A man hoarded more than 1,000 guinea pigs.
About 80% were pregnant.
Saskia Chiesa, the founder and director of the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue, saved these guinea pigs and housed them in two horse stables.
“He had good intentions, but we were called in to remove all of the females to help control the breeding,” Chiesa said. “The plan was to remove all of the female guinea pigs from the hoarder’s possession so that they won’t breed.”
Chiesa said she and her team of volunteers found homes for every one within a year and a half, but there were some repercussions in the process.
“It was very taxing on our community,” Chiesa said. “We couldn’t take in any new guinea pigs from our community and had to briefly stop providing many services due to the extreme influx of new guinea pigs.”
The Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue is the largest guinea pig welfare organization in America. It is located in Chatsworth on a large ranch.
Chiesa started the guinea pig rescue in 1999, shortly after she arrived in America from Holland. She said the rescue saves more than 2,000 guinea pigs every year. It is a no-kill private shelter that offers rescue, sanctuary and adoption services for guinea pigs.
Chiesa was inspired by Peter Gurney, author of “The A to Z of Guinea Pig Care,” when she befriended him more than 20 years ago while living in London.
“I noticed this man sitting close to me and had a shopping basket on his lap,” Chiesa said. “When I looked closer, I noticed that there was a beautiful, well groomed Peruvian guinea pig in that basket. I asked him what on earth he was doing in the subway with a guinea pig in a basket. He told me that he had just returned from his weekly visit to the “Great Ormond Children’s Hospital. When I moved to L. A. and started my guinea pig rescue, I relied on Peter for support and advice.”
According to www.miamiherald.com, “Male guinea pigs can reproduce at three weeks old; females at four weeks. Mothers can get pregnant one hour after giving birth.”
Chiesa said that in situations where the hoarding and breeding gets out of control, they are called. Chiesa believes that even though guinea pig hoarders do not have the best knowledge and accommodations, they are not terrible people.
“We have to remember that the only way to spread the word is through kindness and understanding,” Chiesa said.
The Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue offers free health checkups, bubble baths, boarding and grooming services for her clients.
Chiesa runs a Youtube channel with more than 65,000 subscribers and 9 million video views. Her videos provide information on proper guinea pig care, guinea pig updates, information, tips and guinea pig maltreatment awareness.
Carla Carli, one of Chiesa’s Youtube subscribers from the Philippines, said she learned valuable information from Chiesa’s videos.
“I believe I’m a better owner now and understood my pet while knowing a lot about their needs and behavior,” Carli said.
“Saskia is a very compassionate and driven animal-loving entrepreneur,” said Ursula Cormier, a devoted Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue volunteer, who has been volunteering for two years. “The approach she takes with everyone who comes by the rescue is simply put as kindness and no judgment. This is Saskia’s philosophy for running the rescue and I love her for that.”
Chiesa said she fights to inform the public about the truth behind pet stores and how they treat and sell their guinea pigs.
When you enter the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue shelter, there is a sign that invites her guests to share their testimony from purchasing guinea pigs from other pet stores chains. Chiesa is currently collecting tons of stories from guinea pig owners who purchased their pets, only to see that they are riddled with ringworm and upper respiratory infections.
“Who else is going to advocate for these little guys?” Chiesa said. “They don’t have anyone else to speak up for them and fight for them.”
Chiesa believes that by buying a guinea pig from a chain store, you aren’t actually rescuing them.
“Adopt from a local rescue, whenever possible and do not contribute to the misery these guinea pig mills inflict,” Chiesa said.
Chiesa said that these large corporations and chain pet stores recklessly educate the public with false information when it comes to proper guinea pig care as well as properly identifying the proper genders of the guinea pigs.
“It happens all the time,” Chiesa said. “The pet store will assure their customer that they purchased two of the same sex guinea pigs, only for us to get a phone call and have to rescue families of guinea pigs.”
She explained that if you don’t separate a male from a female guinea pig, even within just one hour after the female gives birth, she goes into heat and can get pregnant again. This is how the hoarding and breeding can get out of control quickly.
Chiesa said that they also get calls from people asking them to take in guinea pigs that have been left in the street or in a dumpster.
“There’s only a few of us advocating for guinea pigs out here,” Chiesa said.
Chiesa also advocates against miseducated veterinarians who misdiagnose guinea pigs due to lack of experience and education for guinea pigs.
“I would suggest finding an exotic/pocket pet only hospital or a vet within a small animal facility that focuses mostly on pocket pet medicine, that way they are up to date on all the newest medicine for them and they practice it day in day out,” said veterinary technician Alyssa Marie of the Wellington Animal Hospital in Woodstock, Canada. “Sometimes pocket pets are better left to the specialty clinics that only care for them, as opposed to the small animal vets who don’t see them as often.”
The Los Angeles Guinea Pig rescue is open during the COVID-19 quarantine. Chiesa is taking precautionary measures to keep the rescue safe and clean.
They are not doing health checks or bath appointments until further notice and are restricting access to their facility, including visitor tours of the ranch.
Those trying to adopt a guinea pig are advised to fill out an adoption application and pick up their guinea pig at the gate only.
Chiesa said she thinks the work she and her team do at the rescue is worth the toil.
“It’s no easy job taking care of so many guinea pigs and providing such thorough, loving care,” Chiesa said. “We make money off of our Youtube channel which helps a lot, but we are always in need of supplies, bedding and food. We are all volunteer-based.”
However, the quarantine has also limited the rescue center to fewer volunteers as well.
“Normally we have volunteers, but with everyone staying at home, I’ve had to do a lot of the work around here myself,” Chiesa said.
Guinea pigs are very friendly creatures and according to www.humansociety.org, “Guinea pigs are social animals who do best with the companionship of another pig,” so if you’re spending quarantine alone and are looking for a pet to keep you company, maybe consider adopting a guinea pig, or two.