It’s that time of year! Pumpkin patches, Christmas tree farms, and… a Guinea Pig Fall Festival?! Yes, Los Angeles will soon have its very own Guinea Pig Rescue Fall Festival, and it’s all for a good cause. While it may be normal and expected to see pet adoption events throughout the year featuring cats and dogs, guinea pigs deserve a special event because they have a story of their own — proving why a Rescue Festival is needed. Read on for an interview with Saskia Chiesa, the Founder of LA Guinea Pig Rescue — the largest rescue for guinea pigs, for not only SoCal, but the nation!
You run the biggest animal rescue charity in the country that is dedicated solely to guinea pigs and the only one in Southern California. Tell us how you decided to start this organization?
When I first arrived in the U.S. some 22 years ago, I became involved in dog rescue. I learned that there were so many animal rescues focused on dogs, cats and even bunnies, but there were NO guinea pig rescues. I also found that guinea pigs are victims of unintentional neglect due to lack of or inaccurate information. I wanted to advocate for these little innocent beings and improve their lives, so part of my mission is educating owners on their proper care.
What are some unique things about guinea pigs that the average person might not know? Why do they make great pets?
Guinea pigs come in many different colors, hairdo’s and coat textures. Each one is unique.
Guinea pigs make a sound that is only for their humans, it is the iconic “Wheek Wheek” which means FEED ME and you will usually hear them make that sound when you rustle a plastic bag or open the fridge door; it is adorable. In the conversations they have among each other you will never hear this particular call, it is just for us and their way of training their humans.
Guinea pigs are very particular about their food. Some may love strawberries, for instance, while their buddy can not stand the smell of them. Guinea pigs are so much fun to watch. They squabble, run off with each other’s food, play and they are goofy little things. Guinea pigs are extremely social and love the company of other guinea pigs so always have more than one of the same sex piggie.
Here in SoCal, we are no strangers to animal rights causes. We commonly hear about dog, cat and horse rescues. What are the issues that face guinea pigs?
There are quite a few actually and one of the main problems are pet stores. The guinea pigs you will find in the pet stores come from companies located in huge warehouses with row upon row of bins with breeding animals. Thousands of them!
With that many animals housed together there is bound to be disease among the population. The most common ailments pet store bought guinea pigs suffer from are upper respiratory infections and skin parasites like ringworm and scabies mites. If a guinea pig falls ill while at the supplier they are not going to be taken to the vet. I was in a Petco a few months ago and out of the six guinea pigs for sale that day three were sick. Store managers bonuses are tied to expenditure. Taking a sick animal to the vet will add to the stores expenses so the animals are often denied veterinary care. Guinea pigs require at the very least a cage space of 2 x 3 for one or two animals and more if there are three or more. However, pet stores promote small cages. In fact, most of the time proper housing for guinea pigs is not even sold. The reason for this is that if their clients were made aware of the actual needs of a guinea pig, I think a lot of people would not get them as pets. Another problem we encounter quite a bit are pregnant guinea pigs. The owner has no idea that they got more than they bargained for and are often ill prepared and ill informed. Guinea pig baby boys need to be weaned and separated from females at three weeks of age or another unwanted pregnancy will be underway. We pick up those pieces all the time and take in animals from situations like the one I just described all the time. All of that can be avoided. If we can halt the sale of animals from pet stores a lot of suffering will be avoided or at the very least, it will force pet stores to provide accurate information and remove incorrect habitats from the shelves.
Where is SoCal is your ranch located and can the public take tours or come by for adoptions?
We are located in Chatsworth right outside Los Angeles right off the 118. It sounds super far but we are only 35 minutes from the Westside. We are open to the public and we offer adoptions, free health checks and nail clips We usually have more than 200 guinea pigs at any one time looking for forever homes, both adult and babies. We are open on Saturdays for self-guided tours to meet all the other animals we have at the ranch including pigs, horses, birds and more.
Do you have any big fundraising events for the rescue?
On Sunday 20 October we have our annual Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue Fall Festival!
We open the rescue for families, animal lovers and children of all ages. Guests are invited to bring their own guinea pigs to the event as well. The event is free and it includes: Guinea pig Adoption Services, free health checks for your guinea pig, guinea pig competitions and many more activities. We use the event to teach about guinea pigs and to raise funding for the rescue. Running a private animal rescue is very expensive. We rely mainly on donations from the public.
What are your plans to expand the rescue in the future?
It is my dream and on our road map to open a low cost teaching and community clinic for just guinea pigs. What if your vet had only been taught how to treat cats- would you want to take your dog to see that vet? So you see we have a big problem! Vets, fresh out of school where they spend an average of only 4 hours total covering the medical needs of an entire species, are let loose on your guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, snakes, turtles and actually have no business treating them until they have completed a thorough academic program for each species. People are starting to demand that their veterinarian actually has the skills and certifications to be allowed to treat their pets. That means a certification program for individual species. Currently these animals are all being filed under the blanket term of “exotics” which can lead to disastrous consequences. We have only four veterinarians in the whole of Los Angeles that we deem competent and recommend to our clients for treating guinea pigs. We are fundraising like mad to make this come to life.
SoCal is more vegan friendly than most places! We heard you are a vegan. Can you share any tips for readers thinking about committing to the vegan lifestyle?
Veganism is not a lifestyle for me, it is life, literally. We humans are the guardian protectors of those that are vulnerable and none more vulnerable and innocent than the animals. Most people talk about the physical changes a vegan diet will bring about and yes, you will feel much better when you are no longer consuming food tainted with the memory and emotions of the mistreatment, murder and torture of that animal. The day I decided to not eat meat anymore was a spiritual revelation for me. I felt like a huge weight had fallen off my back. And then as a vegan, I was able to really enjoy the companionship and interactions with animals whereas before I I didn’t feel worthy because of the guilt that surrounded me- guilt from eating those meat and dairy foods and doing so very wrong to my animal friends. So liberate yourself! It is not easy- changes will have to happen! You will have to learn new recipes, find new restaurants but as you are taking this journey, I think you will start to feel happier every day a little more. This quote has always resonated with me, “May all that have life be delivered from suffering.”
Any other fun facts about guinea pigs or your career you’d like to share with our readers?
Yes, here are a few!
Guinea pigs like to eat … a lot! I always say when they are wheeking and begging- just like a dog does but noisier- feed them. It is such a fun way to interact. They are very food motivated which is how you can teach them tricks. Anything to get that juicy piece of romaine lettuce. It’s important to point out that they do not overeat; they know when to stop. Vets will often tell owners that their guinea pig is too chunky and needs to be put on a diet. Do not ever put a guinea pig on a diet!!! I did a video on this subject that got a lot of views though my Youtube Channel and I encourage you to watch it: https://www.youtube.com/losangelesguineapigrescue
Guinea pigs on average will have 2-3 pups per litter. Yes guinea pig babies are called pups. How cute is that?
Did you know that guinea pigs do indeed get dumped near or inside dumpsters? Such a terrible monstrous thing to do and also not legal.
Their favorite foods are Romaine lettuce and dandelion. Guinea pigs need daily fruits and veggies. Their body does not make and store Vitamin C so they need to get it though their food. A lot of people do not know this and those animals are prone to scurvy. Pet stores for instance are the worst perpetrator. Their guinea pigs receive pellets and hay only. So new owners of animals bought from the stores are incorrectly advised with terrible consequences.
We use 250 lbs. of vegetables and fruit every week!