2015-02-27 / Front Page

Plethora of pigs populate pet shelter

Animal Welfare Society takes in 73 guinea pigs
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Posing with some of the 73 guinea pigs taken in by the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk last week are, from left, Development Associate Stephanie Kelley, Animal Care Manager Karen Robinson, and Director of Shelter Operations Bobbi Adkins. By Feb. 20, AWS had placed all but 35 of the animals with the rest still available for adoption. 
(Duke Harrington photo) Posing with some of the 73 guinea pigs taken in by the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk last week are, from left, Development Associate Stephanie Kelley, Animal Care Manager Karen Robinson, and Director of Shelter Operations Bobbi Adkins. By Feb. 20, AWS had placed all but 35 of the animals with the rest still available for adoption. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — You’ve heard the phrase, “they multiply like rabbits,” but for workers at Kennebunk’s Animal Welfare Society (AWS), the population bomb that dropped on them last week came in the form of guinea pigs — 73 in all, and some of them pregnant.

According to Bobbi Adkins, director of shelter operations at AWS, the fuse was lit about a year ago when a Houlton man bought five guinea pigs at a pet store in his area.

“The story is he felt badly for them, so he bought all five,” Adkins explained on Friday, Dec. 20, while sorting though the sudden influx.


The Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk got an influx of 73 guinea pigs from an overwhelmed pet owner last week. With some of the animals pregnant, that number was expected to grow, but by Friday, Feb. 20, the shelter was down to 35 after distributing some to other area agencies. Some of the remaining guinea pigs went for adoption early this week, with the majority set to be available to the public starting March 1, which, by coincidence, kicks of National Adopt-ARescue Guinea Pig Month. 
(Duke Harrington photo) The Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk got an influx of 73 guinea pigs from an overwhelmed pet owner last week. With some of the animals pregnant, that number was expected to grow, but by Friday, Feb. 20, the shelter was down to 35 after distributing some to other area agencies. Some of the remaining guinea pigs went for adoption early this week, with the majority set to be available to the public starting March 1, which, by coincidence, kicks of National Adopt-ARescue Guinea Pig Month. (Duke Harrington photo) “We don’t know if they were advertised as all same-sex,” she said, “but we know he couldn’t tell the difference and, so, put them all in the same cages, and those five quickly became 73.”

The buyer, who state animal welfare officials have declined to identify, did the best he could. But eventually, like Captain Kirk standing waist-deep in Tribbles, he was forced to admit he’d met his match. He called the Maine Animal Welfare Program, which put out the call for caretakers.

Many of the state’s larger shelters were full-up, however. In fact, one — the Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston — was laboring under a similar problem. It recently took in a warren of rabbits surrendered to the state. The 75 critters delivered on its doorstep soon turned into more than 120, proving, it would seem, that rabbits also multiply like rabbits.

“So, with the other larger shelters full, the state hit us up,” Adkins said. “Since we didn’t have a large population of any other small animals, we said sure, because they had nowhere else to go.”

Founded in the early 1960s and formally incorporated in 1967, AWS would seem uniquely suited to getting over the guinea hump. From its 13,000-square-foot facility at the end of Holland Road in West Kennebunk, it serves 21 neighboring communities on an annual budget of $1.6 million. Thanks in part to a dedicated staff of 35, augmented by more than 200 volunteers, AWS annually finds homes for 96 percent of its charges, to the tune of more than 3,000 animals per year.

The guinea pigs, however, were a challenge, Adkins admits.

“It was a bit of an overwhelming experience,” she said. “They came to us in plastic cat carriers — I don’t even know how many to a cage. They just stuffed them in, put them in a van and sent them down here as soon as they could.

“But, overall, every one of them has been in pretty good health, so the owner definitely reached out for help at just the right time for these little guys,” Adkins said.

The first job was to separate the boys from the girls, which AWS workers were able to do easy enough. But the harder job, said AWS Development Associate Stephanie Kelley, was determining which of the girl guinea pigs might be expecting.

“There’s no real way to know for certain if they’re pregnant until they give birth,” Kelley said. “The gestation period is 73 days, so we have five that we’ve separated out and will keep isolated for that long, because we’d never adopt out a pregnant animal, but any of them could give birth tomorrow. There’s just no way to know.”

The remainder of the lot range in age from the original five, which are at least one year old, to a few that came in having been born less than a month ago.

“Some of these guys should still be with mom, but the way they came in, we don’t know who mom is,” said Adkins.

Some of the runts had to be brought up to weight, having failed in the free-for-all competition for resources that was their former home. But after just a few day’s care, AWS began packaging up the pigs for distribution to other shelters.

“We want to spread them around and get them in the locations where they have the best chance of being adopted,” said Adkins. “Between us and our partners, we expect to find homes for every single one of them.”

By Feb. 20, just a few days after taking in the original herd of 73, AWS already was down to 35 guinea pigs. Still a giant leap form the 2-3 it usually has up for adoption, but more manageable.

Part of the easy placement was strong media attention to a press release issued by AWS early in the morning on Feb. 19.

Within hours the story was spreading across social media, bringing offers of help and an influx of donations.

“The outpouring of support was just tremendous,” said Adkins. “One person brought us a 50-pound bag of carrots. I didn’t even know they packaged carrots in that size.”

“Some of our supporters, they were like, ‘Hey, can you help?’ So, we did,” said Kimberly Jackson, director of operations at Falmouth-based Mainely Rat Rescue.

On Friday, Jackson took seven of the guinea pigs for placement though her group to homes as far away as New York and Connecticut. She also took another seven to the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook, where she works.

Over the weekend, 15 of the older males were up for adoption. All were gone by Monday, Kelley said.

According to AWS Animal Care Manager Karen Robinson, guinea pigs can live for 8-10 years, reaching a maximum healthy weight of just under 2 pounds.

They make good pets, she said, especially for apartment dwellers, who might not be allowed a dog or a cat, and for young children, just learning to care for an animal.

“They’re a really nice, gentle-natured animal,” said Robinson.

“They’re really low maintenance,” agreed Adkins. “They don’t have too much of an odor and they’re relatively quiet, while still being very social and gregarious.”

Guinea pigs being so lovable may help explain why so many people came forward so quickly to help AWS. Of course, as often happens, good intentions sometimes go for naught.

While many people stepped up to aid the plight of the pigs, donations of iceberg lettuce, for example, were of no use, having next to no nutritional value for the little creatures.

Instead, AWS is asking for fresh greens, such as carrot tops, mustard greens and kale, as well as citrus fruits high in Vitamin C, which is essential to a guinea pig’s diet. But even better than donations of actual items, Kelley says, would be grocery store gift cards. That allows AWS to get exactly what it needs while also managing its inventory. After all, she noted, some of the recent food donations will go to waste faster than the guinea pigs, hungry as they are, can eat them.

The Animal Welfare Society also is seeking financial contributions — which are tax-deductible, thanks to its 501c status — to help offset the costs of feeding, sheltering and providing veterinary care to those guinea pigs that remain, as well as those certain to be born within the next few weeks.

Pellet food and supplies, such as cages, toys, water bottles and food dishes, are also needed and can be donated in person or via the shelter’s Amazon Wish List.

“We’ve had a tremendous out-showing of support,” Kelley said, “but because we’re going to have some of these animals for a while, we need to keep that momentum going.”

AWS is open for adoptions and visits from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Wednesday. The adoption fee for the guinea pigs, which do not require any additional shots, is $25, or $40 for a pair.

The shelter plans to have another batch of guinea pigs ready for adoption March 1, Kelley said, noting that March, coincidentally enough, just happens to be National Adopt-ARescue Guinea Pig Month.

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