One Person Can Do So Much

Ayr’s Guinea Pig Rescue and Rehoming Centre
Gail McPartland

Have you ever thought about helping out in an animal rescue centre but feel that you can’t? Perhaps it’s your health that’s holding you back, or maybe you feel you’re too young or too old and wouldn’t be able to do much. Or perhaps you feel you don’t have the time? Some of these applied to me.

When I visited Ayr’s Guinea Pig Rescue and Rehoming Centre, I was in awe at the work of the volunteers and how they managed to take care of over a hundred abandoned guinea pigs. I was desperate to help in some small way but didn’t know how.

I was taken on a tour of the hutches and greeted by the delightful squeaks as the guineas rushed up to the fencing, no doubt in the hope I had brought some treats. Some of them lay basking in the warm sun as though fast asleep and dreaming of a loving home. The pleasant animal smells reminded me of my own guineas who brought much warmth to my life. It was sheer pleasure when they wrapped themselves around my neck demonstrating how secure and loved they felt. If only people knew the love and joy these tiny creatures could bring to their lives.

The shelter guineas need love. Volunteers are limited on how much time they can spend with each pig. Kirsteen, who runs the shelter, explained their workload and how volunteers clean the hutches, feed the guinea pigs, fill their drinking bottles and sweep the floors. They even take the animal bedding home
to wash. On top of that, they need to complete the necessary paperwork for the guineas who have been surrendered to the shelter and for those who have been lucky enough to be re-homed. They carry out inspections on arrival and perform daily checks on every guinea in the rescue centre to ensure there is no cause for concern on their health. For those who need veterinary care, it’s Kirsteen or the volunteers who take them to the vet and it’s the shelter who foots the bill.

I asked where the guinea pigs come from.

“Some people hand them in because of health reasons and are no longer able to care for them, or sometimes it’s because their owners are moving abroad,” Kirsteen said. “In some really sad cases, they have been left on our doorstep, and a couple were even found dumped in their cage in the countryside. It was a mad rush to drive up there and grab them when we got the call.”

Varying sad stories lay behind each guinea. My little favourite, Casper, was born deaf and blind, yet is still managing to soldier on.

Some of the sows had their own sad story, too young to be mothers yet put on pregnancy watch after being housed with a boar. “Tiny baby guineas are frequently born in the rescue centre,” Kirsteen said.

But no matter how the animals had arrived, I could see they were all being cared for and accommodated in large hutches or custom-built living areas which were painted with bright and cheery colours.

I asked Kirsteen who did the joinery and painting.

“We do,” she said. “Me and some of the volunteers.”

She went on to explain how they raised funds to keep the place functioning.

“We rely on donations from our Facebook page where we regularly post pictures of our rescues, and our shop provides a small income.”

I had a wander through the shop. Although it sells pet supplies, there are all sorts of miscellaneous items on sale such as stuffed toys, jewellery and cards, many of which have been made by the volunteers. Even signed copies of books from local authors have been donated to sell and help raise funds for the shelter.

The shelter was clearly an amazing place and the work of the volunteers was remarkable. What a contribution to the world! There had to be some small way I could help.

I began by buying bags of fruit and vegetables and chopping them up into small chunks. What a delight to be greeted by over a hundred squeaking cavies when I entered their living area. The munching sounds as they devoured their precious food was simply divine.

But what else could I do? Many of the guineas hadn’t been handled much and could be quite timid and too frightened to re-home. Since the existing volunteers didn’t have much time for handling them, this was an ideal opportunity for me to get involved. I took a few out, one at a time, wrapped them securely in a blanket and sat and nursed them. I stroked their fur and talked to them with a calming tone. It’s amazing how quickly they responded and how it helped prepare them for their new home. I couldn’t get round all of them in the shelter, but each time I went in, I tried to select a variety to cuddle.

Feeding and cuddling became my main duties in the rescue centre, until the winter came when another opportunity arose for me to help. The shelter was so cold and there was an urgent need to raise funds to heat the place as well as feed the animals. Kirsteen decided to organise an open day where visitors could come in for a fun-filled tour and hopefully make a donation. There was a raffle which the volunteers contributed to. I decided I would go out knocking on shop doors asking for vouchers to be donated as prizes. And there was a pet cuddling area, which of course, was my main contribution.

A small room was set up with a purpose-built guinea play area where a few roamed and munched on treats. Blankets draped the walls and soothing ocean waves played in the background. Groups of people visited and occupied the room in small numbers. Children and adults alike cuddled the small animals. A visible calm was present in the room as no doubt oxytocin, the delicious love hormone, was being released from both humans and animals through the continuous stroking on the little cavies. And as each visitor left, they made a considerable donation.

The open day was a success, enough money was raised to pay the heating bills, allowing Kirsteen to breathe a sigh of relief for another winter.

There is so much work involved in the shelter and although it may be only a small contribution I make, it’s still appreciated. And when I get home, I feel good knowing that I have made a difference to the lives of these abandoned guinea pigs.

Do you think you could donate a small amount of your time, or maybe donate some food? Perhaps you have some goods that could be sold in the shop, or items for the raffle at the next open day? Or, if you’re thinking of buying a pet, why not rescue those in desperate need of a home from Ayr’s Guinea Pig Rescue and Rehoming Centre?

One person really can do so much.