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March 31, 2010

Head Over Heels for Guinea Pigs

For Shevaun Brannigan, caring for the fluffy critters is a calling

Part of an online series profiling staff and friends who volunteer "Off Duty"

  • Shevaun suggests a wide variety of enrichment activities for your piggies. All images by Shevaun Brannigan. (See more images by clicking the arrows.)

  • It all started here, with Peaches.

  • Peaches' life story could be called "From Zombie Creature to Cover Girl."

  • Sophie (inside the scarf) on an outing with Shevaun.

  • Peaches enjoying the comforts of home.

  • Though normally a "fighter pig," Brindy (right) heeded Moshe's call for a truce.

  • Guinea pig nation. Shevaun Brannigan/The HSUS

Shevaun Brannigan is a testament to "the power of one:" She fosters, volunteers with a rescue group, and raises funds for special needs guinea pigs on her website, Sponsor a Guinea Pig.

Update May, 2011:  This month, Shevaun dedicated all fundraising on her website to a frequent contributer and guinea pig lover, Marsha Weaver, after Marsha's Alabama home was destroyed by a tornado and many of her pets were killed or injured. In just six days, Shevaun raised over $11,000—and that number is still growing. To see how you can help, visit Sponsor a Guinea Pig.

Editor-at-large Mike Satchell spoke with Shevaun in March 2010 about her special calling for these pint-sized "piggies."

MS:  Why guinea pigs?

SB: It began almost three years ago with Peaches. My boyfriend and I wanted a pet, but he is allergic to dogs and cats. So, we took in an adult foster animal from Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue (MGPR). She weighed less than a pound, was too weak to stand, and had an abscessed eye straight out of a zombie movie. Before arriving at MGPR, she had been kept outside in a hutch and was obviously poorly fed.

We made a vet appointment for the next day, afraid she was so sick she would have to be euthanized. Instead, we were told to hand feed her a sort of protein shake for piggies every hour and she was put on a plethora of medications.

(Editor's Note: There are many healthy guinea pigs available for foster and adoption.)

MS: How did she do?

SB: Peaches pulled through and became an absolutely beautiful guinea pig! She was given free range in our apartment—and having gotten used to her hourly diet, would wheek loudly at 3 a.m. for us to feed her. She was so loveable, we didn’t mind. After all we had gone through together, we had to adopt her. With her wonderful personality we couldn’t bear to part with her.

MS: So, you were hooked on guinea pigs.

SB: Totally. They are so special and compatible with our lives. Since then, we’ve fostered about 30, and two have become permanent residents with us.

One is Moshe, a tough old man with a bad case of bumblefoot caused by living on wire floors. The other is Brindy, a fighter pig who attacked everyone we tried her with, except Moshe. As she is spayed, the two can live together in surprising peace.

MS: What kind of care do guinea pigs need?

SB: They require much more space than people generally think. Our apartment is filled with C&C cages. (Editor’s Note: Cubes and coroplast (C&C) cages include ramps and multiple stories to allow guinea pigs space to exercise and explore.) These provide plenty of exercise room for the piggies, but when they are let out for their daily floor time, they still jump around wildly with excitement—we call it "popcorning."

They require a constant supply of hay and daily veggies. A great place to learn about guinea pigs is GuineaLynx (a medical and care guide) or The HSUS website. Presently we’re caring for ten pigs—five of our own and five fosters.

MS: Does MGPR operate like a typical animal rescue?

SB: It does. It’s become a great resource for us. Volunteering with a rescue means plenty of new friends, and a chance to care for one of nature’s most adorable and defenseless animals.

One of the greatest things about MGPR is that they spay and neuter all of their animals, health permitting. Some of our guinea pigs have been found in dumpsters, others have been kept by hoarders, and two even came from an HSUS puppy mill bust. One, Epperson, has found his forever home. Puppy, the second piggy, recently passed from cancer, though he was lucky enough to experience the great care of his foster mom until the very end.

MS: You started your own guinea pig charity. Why?

SB: Volunteering for a rescue, I began to learn the toll that special needs guinea pigs can take on limited funds. Because these guinea pigs typically aren’t adopted out, they take up space for adoptable piggies while sometimes costing the rescue thousands of dollars.

That’s why I started Sponsor a Guinea Pig, a website devoted to funding rescues in the U.S. and the U.K. that care for special needs guinea pigs.

Each month I feature a different rescue’s animal. So far, we’ve raised almost seven thousand dollars! Our slogan is “Sponsor a Guinea Pig, Where a Dollar Makes a Difference.” In this tough economy, we focus on small donations for our small animals.

MS: What happened to Peaches?

SB: She passed in late 2009, but she remains the poster-piggy for Sponsor a Guinea Pig. She will always symbolize my entry into rescue, which in turn led me to The HSUS and its membership department.

I’m never happier than when I’m helping animals, and I couldn’t be luckier to have made that passion into a career.  

Visit Sponsor a Guinea Pig and learn more about caring for Guinea Pigs on humanesociety.org» 

View more "Off Duty" volunteer profiles.

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