Next time you visit your local pet store, think about how they get there…or better yet, why they are there. Many chains and local shops sell animals that come from huge breeding facilities, just like puppy mills. We have heard and seen horror stories about neglected animals, in which case where many animals that are purchases are already sick. Unfortunately, the world is not kind and people are extremely insensitive when it comes to nurturing and raising animals who only want to be loved and cared for. There’s an animal out there for all of us and we each have our own “spirit animal.” One animal in particular would have many people cringing and turning away almost immediately—the guinea pig.
But, there’s more to the critter than meets the eye, at least according to the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue in Chatsworth and a number of public figures including musician Pink, who recently adopted ‘Mama Marshmallow’ and ‘Sweet Marshmallow’ from the Rescue into her home, as she tweeted her excitement.
Other celebrities who have endorsed the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue include, but aren’t limited to Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts, who brought their kids to the festival, David Arquette brought his younger son, and Jane Kaczmarek from Malcolm in the Middle recently adopted, along with a visit from Ian Zierig and his family.
With over 30,000 YouTube subscribers to its channel, the non-profit is one of the largest guinea pig rescues in the world, and its returning for its annual debut this Sunday October 20 for its Fall Festival at the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue’s Chatsworth headquarters.
According to a recent interview with NBC4, if you’re a pal to all things porcins, then this is the festival for you, and we agree. Perhaps it’s time to get “piggy with it,” and see it in all of its fun shapes, sizes, and furry coats.
But how does a festival like this come about?
Grit Daily spoke with its founder, Saskia Chiesa, CEO and Founder of Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue. Born and raised in Holland, Chiesa moved to Milan at just seventeen years old to pursue what became a very successful modeling career. And this career is what brought her to the U.S. to eventually start what is now known as the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue.
One of the major lessons she shared with us over the years is actually understanding what it means to be a “boss”:
“I always feel that I need to work harder and longer than everyone else. It took me quite a long time to learn that this actually isn’t the case. What you need to understand that it’s okay to take a vacation and not feel guilty about it, or to live a life without killing yourself over work.”
But don’t get Chiesa wrong, that doesn’t mean that she takes vacations just to take them. Despite her success as a model and TV & Film opportunities, she was living in the U.S. as a single mother, with little money in the bank and no long-term career. Chiesa told us that she’s always been an animal lover and support of rescues, and that only grew more emphatically when she met her first guinea pig here in the U.S.
“As you would say here in the U.S., it was love at first sight,” she shared with us. Upon this realization, she soon discovered that this little critter has very little support in the rescue community, which led to her founding of the Rescue which has its own line of guinea pig accessories created by Chiesa called ‘Piggies Choice.’
With over 30,000 YouTube subscribers, the non-profit has become one of the biggest guinea pig rescues in the nation, and Chiesa attributes that to being in a huge city like Los Angeles.
“It was a gradual growth over the years,” Chiesa said, “but over the past few years, I have seen a tremendous increase in interest from the public, which in turn resulted in increased adoptions and that allows us to take in more animals that need us.”
Launching the YouTube channel over a year and a half ago, Chiesa immediately saw it gain traction.
“I think this was in part because there were really no videos being made by a knowledgeable source about the proper care of guinea pigs,” she explained. “There are lots of videos out there about cute guinea pigs, but very little information about to properly care for them, so I think this filled a niche.”
Grit Daily: So, we have to ask, why out of all animals, guinea pigs in particular?
Saskia Chiesa: Why not? Ha! Most people when they ask me that question are asking because they can’t quite get their heads around it. I mean guinea pigs are not very sexy. We rescue thoroughbred horses as well, and those are of course super sexy—everyone is impressed and in awe of those magnificent equine creatures…but guinea pigs, not so much.
GD: Based off your experience caring and nurturing for them, what do you think most people need to know about these animals, that they don’t already?
SC: Guinea pigs can purr and vibrate their body when they are being pet. It is usually the very tame pigs that will do that. Guinea pigs have very distinct personalities just like dogs and cats. There are over 15 types. They are sensitive, social, and they do best living with a fellow guinea pig.
GD: What would you say has been the biggest challenge(s) in fundraising that you currently face?
SC: Good question. Running a private animal rescue is very expensive. Our total spend was around $254,000 last year and we depend entirely on donations. Sadly, for us most people focus on dogs and cat causes and not much thought is given to the small animals like guinea pigs. There are very few grant opportunities for us, not like there are for the dog and cat rescues.
GD: Based in Los Angeles, you mentioned that you have had some pretty encouraging support from celebrities and public figures?
SC: Yes, we do! As you may know, Pink (P!nk) and her family recently adopted two guinea pigs from us, along with visits from Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts, whom were both here with their kids, David Arquette and his younger son, along with Malcolm in the Middle’s Jane Kaczmarek. There are a few more but we were asked to keep mum about those!
GD: You told us that you believe your destiny in creating this was in the “blueprint at your birth”—explain.
SC: Guinea pigs are underrepresented; an underdog! They get the short end of the stick every time. When I lived in London in the early 90s, I met a man in the underground (train station.) He had a basket of guinea pigs with him. I couldn’t believe it! Already at that time, I was a huge guinea pig lover and so I was very intrigued by this man and his basket. We became friends, it turned out that his name was Peter Gurney. He was a legend in his time who wrote books on proper guinea pig care and was their advocate. I believe there is no coincidence here. What are the odds that I would just randomly meet the man whose life work I would be continuing? I think Peter had a lot to do with giving me the confidence in dealing with the animals and the encouragement I needed to start my own rescue twenty years ago when I left London and came to Los Angeles.
GD: What advice do you have for those individuals wanting to help rescue and/or purchase a guinea pig?
SC: I encourage everyone to not buy guinea pigs from a pet store but adopt from a rescue. A lot of the guinea pigs that are being sold in stores come from huge breeding facilities just like puppy mills. Many of those animals are sick when purchased. We have heard and seen horror stories about sick and dying babies. We have also have seen way too many guinea pigs fresh from the pet store come through our door with horrible upper respiratory infections, ringworm, lice and mite infections. One other fun fact- guinea pigs come in a large variety of breeds and hair styles!
For those attending Sunday’s Los Angeles Guinea Pig Fall Festival, the rescue is open to all families, animal lovers, and children of all ages. Guests are invited to bring their own guinea pigs to the event as well.
Open each year around the same time, the Festival offers a variety of food, ranging from healthy organic, vegan selections, to cotton candy and candy apples, just in time for the fall season.
Fun competitions like Best Pooper and Fastest Easter for the pets are also held, so get ready to make some bets!
There will also be guided ranch tours to say hi to all the other animals—including the rescue’s horses, chickens, turkeys, mule, hogs, and Betty the Potbelly Pig!
The Festival will run from 10am to 4pm.
But hey, at the end of the day, saving an animal’s life can do more than just save you taxes, it just makes you a better person!