A Perspective On Guinea Pigs from a Passerby

kissing pigsImage courtesy of kickers

Rescue outreach needs to educate the public about homeless cavies, but it's often difficult without knowing their perspective. Jacque shares her experience seeing guinea pigs in a shelter for the first time.

When my husband and I visited a shelter in Ohio to adopt our dog this past November, we noticed two Guinea pigs in a cage that faced dozens of cats in the same type of housing. Their cage was placed on a table as if they’d just arrived and staff hadn’t had time to find room for them. They munched their food pellets and, thankfully, seemed oblivious to their situation.

I’m always incredulous at the number of homeless dogs and cats at shelters and rescue groups, but Guinea pigs, too? Were these two little guys so difficult to maintain that their owner wasn’t up to such an arduous task? They spend most of their lives in a cage, for heaven’s sake. They don’t need to be walked, groomed, taken to training classes, or fed a diet so expensive that it would make a dent in the average wallet. Why were they there?

My husband pointed out that perhaps a life-changing event caused the Guinea pigs to be relinquished by their owner. Perhaps their owner passed away or was suddenly called up to join the next space mission. As my teenaged neighbour would say, “Whatever. That’s just totally not the case.”

It’s possible that a calamitous situation caused the incarceration of some of the animals in the shelter, but why didn’t their owners have a plan in place for such an event? None of these people had a friend, neighbour, or family member who would take on the feeding and care of these animals? The owner of those two adorable and low-maintenance Guinea pigs couldn’t possibly find them a new home?

The great majority of those animals were there simply because their owners didn’t want them and the shelter was the easiest method of disposal.

Years ago, before the Internet was the tool to locate animal rescue groups, I received a phone call from a woman who had a young Siberian husky that had grown from an adorable, calendar-worthy puppy to a dog who leaped on people, howled when she left him alone, and continually jumped the fence. She was looking for the phone number for the husky rescue group. While I looked up the information, I suggested that she ask a veterinarian or dog trainer for help with her dog’s behaviour and that relinquishing him to the rescue group should be her last resort.

She replied, rather huffily, “The rescue group should look after its own.” She seemed to think that a group of husky-loving people were somehow obligated to take on this woman’s mistakes.

That phone call took place just as rescue groups were beginning to make themselves known and shelters were recognizing the need for public education and promotion. Then, as now, these weren’t slick operations financed by millionaires who happened to like animals. Then, as now, they were just barely managing to find room and funds to care for all the animals who showed up at their door.

I often think about that phone call and, if that woman was the start of a trend, it’s no surprise that rescues and shelters are now considered safety nets for people whose pets aren’t working out for them.

If you’re reading this column, I’m probably ranting to the converted and you’re wearily reading one more “Angry as hell and not going to take it anymore” ditty with no promise of relief.

What can we do to help? Talk to people about it. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. I’m always surprised to find people often well-versed on climate change and the plight of the polar bear but they’re completely unaware that animal shelters and rescues are pleading for relief just down the street.

The best approach is to educate without chastising. Try to catch people before they make the decision to adopt or buy. Set yourself up as the go-to person at your workplace or among your group of friends or neighbours.

If you know of someone with an unwanted pet, suggest alternatives to dropping it off at a shelter or rescue. Can you help locate a good new home? Or maybe they’d like to keep the pet but they don’t have a clue about how to care for it. Can you coach them through the process? Or connect them to a rescue group that offers helpful advice geared to keeping the pet in its existing home.

It’s so easy to become annoyed at people who bring an animal home without any thought or research. They expect their teething pup to offer unconditional love. They expect their energetic kitten to sleep through the night without a sound. They expect their Guinea pig to… who knows? It’s very possible that they didn’t know what to expect but, when things go wrong, they assume a shelter or rescue will happily take them off their hands.

That’s where you come in. You’re the go-to person. Even if you don’t have the answer, offer to help find the answer. Education is the key. One student at a time. If you can prevent even one animal from ending up at a shelter or rescue, you’re doing your job as an advocate for animals. Spread the word and that word will pass from person to person.

Who knows? Maybe those Guinea pigs at that shelter in Ohio will be adopted by someone who reads this. All I had to do was write this story. All you have to do is pass it on. In the end, you’ll never know how many animals you’ve helped.

If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.

Jacque Newman

Jacque Newman is a columnist for Metroland’s InsideToronto, a consultant for Dogs Dogs Dogs, a Maxwell award winner from Dog Writers Association of America, and moderator of Dog Diabetes online forum. Her writing has appeared in Readers Digest, Dogs Dogs Dogs, For Love of Cats and on several pet-related websites. She can be reached at jacque-newman@rogers.com

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One Response to “A Perspective On Guinea Pigs from a Passerby”
  1. Chana Meddin says:

    Dear Jacque, you said it yourself: education is the key. Having a guinea pig rescue in my home (the “last resort” for these are sick, neglected, unsocialized, even dying) all I can say is they are NOT a suitable child’s pet unless the parents are willing to shoulder the responsibility for care: feeding, grooming, cage-cleaning, trips to vet, nail-trims, guinea pigs are
    not a low-maintenance animal! Compared to friends who have sanctuaries for large dogs and cats, they are LESS high maintenance, but any prospective “buyer” of an animal needs to be educated IN ADVANCE of that purchase else their adorable, calendar-worthy puppy will, indeed end up at a shelter and guinea pigs are no exception. Your column is deeply appreciated and the only thing I would add – in vain because “cute” sells – is for breeding to STOP UNTIL EVERY HOMELESS ANIMAL HAS BEEN PLACED INTO A LOVING, FOREVER HOME! But, it won’t stop. Because “cute” sells.
    Thank you for writing this wonderful article, at least I can TWEET IT OUT AND HOPE SOMEBODY READS IT!

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