By Elizabeth Nelson, Berkshire Humane Society
When people visit the Berkshire Humane Society (BHS), they are usually looking for a dog or cat, but the shelter provides care for small animals also looking for forever homes. Currently, BHS is caring for 16 guinea pigs – 5 of which were born a couple weeks ago – along with a rabbit. Everything from birds and fish to chinchillas and rats have found shelter and care at BHS while they wait for their new families to discover them.
The recent influx of guinea pigs (which shelter staff often refer to simply as “pigs”) are mainly surrendered by families who are experiencing a change in lifestyle. Most small animals are surrendered when their owners – often children who have grown bored or who are going off to college – no longer wish to care for them.
“People sometimes release [small animals] outside, thinking that they will know how to fend for themselves, or can handle being in the wild, which is definitely not the case at all,” said Lindsay Hermanksi, Animal Care Specialist at BHS. “People don’t always know that BHS will take them in. Of course it’s better for all animals to remain in their home for the duration of their life.”
Whether a dog, cat, or small mammal, the adoption process at BHS is thorough. The shelter’s goal is to assist people in finding the best match for their expectations and lifestyle, ensuring an adoption that will stick. (BHS always accepts its animals back if an adoption doesn’t work out.) Adoption counselors focus on education, which Lindsay feels is key.
“Guinea pigs need a lot of care, just like a dog or a cat. Daily feeding, cleaning, exercise, and annual trips to the vet are necessary. Rabbits and guinea pigs don’t need vaccines, but they should still be examined each year. Ferrets, on the other hand, have to be vaccinated annually. Also, people don’t always realize that guinea pigs can live for 8 to 10 years. Taking one into your home is a commitment, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Social by nature, guinea pigs like to be in pairs unless they have spent their entire adult life alone. They should be separated by sex or, when requested, males can be neutered. These animals produce quickly and have large litters, leading to over population. Guinea pigs sexually mature as early as four weeks. Unwanted litters can easily be avoided with responsible planning.
BHS evaluates the health of each and every critter brought to the shelter. Rabbits are spayed or neutered and microchipped. Fixing pets is extremely important, both for the health and wellbeing of the pet and to prevent breeding. Microchipping is the best way to be reunited with your pet if it becomes lost and is found. Shelters and animal control officers scan all animals.
“Spaying and neutering also gives rabbits a longer lifespan,” said Lindsay. “It’s responsible pet ownership, and this is a service that comes as part of your adoption fee. If you bought a rabbit from a feed store or pet store, you’d have to pay a vet to perform the surgery. We always encourage people to adopt, don’t shop.”
Through BHS’s “Buddy Program,” two guinea pigs can be adopted together for only $40. Single pigs are $25. A wellness exam, starter food, and hay are all provided, along with a lifetime of advice and support from shelter staff.
“Guinea pigs are great pets, and they can go home with other animals too. I have two dogs and they hang out with my pig all the time. I advise people to put them in a social area of the house where they can see people. They thrive on supervised play and exercise every day – just like any other pet.”
Lindsay often brings the small animals to Albany for an appearance on Steve Caporizzo’s Pet Connection, or she arranges to have them featured on the radio, which is another opportunity to educate people about the joys and responsibilities of small pet ownership.
“It’s amazing how many people come into the shelter and say, ‘I didn’t know you had these animals.’ It’s nice that we have outlets like the radio and Pet Connection, so maybe people won’t go to the pet store to find a guinea pig or rabbit. Come to the shelter first. See what we have.”
Interested in adopting?
Learn more about our available guinea pigs and all small animals online. Drop by the shelter and meet them in person! Staff will introduce you and answer questions. BerkshireHumane.org/Adopt/Critters/
Other ways to help:
Berkshire Humane Society is always in need of new rabbit and small animal cages, apple tree branches, small animal toys, and fresh fruits and veggies. If you’d like to make a donation, please call and speak to Lindsay Hermanski at (413) 447-7878.
SO MUCH JOY
By Lindsay Hermanski
Edited by Elizabeth Nelson
My first pet was a small animal. I adopted Spider Pig, a 6-month-old guinea pig. He too was a surrender due to college kids getting him and not wanting to keep him after school was out. I’d never had a “real” pet growing up. Spid was my first pet and my first true love at the age of 19. Even though I was older, he taught me so much about taking care of an animal and how much responsibility it truly is.
That’s what I want to teach families when they come in looking for small animals to join their household – or to at least have the chance to open their eyes to how amazing little creatures are. I want to show them how smart they are and how loving they can be. There is so much joy having that responsibility and taking care of another life, and when you’re young, growing up with that animal.
I’m just very passionate about these small animals, and I was very excited when I was promoted to overseeing the small animal room at BHS. These little guys have taught me so much – they communicate with each other and with people, and they each have personalities and likes and dislikes. It’s so rewarding to share this with people when they visit the shelter. And it’s not just kids. I get a lot of families – with and without children – wanting to adopt. There are many adults who love small animals and want to add one to their little four-legged family!
Guinea Pig Facts
- Guinea pigs can be very active animals. They prefer to play during the day, and rest at night. Daily exercise, socialization, and enrichment for your guinea pig is key to his or her wellbeing.
- They are actually very clean! Guinea pigs love to groom themselves. Help out by keeping their cage clean and providing fresh hay, bedding, and water, and you’ll have a clean and happy pig.
- The lifespan of a guinea pig can range from 4 to 7+ years. Many live longer when they are well cared for.
- Guinea pigs are herbivores and eat mostly grass and hay. They love fresh veggies!
- Their teeth continue to grow throughout their life, so it’s important to give them food and toys they can chew on.
- Lindsay’s Favorite Fact: Baby guinea pigs are called pups, and they are born with their eyes open and their bodies completely covered in fur. Within hours of being born, they can run around and eat hay and food pellets.