An overabundance of guinea pigs

Cindy Cribbs cuddles one of dozens of guinea pigs at her Rio Rancho home. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Hercules is antisocial, Lenny is terribly shy, Ferret has a face only a mother could love, Rae is addicted to Fruit Loops, and Steve’s nickname is “Stinky” for an obvious hygienic attribute.

In all, Cindy Cribbs is in possession of 66 guinea pigs, about 10 in foster care with volunteers and the rest residing in cages or open pens in the garage and one bedroom of her Rio Rancho home, which she shares. also with six dogs.

Cribbs operates the self-funded Haven for Hamsters Rescue and Sanctuary, although she currently only has one hamster, Mistletoe, a female who is about half the size of a guinea pig.

“‘Flooded’ isn’t even the word,” she said of her abundance of small rodents. She used to have a more manageable 30, but the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department salvaged way too many from a resident who had a hoarding problem and asked Cribbs to remove one. dozen or more.

And then there are the post-COVID pandemic animal separations. Once the COVID restrictions started to be lifted, people who had guinea pigs and other pets as a distraction to help them through the isolation of working from home, decided they no longer wanted to s take care of them.

“They started dumping their pets like crazy, and because I’m the only hamster and guinea pig rescuer in the entire state, I got a lot of calls,” Cribbs said.

Two guinea pigs share a carrot treat at the self-funded Haven for Hamsters Rescue and Sanctuary in Rio Rancho. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Guinea pigs typically live 6 to 8 years. While some of the animals entrusted to Cribbs are quite old or, for one reason or another, have to live out their lives at the sanctuary, the others are available for adoption. Cribbs even waives the $30 adoption fee and will throw in a free cage.

Apparently that’s not enough.

“Adoptions are now virtually non-existent,” Cribbs said. “I don’t know if it’s because people don’t want pets anymore or because the cost of keeping them has gone up. Maybe what’s happening in Europe is scaring people into not before, when we had babies, it was not a problem. People would beg us for them. Now, we cannot give them. Nobody answers, nobody wants them.

In the past, she has had good luck attracting people to adopt by giving guinea pigs names that are easy to identify.

“I named a pair Bruce Wayne and Alfred, after the Batman characters, and literally the day I put them together, they were adopted,” Cribbs said. “If you just name them Guinea Pig 1 or Guinea Pig 2, they won’t be adopted. So now I have Elsa and Anna from Disney’s “Frozen,” and Bruno and Antonio from Disney’s “Encanto.”

However, takers are rare and it is not known how long this disinterest in guinea pigs could last.

One thing she definitely won’t do is release the little furballs into the wild. For one thing, guinea pigs don’t do well where temperatures drop well below 60 degrees or rise above 80 degrees. On the other hand, “they are extremely high prey,” Cribbs said. “They are strictly vegetarian. There’s literally nothing they feed on, but everything will eat them,” including hawks, owls, coyotes, and wild dogs and cats.

Cindy Cribbs converted her Rio Rancho home’s garage to create the Haven for Hamsters Rescue and Sanctuary, a self-funded operation that currently houses 66 guinea pigs and one hamster. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Cribbs became a savior for hamsters and guinea pigs quite by accident. Around 2007, she worked as a receptionist for a child psychiatrist who, on the side, saved guinea pigs.

“One day he sent me to the east side animal shelter to get a guinea pig they were holding, and while I was there I saw they had a hamster that a pet store filed because it wasn’t selling,” Cribbs recalled. . “The volunteer at the shelter said to me, ‘Oh, someone will get it and feed it to their snake.’ I thought it was just awful so I bought it for $2 and took it home. He was the baddest fucking hamster I had ever seen.

She kept it for about a year until she died, but by then word of her efforts to save the creatures and people started delivering their pet hamsters to her.

In 2010, the guinea pig rescue operation was shut down and the founder moved to another state. Shortly thereafter, the hamster craze began to fade while interest in guinea pigs increased. Soon the number of guinea pigs Cribbs cared for exceeded that of hamsters.

There’s a lot to recommend guinea pigs as pets, Cribbs said.

“They’re cute and can be affectionate once acclimated to human touch, and they’re quite handsome,” with fur that grows in beautiful shades of black, white, brown, gray, or a combination thereof.

They can be trained to sleep and be awake on the pet owner’s schedule, and they’re compact and don’t require a lot of space, she said. A fully grown adult can weigh 1 to 3 pounds and have a body length of 8 to 10 inches, sometimes a little more.

They are also low maintenance and are content to lie in their aspen shavings bedding and eat compressed hay pellets and the occasional snack of fruits, vegetables and berries.

Because they live in cages or pens and aren’t exposed to other animals, they tend not to get diseases or need injections; and if pet owners are careful to separate males and females, they won’t need to be neutered or neutered — something vets prefer to avoid due to their small size, Cribbs said.

“Adopting a guinea fowl can also be an easy tool for children as young as 5 or 6 to learn the responsibility of caring for a pet, including feeding them and cleaning their cage,” a- she declared.

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