week after that finished, he started losing weight too. I think he was pining, despite moving in with Kevin for company. He died on 22nd February, mainly of a broken heart. Such little lives for such big personalities.
The Princelings of the North
Back in 2012 I had envisaged Dylan and Dougall playing a big part in the final stages of the series. There is a last line in my short story X marks the Spot which suggests they are going to start a revolution! They certainly get involved in stirring things up in the new book, out in January, and I’m really pleased with how that volume brings the story forward, as well as the adventure Dylan, Dougall, and Kevin have, trying to restore Kevin to his castle.
Meanwhile, I’ve just got a new novella, Dylan and the Lights of Ulva, available on Smashwords for $5, which I will donate to the #UlvaBuyout appeal. If you give to the appeal on my JustGiving page, and you will get the novella free.
Like Fred and George, Dylan and Dougall (and Victor, of course) live on. I’m sure they’ll have many more adventures.