HOLT — It all started casually for Lisa Trubac.
She’d see guinea pigs up for adoption online with too-small cages or other signs of neglect. So the 27-year-old would take them in, administer basic medical care and re-home the healthy pigs.
It’s not like Trubac could ignore them. The Holt resident had owned guinea pigs on and off for nine years, delighting in their particular personalities and taste for dandelions.
Soon after posting about her adoptable guinea pigs on Facebook, Trubac was bombarded by owners with new allergies, impending moving dates, shrinking budgets and other quandaries leading to the same question: could she take in another guinea pig?
Now, half a year after filing as a nonprofit, Trubac’s Cozy Cavy Guinea Pig Rescue has re-homed 114 guinea pigs. Trubac schedules surrenders of unwanted pets almost every week.
“Everybody knows how to care for a cat and a dog, but when it comes to these guys, people are clueless,” Trubac said. “So many people very quickly are like, ‘this thing stinks. It’s loud, it’s expensive, it’s too much work. What do I do with it now?’ “
New “piggies,” as Trubac calls them, are dropped off at a State Farm office in Holt owned by her father, Tom, where she works full-time with her parents. A back office is the de facto center of operations, containing cages, supplies and small, squeaking rodents.
Piggies undergo a quick medical check after drop-off, when Trubac checks their teeth, feet, eyes, ears and nose. They get their nails trimmed — some for the first time in their lives, before a quick photoshoot in a setup atop the desk.
Guinea pigs are often advertised as starter pets for children. But Trubac said their low-maintenance reputation doesn’t square with the level of attention these animals need. One woman surrendered a guinea pig to the rescue explaining that her 1- and 2- year old sons were playing too roughly with the fragile animal.
“I couldn’t imagine what that delicate little animal had been through,” she said. “It’s just unfortunate that these guys are always getting the short end of the stick.”
To avoid giving her home over to the animals, Trubac runs the operation through a system of volunteer foster parents. A September Facebook call for volunteers inspired Erika Poland to sign up. She and her husband are on their second pair of foster piggies.
Poland said working with the guinea pigs has been easier than the cats and dogs she’s fostered for years, but they’re still a lot of work to care for.
“You have to work to earn their trust, because they’re prey animals,” she said. “They think everything is going to eat them, and you’re a big person looming over their cage like you’re a bird that’s going to snatch them from the sky.”
One foster parent, Gregory Daza, decided the long coat of his foster pig, Lord Reginald T. Butterball III, was too therapeutic to comb not to hang onto pet. So he kept Reginald, becoming what the shelter commonly calls “foster fails.”
Daza, who got his first guinea pig at 11 years old, has been a foster parent for Trubac’s rescue since July. He’s fostered 25 guinea pigs that have found long-term homes, including the little lord.
Gaza’s biggest piece of advice for people wanting to foster guinea pigs is to stay open-minded with the animals. Not every foster pig is cuddly or keen on being held by a new person.
“You don’t know what attention people gave the guinea pigs before,” he said. “You have to not judge your foster experience based on if you had pigs before, because each one has their own personality.”
While the call for foster parents in September was relatively successful, the stream of surrendered guinea pigs means there’s always room for more interested parties to reach out and take some piggies in.
Trubac has one word of advice for prospective foster parents from her years of hard-earned experience: The smell is not that bad. She promises.
Contact reporter Annabel Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org or (517) 449-8248. Follow her on Twitter @annabelaguiar.