By Whitney Potsus
Did you know that the ASPCA dubbed March “Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month”?
Many people don’t realize that…literally…every week there are guinea pigs (and other small animals, for that matter) who need to be rescued. Or that…literally…every week in our state alone there are dozens of guinea pigs in shelters and rescues around the state who need to find new homes. Or that there’s a rescue in Connecticut — The Critter Connection, Inc. (www.ctguineapigrescue.org) — that is dedicated solely to the rescue, rehabilitation, and adoption of guinea pigs.
How do rescues and shelters come by the guinea pigs they have in their care? Here’s a look at the top 5 reasons.
Whether left outside the front door of a shelter at night, left in dumpsters, let loose in the woods, or left behind in a house or apartment building when the owner moves, these guinea pigs depend on an observant someone finding them in time. Abandonment like this is cruel, irresponsible and unnecessary. There are shelters all around the state that can help, and stores like Petco and Petsmart take in surrendered small animals and help find them homes (or help get them to rescues who can).
Many in animal rescue believe that people abandon animals (of any species) not just because they simply don’t care, but because they’re afraid they’re going to get “hassled” by rescues and shelters, asked to fill out paperwork, and asked to pay a surrender fee or a donation. Rescues and shelters aren’t in the business of hassling people. Most of the time, the “paperwork” is a single page that needs a signature and a “reason for surrender.” And donating $10 or $20 is not unreasonable when you factor in cost of care.
Whether a hoarder, a breeder, or a do-gooder who’s gotten in way over their head with rescued animals, seizures result from the appropriate legal authorities stepping in, getting dozens of animals out of a bad situation, and working with rescues to get them treated, rehabilitated, and re-homed.
These “mass rescues” are tough stuff for animal rescue workers. The conditions in which the animals have been living in are invariably filthy, unsanitary, and inexplicably and indescribably deplorable. The health condition of each animal varies, and involves one or more of the following problems: mild to severe malnutrition and dehydration; mites; skin infections and hair loss; infections in the pads of their feet; eye infections, respiratory infections; urinary tract infections and/or bladder stones; and, untreated tumors. Treating so many health problems at once is time-consuming and expensive, and it’s not uncommon for the involved rescues/shelters to put out calls for additional donations.
Additionally, several or all females in the seizure may be pregnant, which means they have to be placed on “pregnancy watch” until either pregnancy is ruled out or the babies are born. Pregnancy, labor, and delivery with a female guinea pig who has been neglected is stressful for her and worrisome for her human caretakers. Post-delivery, she still has to be watched carefully and so do her babies (whose health and development may be negatively affected by the mother’s poor health).
The vast majority of the animals from these seizures are successfully rehabilitated, socialized, and placed in loving homes where they live for years. Without specialty rescues, like The Critter Connection in Durham, these animals would not have had a chance.
Surprise pregnancies happen for two reasons: Someone brought home a female guinea pig from a pet store not realizing she was already pregnant (because some pet stores still do not separate males from females — which they really must), or someone brought home guinea pigs thinking they had two males or two females and instead had one of each.
If the owners haven’t read up on guinea pig care, this problem compounds quickly. Not realizing how quickly after one litter a female can get pregnant with her next (and getting pregnant again so quickly is detrimental to the female), families don’t separate the mother and father soon enough — and wind up with another litter. Not realizing how young they can start breeding, the males and females in the litters don’t get separated fast enough — and the family winds up with another litter (and the health of the females who got pregnant too young is endangered as well).
The discouraging thing here is that the entire problem could be resolved with proper education of store management, store staff, and new owners. Store management simply must separate males and females in store cages, and accept the extra space consumption as a necessary part of business. Petco keeps males and females in separate cages; Petsmart goes further, with each store only selling one sex (i.e., one store carries only males, while a store two towns over carries only females). Store staff needs to be taught how to correctly identify the sex of every species of animal they sell, and they need to be able to show owners. And, finally, owners need to educate themselves continually about the animals they bring into their homes.
Owner Surrenders (Extenuating Circumstances)
Relocation — across country or across the ocean — aren’t always anticipated, or even a remote consideration, when animals are first brought into a family. Unable to bring the animals with them, or unsure how to do it without threatening their health and safety, some families give up all their pets (cats, dogs, exotics, birds, reptiles). We see this happen most often with international relocations, where customs laws make bringing animals to foreign countries time-consuming and expensive (and requires flying the animals over in cargo, which is extremely stressful to animals).
Severe allergies of a family member are another big reason. In some cases, allergies to a particular animal are seen instantly in a person. In many cases, though, it takes time for allergies to develop. With animals like guinea pigs and rabbits, their bedding (particularly pine and aspen) and their hay can also be a source of problems. Occasionally, other health problems — such a family member being diagnosed with cancer or MS — lead a family to surrender pets.
Finally, in these slow economic times, layoffs and long-term unemployment are also increasingly a reason for pet surrenders. Families’ try as long as they can to hold onto pets, but sometimes just can’t.
In extenuating-circumstance surrenders, the pigs arrive healthy, sociable, and well-cared-for. These surrenders are very difficult and emotional for owners. These owners often come with sizable donations of money and supplies to help with care, stacks of photos to choose from for the Petfinder listing, and carefully written notes about age, weight, health history, previous vets, food preferences, toy preferences, favorite places to be scratched, and more. By the end of the surrender, owners and rescue workers alike are in tears.
Owner Surrenders (Loss of Interest)
Like surprise pregnancies, this is a situation that could be avoided with education and careful decision making. Loss-of-interest surrenders can be broken down into two main categories: 1) a family realized (too late) that guinea pigs require more daily care and interaction than they’d anticipated and than is compatible with the family’s lifestyle, and 2) guinea pigs were purchased for a child instead of for the entire family, the child lost interest, and the parents either aren’t able or willing to care for the animals.
In loss-of-interest surrenders, the guinea pigs arrive generally healthy and well-cared-for but perhaps a bit under-socialized (e.g., they’re not as used to being handled as guinea pigs in other families). Owners arrive with their pets and with a bag of regrets (for all the obvious reasons) and a good deal of relief that their former pet has a chance at finding a good loving home.
In the cases of abandonment and seizures, it’s a relief to have guinea pigs come into a rescue or shelter because now, at least, they have a better-than-fighting chance at a better life. When they come as a result of an owner surrender, it’s always hard to see their entire worlds turned upside-down. But despite their small size and delicate physiologies, guinea pigs are remarkably resilient critters whose happy, lovable, engaging spirits always come through.
If you’d like to add a lovable new member to your home, check out the sidebar below for some helpful information!
Where To Find Adoptable Guinea Pigs
There are several places online where prospective owners in our area can find guinea pigs needing new, adoptive homes.
The Critter Connection, Inc. – www.critter.petfinder.com
The Critter Connection’s adoption postings on Petfinder.
Petfinder – www.petfinder.com
Search for guinea pigs in all of CT to find listings from city shelters, private owners, and The Critter Connection.
For adoption postings from private owners and from rescues/shelters, there are some guinea-pig-specific sites. These sites are also channels for you to use if you have guinea pigs that you can’t keep and need to place in another home.
Guinea Pig Adoption Network – www.gpan.net
Guinea Pig Home – www.guineapighome.com
Save-A-Piggie – www.guineapigs.org