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New Brunswick woman provides a guinea pig haven

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With a lot of love and even more time and hard work, Jennifer Maybee has opened up her home to hundreds of guinea pigs who are looking for a safe place to land.

“In the four-and-a-half years that I’ve been doing it, we’ve had over 500 guinea pigs come through the door, with our highest numbers being at 103 at one time,” said Maybee, who opened For the Love of Guinea Pigs Rescue and Sanctuary in Albert County, N.B.

Her love for the little pigs started in 2012 when her daughter decided to adopt a pair from the SPCA. The idea of a rescue followed a little later, after taking in a few she found on Kijiji.

“[A] grandmother got them for her granddaughter for Easter, [the] granddaughter was never interested in them and she was scared of them and so she wouldn’t do anything,” said Maybee. “So every couple of months when her daughter would come up, she’d be the one that would change the cage and clean them. So by the time they got here, they were about four-months-old, five-months-old, and it was the saddest thing.”

For the Love of Guinea Pigs Rescue and Sanctuary is a safe place to land while they wait for rehabilitation, a forever home, or just some long-awaited attention.

A little piggy searching and begging for an extra snack on Monday. (Alana Pickrell/CTV Atlantic)

“When you take them in and they’re scared, or they’ve been neglected or they don’t know human contact… to see the change in them by the time they find a home, it’s what makes it worth it,” she said. “It’s not for me, it’s not for anyone else, it’s just to see how happy these guys can be when they’re getting the proper care.”

It started with six of her own guinea pigs, which grew to eight, then 18 -- and within the first six months, the number of pigs in her care was at 34.

“There’s always a need for rescues of any animal,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was such a large need for them until the numbers just started going and going, and it’s a daily basis I’m getting messages on Facebook or emails asking if I can take in their guinea pigs.”

Right now, the rescue is at maximum capacity and there are already several pigs on the waiting list.

“It kind of becomes a habit that once they hit around three-years-old, people are surrendering them,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s just timing or they’re just seeing that they’re getting older and they don’t want to have to go through that, but unfortunately once they hit that three, four-years-old, people don’t want to adopt older guinea pigs because their life expectancy is five to seven years.”

Maybee says most of the guinea pigs in her care are adoptable, with the exception of a few lifers that have claimed a permanent home with her. Each pig is $30 with the exception of neutered males, which can be adopted for $60.

However, she warns that they aren’t a pet for beginners. Although a small animal, they come with big requirements. A hamster cage, for example, isn’t enough space. Each pig requires a minimum of eight square feet to live in, plus a cup for fruits and vegetables each day.

A snapshot of some of the girl guinea pigs currently in Maybee’s care chowing down on some fresh lettuce. (Alana Pickrell/CTV Atlantic)

“People don’t do research,” she said. “People get dogs and cats. If they’re getting a dog, they research that breed. They know if it’s a high energy dog or if it’s a low energy dog. People know if they’re allergic to dogs or cats. People are going into pet stores and seeing these cute tiny little guinea pigs… but they don’t have the information before they buy them.”

On top of providing a safe place for the small pets, she says it’s also about awareness and showing people they aren’t a disposable animal just because they are a rodent.

“I need to be the voice for them where they can’t say what they need to say,” she said.

For those who own guinea pigs, they know firsthand how significant they can be.

“These little guys, they melt my heart,” said Sonia Wentworth, who owns two guinea pigs. “If I’m having a bad day, I come in here and they just recognize you. When they see you, they make these cute little squeaks, and when I’m cleaning their cage, they get so excited.”

Ultimately, Wentworth says, “they want to be loved.”

“They love to cuddle with you and sit with you,” she said. “They’re more than just a rodent to me, and I can’t imagine my life without these guys.”

Since its creation four years ago, the rescue has been growing steadily and Maybee says there are no plans to slow down as long as she’s able and there are pigs that need help. In fact, she has plans to expand.

“We want a building. We’re trying to move everybody out of the house and into their own space,” she said, adding that last year a building was actually purchased, but ended up not being able to be salvaged.

Throughout the year, the guinea pig rescue does hold some fundraising efforts, like two yard sales in the summer, occasional 50/50 draws and even a sponsor-a-guinea pig program.

“I try not to do too many because I don’t want people to think it’s all about money,” said Maybee. “I’m the one that wanted to do this, so it’s my responsibility. So I do what I have to, but we try and hit a couple of key point fundraisers every year.”

With the pigs taking over two rooms in her house right now, her actions do not go unnoticed.

“Jen’s got a heart of gold,” said Wentworth. “With all of the guinea pigs, the care that she puts into the guinea pigs, and they just really need that.”

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