Thank you to Jackie Smith-Burns of The Warren House Rabbit Sanctuary and Guinea Pig Rescue for her article and permission to reprint

So you want a guinea pig, and you want to get one from a rescuer or a shelter. What should you expect? Why do they ask the questions they ask? Why do they charge adoption fees and not just give them away for free? Why do they not allow me to breed my guinea pig?

Put yourself in the place of a rescuer or a shelter. Rescuers see hundreds of guinea pigs a year locally, and know of possibly thousands, that are abandoned or relinquished to shelters and other rescue organizations each year. Most are killed because of the lack of homes for them. There are few that are lucky enough to reach a halfway house like a rescue group. Rescuers see the condition many of these arrive in; some are healthy and have been well loved, but most are neglected either physically or mentally, having been purchased from a pet store or a breeder as a baby. After a few months the owners get tired of caring for them, and they end up in a cage (or fish tank) until the owners decide that it's time to "find them a new home." Most of these are either shuffled from place to place, turned loose outdoors to fend for themselves, or at a shelter where they are killed. Many of the females are pregnant with unwanted litters.

Rescuers want to end this cycle. We question you to make you sure you want this guinea pig, that you will care for it properly (including veterinary care if it gets sick), and that you will not abandon it one more time when you get bored or tired of it. When it is a teenager who wants to adopt, we want to know what will happen when they go to school or move out of their parent's home. We have a lot of older guinea pigs from this situation...dorms will not allow pets, and a lot of apartments will not, either. It is very hard to place a 3 year old or older guinea pig; they end up staying with the rescuer until they die, which means another guinea pig cannot be saved because there is no space for it. Unlike pet stores or breeders, we want to be sure a guinea pig is the pet for you, and that you truly understand the responsibility of adopting one.

Why don't they let me breed? There is a huge overpopulation of unwanted guinea pigs out there; and by breeding and not taking in from a shelter you are just contributing to the deaths of more unwanted guinea pigs. Breeding is serious and not to be taken lightly. Ethical breeders (and they are few and far between) will tell you that you have to be willing to find the babies good homes (where they will not be bred themselves), be willing to keep the babies if you can't, and take back the ones that you have bred if the owners can't keep them. Selling babies to pet shops to be resold to whoever comes along is not responsible breeding; people who buy from a pet shop usually buy impulsively, then start the abandonment cycle a few months later. You become part of the breeder problem. Rescuers and shelters want to stop this irresponsible breeding cycle, so no animal (no matter what kind) from a shelter or rescuer can be bred.

The fees charged for adoptions are for several reasons. One is to help screen people from getting a free guinea pig on the spur-of-the-moment, and then regret it later. Another is to help shelters and rescuers cover care and veterinary expenses for the rescues. A third is to prevent guinea pigs from becoming reptile dinner...many reptile owners will take free guinea pigs to feed their snakes, tegus, etc. We also want to be sure you can afford a guinea pig; if you can't afford the adoption fee, then most likely you can't afford for food, veterinary care, etc. for the long term.

So when you go to adopt a guinea pig from a shelter or rescuer, and are asked questions about where you work (to be sure you are financially able to care for a guinea pig) or if you have other pets and if they are spayed/neutered (to be sure the guinea pig is safe, and you are not being irresponsible by letting other animals have litters) or who is your vet (so we know they will get care), or what are your future plans (so we don't get them back in 6 months) are too personal, then put yourself in our shoes. We are asking you a lot of questions because we are very attached to our rescues, and very serious about finding them good, permanent homes. We want to be sure you know what you are getting into when you adopt. And ultimately, we want our guinea pigs to be wanted, well-loved, and well-cared-for, wherever they go.

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