Paola A. came by her title as OC Rescue Crew Coordinator with Orange County Cavy Haven totally by accident. It started back in 2007-2008, when a friend had given her a guinea pig as a present. The pig was old, though, and it soon died. Paola decided not to get another one, but then in 2011 she informed her boyfriend that she was going to get another, to help her through a depressive period. He wasn’t sure that it would work, but she was determined, and her path toward piggy enthrallment and involvement was firmly established.
Paola knew about OCCH, so she contacted them and adopted two of their boys, Potsie and Wyatt. Not knowing any better, as she remarks, she added a third boy, this one a baby, to the mix. His name is Nikki, and she got him from the LA Guinea Pig Rescue. Not very surprisingly, the boys started fighting, and she says she was constantly contacting OCCH to find out what she could do, as well as to get information about the health and general care of guinea pigs. She was told to split them up, which she did, and she adopted another baby, Skeeter, so both Potsie and Wyatt would have companions. Two girls, Emma and Jane, followed shortly thereafter. “The girls are messier and more demanding than the boys,” she comments, “but they’re sweet. The boys are very loving. They’ll curl up with you and watch TV without any fuss.”
Paola says she attended OCCH events and did general volunteer work. Then, she recalls, “On a supply day in December, Michiko just said, start calling shelters and find out who has piggies. I did a few calls, made a few pulls, and she made me the Shelter Coordinator. I have no idea if the position even existed before I took it on.”
A couple months later, late on a Sunday night, she received an e-mail that 19 pigs had been dumped at the Orange County Shelter. On Monday afternoon, she headed over there and told the staff that she would take all of them. She had already built a “piggyville” in her apartment – cages everywhere to hold the rescued pigs – and Michiko had posted a message on Facebook asking for transport and foster help. It came as quite a surprise, therefore, when the staff said she should never have gotten the message since the pigs were still on hold pending a hoarder investigation and were not ready to be released. “My heart was broken,” she says. “Here I had expected them to come home the same day, I had gotten the place ready, and now I was told I would have to wait.”
About 2 ½ weeks later, she got the “all clear” notice, and she and her husband, Ulysses, packed up the car and drove over to the shelter with a list of the pigs they could take. By the time they arrived, they found that one of the pigs had been put to sleep, “because of seizures,” she was told, although she believes that it might have been that the staff didn’t know that guinea pigs are prone to popcorning when they’re happy and might have mistaken it for a seizure. She and Ulysses took 11 of the 19, which included seven babies, two girls about six months old, and two mothers about a year old. Most of the babies went to different homes, where they were paired with other, nanny pigs; one volunteer took a six-month-old mama home and eventually adopted her; she was left with one baby and two six-month olds, but someone came to take a look at them and ended up adopting all three. It was possible to move most of the pigs into forever homes since all the babies were old enough to be weaned. She kept only two of the females, because they were pregnant. Bottom line? Success and jubilation!
But just when Paola thought the dump situation was over, the OC shelter told her that 15 more pigs had been left in a box in the park and needed rescuing. It also turned out that three of the females were pregnant, and by May 28, when she got the word from the shelter that the pigs were ready to be released, they had all given birth. Now there were three mamas, one papa, and 11 babies in need of help. Paola and Ulysses (an unofficial OCCH scout, but appreciated nonetheless) rose to the challenge. They had to care for 10 of the new additions, since they didn’t know which babies belonged to which mamas, as well as the six forever pigs they already had. One other foster family took a mother and her four babies. The piggyville was now full.
Since that time, the babies matured enough to be separated from their mothers, and all but two pigs have been placed with other foster families or have been adopted.
Despite her overwhelmingly positive experience with OCCH, Paola says she’s never thought of starting her own rescue, although her husband thinks it might be possible if they ever move out of the city and into a bigger house. “There is so much involved in a rescue,” Paola comments. “I don’t have the time now to sit down and figure out what needs to be done.”
So what should people take away from this experience? “Volunteer!” says Paola emphatically. “Figure out what you can do and become involved. For example, shelter crews always need help, since volunteers have day jobs, and it’s tough for everyone to be available all the time; someone has to be there when the rescue is contacted to go and pull the pigs. Also, since we’ve lost some foster families in the past few months, we need people to step up and take these rescued pigs in. And when you foster these pigs, you’re not alone – OCCH is right there to help you through it. If you can’t be available all the time, then volunteer on a week-to-week or a month-to-month basis. There’s always something to do, and it’s for a great cause.”
If you’re interested in learning how you can volunteer with Orange County Cavy Haven and help rescue guinea pigs, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Miriam Ruff