Sable and daughters Sylvia, Sienna, Stella and Sabrina appear serene as they nose around their roomy cage filled with all the creature comforts found at Second Chance Cavy Rescue.
Food, water, soft bedding and, most important, love surround them in their temporary abode, where they are housed with about 70 other furry tenants in similar cages, all seeking a forever home.
However, these animals waiting to be adopted by a new owner are not dogs or cats. They are guinea pigs.
The nonprofit, located inside the Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Inc. building at 1354 Basse Road, derives its name “cavy” from the types of guinea pigs it shelters.
These are the South American variety — cute and cuddly, the kind well-meaning parents most commonly buy for their children as pets.
But to Diana Sandlin, founder and executive director of the rescue, there is a lot more to owning a guinea pig than a precious fuzzy face.
“Eighty percent of guinea pigs are impulse buys without any research or education, and 90 percent of the reason these animals become rescues is because they’re from pet stores with no education on how to care for them,” Sandlin said.
According to the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, buying guinea pigs from pet stores is discouraged because they are often sick and neglected.
Sandlin said animals can even be pregnant, often with the pet store or potential buyer unaware.
An animal lover since childhood, Sandlin began caring for recovered guinea pigs — also affectionately known as “pigs” or “piggies” — out of her home six years ago. The rescue grew to the point that Sandlin, a wife and the mother of two boys, had to either give it up or find another place where she could continue to pursue her passion.
The 1,000-square-foot space Sandlin has rented since February from Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation is that site – the headquarters for Second Chance Cavy Rescue. The organizations are not affiliated.
Anyone interested in adopting or learning more about guinea pigs can receive information and guidance just by dropping in, she added.
“Education is key,” Sandlin said. “I’m all about educating those who already have guinea pigs so we don’t have to re-home them.”
Sandlin accepts guinea pigs in varying conditions, from well-cared-for to those found malnourished in dumpsters. She encourages owners to adopt two pigs, as they are social animals and thrive better in pairs.
The nonprofit attracts piggy lovers from across Texas and as far as Oklahoma who want to surrender, adopt or match up guinea pigs. The rescue averages 20 adoptions a month, with more piggies coming in all the time, especially in the summer.
“Diana has found a niche that is necessary because when you see people just dumping these very social animals, they can’t just live on their own in the grass, they need to be taken care of,” said Jill Ferguson, a rescue board member who owns guinea pigs. “They’re not rats or gerbils. They’re part of the family just like dogs and cats, so there’s definitely a need for awareness.”
The adoption process can take a few hours to a few days. Sandlin reviews each application, lets people handle the pigs and interviews all potential applicants to make sure they are ready to assume the responsibility of owning a guinea pig, which has an average lifespan of five to eight years.
“Sometimes people will come in, get a lot of information and realize this is not the right pet for their family,” Sandlin said. “I am not going to give a guinea pig to just anyone.”
Once an applicant is approved, the adoption package includes a $50 fee for two guinea pigs, a water bottle, food bowl, cozy sack and a starter pack of pellets and hay. For an additional $60, the rescue also will provide a cage.
In addition, the rescue offers boarding services, trims nails and conducts exams.
“We’re not vets, but we can weigh them, check them over and give an overall analysis,” Sandlin said. However, the rescue does not medically treat any guinea pigs that aren’t theirs. They do offer referrals to veterinarians.
Sandlin also sponsors a classroom foster program for schools that allows teachers to borrow guinea pigs during the academic year and give them back to the rescue in the summer. This past school year, she implemented the Change for Change program, in which students were challenged to raise funds for their classroom piggies’ upkeep by taking home a jar and collecting change.
Students from elementary school to college seeking community-service hours are welcome to volunteer, Sandlin said, but all minors must be accompanied by an adult.
The rescue is looking for volunteers who have a passion for piggies, a positive attitude and, like volunteer and guinea pig owner Alexandra Lopez, are willing to get their hands dirty.
“It’s a lot of work. You break a sweat doing it,” Lopez said. “You just need to have time. And the great thing is, unlike with other animal shelters, you don’t have to pay to take classes to volunteer. They show you how to do it all and they genuinely want help.”
The rescue has about 10 steady volunteers who come a few times a week to clean cages, feed and tend to the piggies, and help with adoptions on Saturdays.
To donate, volunteer or for more information, visit www.secondchancecavy.com.