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North Hills Monthly

Wheek Care Guinea Pig Rescue Finds Homes for Abandoned Pets

Sep 30, 2018 05:55PM ● By Vanessa Orr

When most people think about adopting a rescue animal, they think about dogs and cats. But there are other animals that need help as well, including abandoned guinea pigs.

“Maybe because they’re little, they don’t get as much attention as other animals, but they are just as neglected—they are often considered throwaway pets,” explained Julene Robinson, founder and executive director of Wheek Care Guinea Pig Rescue, a nonprofit based out of New Kensington. “I’ve had hunters come across them left in boxes in the woods, and we did a rescue where nine were let loose in a backyard. The number of abandoned guinea pigs seems to grow each year; it’s not unusual for us to have between 75 and 80 guinea pigs at one time.”

Robinson and a number of volunteers care for the abandoned animals, taking care of their medical needs, socializing them if they need to learn how to interact with humans, and finding them loving homes. Surprisingly, Robinson never had guinea pigs when she was young, but now she can’t imagine doing anything else. 

“A friend bought a couple of guinea pigs for her kids and kept them at my store, and I just fell in love with them!” she explained. “I was 47 and had never even touched a guinea pig before. So she got me one for Christmas and by New Year’s, I had a second one. Then I had four, then seven, and then everyone started giving them to me.” 

According to Robinson, guinea pigs are no harder to take care of than any other domestic pet, and they have numerous advantages as well. 

“Many people have begun using guinea pigs as therapy animals; they’re good for people with Asperger’s, ADHD, and other special needs,” she said. “They are great companions, they eat fruits and vegetables so they aren’t expensive to maintain, they’re clean, and they don’t bite.

“I know from experience how much they can help; I went through a period when I lost both my husband and my mother, and these guys kept me going,” she added. “They are the reason I got into rescue.”

When Robinson receives abandoned animals, they all receive a medical check, and if needed, are seen by exotic animal veterinarian Dr. Robert Wagner. If they need socialization, volunteers foster the animals until they become used to being held and are ready to be adopted.

“Unfortunately, most people don’t want 3-, 4- or 5-year-old guinea pigs, even though they can live a lot longer—I have had 9 and 10-year-old animals,” said Robinson. “Luckily, the guinea pig rescue community will adopt the older ones, which is refreshing.” 

Not only is Robinson helping to find homes for the abandoned animals, but her rescue is also helping veterinarians learn more about the breed. “We’ve learned that the old standards no longer apply; for example, carrots are one of the worst things you can give guinea pigs and rabbits because they cause kidney and bladder stones,” she explained. “People used to let them chew on cardboard boxes, but we now know that the calcium carbonate gives them bladder stones. We’ve also learned more about guinea pigs’ thyroid issues.”

Wheek Care is happy to educate the community about guinea pigs, and does outreach with Girl Scout Troops, at Petco and Pet Value, and at its annual Pignic every year. “As people learn more about guinea pigs, they want to help save them,” said Robinson. 

While Wheek Care is always looking for good homes for their animals, there are some things that adopters need to know.

“People think that guinea pigs will make great starter pets for kids, but you can’t expect kids under 12 to be the animal’s full-time caretaker—that is not a kid’s role,” said Robinson. “Children should learn to handle, love and respect them, but should not be expected to provide the full burden of care. This is not a good way to teach responsibility, and it’s one of the reasons that we end up with so many abandoned animals.” 

Wheek Care also only adopts guinea pigs in a minimum of pairs. “They are very social animals and do so much better with a friend,” said Robinson. “One of the biggest fallacies is that you can’t put males together, but that’s not true; done correctly, a bond can develop between any pair.” 

So is a guinea pig the perfect pet for you?

“They are very calm—they don’t play fetch, so they are not the right pet for you if you want something more active like a cat or dog,” Robinson added. “But if you want a pet that you can just hold on your lap and that will make you happy, guinea pigs are great. They are wonderful for your well-being.”

To learn more, visit Wheek Care’s Facebook page or email to request an adoption packet.