Daphne and Sienna, Therapy Guinea Pigs Supporting Hospice

Erin Maggard and her two guinea pigs, Daphne and SiennaImage courtesy of Brenda Evans

Erin gives an interview to the local newspaper while holding Daphne. Sienna watches all the activity from her “working” basket.

Erin Maggard and her guinea pigs, Daphne and Sienna, have a very important job in Central Wyoming. Erin’s cavies are the only therapy animals other than dogs that work at this Hospice center as part of the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program.
While the guinea pigs were registered as therapy pets in January, Erin has enjoyed guinea pigs for more than three years and shares them with her husband and daughter. Daphne and Sienna, when not hard at work, join three other female guinea pigs in a large pen in the Maggard’s living room. Daphne is docile while Sienna is shy but calm.

Why didn’t all of Erin’s guinea pigs join her? Being a therapy pet requires very special traits. Erin’s three other female cavies are fun at home but don’t have personalities suited for therapy work. Rosie, an albino with striking red eyes, was considered for therapy registration, but there was concern that her red eyes might make people feel uneasy. Val, adopted from a friend who could no longer care for her, is the most active guinea pig and never sits still. Sally, their newest addition, is still a bit skittish and shy. Erin tells Guinea Pig Today, “Her personality reminds me of that of a cat – she can be affectionate or stand-offish, depending on her mood.”

Daphne and Sienna have a special talent for sitting long periods at a time and Erin decided only these two sows would be registered. After supporting hospice for 25 years, Erin had a hunch guinea pigs would work well with patients who benefit from animal visitation but have difficulty working with the therapy dogs. Daphne and Sienna weigh less than two pounds and can gently lay on patients while being stroked.

The herd of female guinea pigs belonging to the Maggard familyImage courtesy of Erin Maggard

Bill holds the girls while Erin is cleaning their pen. Clockwise from the back: Rose (black), Sally (grey/white), Rosie (white), Sienna (brown), and Daphne (tri-color).

Pet Partners is a world wide program that screens volunteers and their animals for work in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools, and other facilities. Jan Proper, Director of Nursing at Hospice, witnessed patients working with the guinea pigs and recommended Erin get the cavies registered so they could visit more patients. Certifying guinea pigs is no small feat. While many types of animals can be registered, getting certified is another matter entirely. The process included a handler course with an exam at the end, extensive physicals for the guinea pigs including fecal exams, nasal swabs, and respiratory rate tests. Erin also had to endure a background check, personality profile, and a live evaluation of both her and her guinea pigs. Some were requirements of Pet Partners while others were required of Hospice, but in the end, her and her guinea pigs were cleared and ready for work.
Being a working pet doesn’t mean Daphne and Sienna don’t still appreciate the finer joys of day to day guinea pig life. “The girls have a brand-new two story C&C enclosure that I just built last weekend so right now they spend lots of time still exploring and playing,” Erin tells us. “They LOVE to play in the hay – Daphne especially loves to burrow in it.” When it comes to food, these piggies are no slouches either. “When they hear the refrigerator door, hear us chopping veggies, or see one of us come into the room from the kitchen, they stand up on their hind legs and wheek for treats. Val is particularly good at standing on her hind legs. Sally and Val are our best popcorners as well – they love to run and popcorn when they are excited.”

These hard working guinea girls deserve the popularity that comes with being a working pet. They’ve been featured in articles by The Associated Press and have drawn media attention from across the country. You can connect with these two miracle workers through their Facebook page or check out the Pet Partner’s website for more information on therapy animals.

For patients in special care, visiting with pets is the highlight of their day. Discovering the pet is a guinea pig and not a dog is an even bigger surprise. Daphne and Sienna truly prove that good things come in small packages.

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.

Angela, Editor-in-Chief, GPT

Angela founded Guinea Pig Today and guest writes for CavyMadness. She volunteers with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and supports the ROUS Foundation. Her guinea pig, Papua, is the star of WHEK-TV/DT.

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2 Responses to “Daphne and Sienna, Therapy Guinea Pigs Supporting Hospice”
  1. Stephanie Umbro says:

    my first piggie, Milo, was an unofficial therapy pet. I love hearing how our special guinea pigs can help other people! Good work, Erin, Daphne & Sienna!

  2. Karen says:

    Great article! It makes me happy to see that these sweet-natured, beautiful animals are being accepted as therapy animals. Guinea pigs are small ( so they’re not intimidating like some larger pets) and they are uber-cuddly! I know nothing brightens my day like snuggling a piggie =oD

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