Network comes to rescue of ‘disposable pets’

For volunteer Marilyn Murray, taking her work home with her one night could not have had a better outcome.

“He came to us, another one from Hamilton that was left out in the field,” Murray said. “We fell in love with him, and he is now mine.”

For almost two years now, Murray has been volunteering her time and her East York home to rescue and rehabilitate guinea pigs from across the Toronto area. She and her fellow rescuers are linked via the Internet. Volunteers offer their own homes to animals in need.

Murray says the rehabilitation process is an involved one.

“Once they walk in our door, it’s non-stop until they’re adopted,” Murray said. “They live in our home until we can find them a proper, safe home.”

Murray says the public’s lack of knowledge is among the principal reasons for guinea pigs ending up in shelters — or worse.

“People seem to think they are disposable pets,” Murray said. “They are high-maintenance pets. They need daily care, which costs money and a lot of time. These are not animals that you stick in a cage and forget about.”

The founder and director of the rescue network, Sarah Levett-Fuller, agreed that owner ignorance about the animals is a problem.

“They get the animals from the pet stores and then they realize (they) have no idea how to care for the animal,” Levett-Fuller said.

Levett-Fuller began the work in March, 2006, after working with Rabbit Rescue Inc., a registered charity that finds homes for domesticated rabbits in need. She said it was here that she learned about the widespread problem of guinea pigs abandoned to animal shelters.

“Through them, I started learning how many guinea pigs are actually in shelters, which were a lot more than I knew of,” Levett-Fuller said. “I realized there was a need for a guinea pig-specific rescue.”

Levett-Fuller says the public’s lack of knowledge also extends to what becomes of many abandoned or abused guinea pigs.

“Most people don’t even realize that they are in shelters at all,” she said. And the outcome for such overlooked animals is not often a positive one.

“They do get euthanized quite frequently because there’s no exposure,” said Levett-Fuller. “People don’t know they’re in shelters, so they don’t get adopted.”
While there are plans to become a not-for-profit corporation, the rescue network currently operates entirely on donations, adoptions and contributions from the volunteers themselves. Murray says her involvement is a labour of love.

“Knowing that we’ve made a difference in saving (a) pig’s life; that’s the reward,” she said.

More information on the network and its supporters can be found on its website,