After returning home, Hulse grabbed a box to return to the park to rescue the animals, taking one of his dogs, Wes, an Australian Shepherd. His plan was soon complicated by the discovery that it was not just four animals, but a crew of many. So enlisting another regular park volunteer, Mike Applegate, the trio took on the rescue together, with dog Wes tied and providing a third-side barrier to steer the guinea pigs toward the box and safety.
What was it like herding guinea pigs? Hulse describes a chaotic scene with groups of three to five pigs running past them near enough to grab just one each time as they sought cover going from tree to tree. Native Blackberry thorns made their rescue job painful. It took about an hour to rescue all of them, with Wes playing a vital role in helping to contain the running groups to a smaller area. Fortunately the guinea pigs did not move off into an even denser area where immediate rescue would have been impossible.
If not for their rescuers, could the plant-eating guinea pigs have survived happily in the grassy meadow where they were found? Hulse says, “Not a chance. They would not have lasted the night.” The thorns would not have been a barrier to native carnivorous small mammals, such as fox, raccoons, and skunks, and birds of prey, including hawks and owls. Nor would the guinea pigs have been prepared for the colder temperatures and lack of shelter after being dropped there. Fortunately, Hulse and Applegate are certain they corralled them before temperatures dropped.
Taken into the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, the 14 hapless adventurers are safe again. When the shelter shared their discovery on social media, hundreds of comments criticized those responsible for cruelly releasing the pigs to certain danger, and offered homes or recommended adoption by others. After a brief holding period, the pigs are scheduled to be listed for adoption this week (see https://www.petango.com/shelter_pets?shelterId=4352&speciesId=1003).
Are Guinea Pigs popular? After dogs and cats, guinea pigs are the most popular pet in many parts of the United States. They come in several short and long haired breeds, and in multiple colors. Only one-and-one-half to two-and-a-half pounds and eight-to-ten inches long, they typically live four to five years. Their small size and gentle, personable natures make them desirable pets.
In South America, where they originated, they have been domesticated for more that 5000 years. Especially in Peru, they also are a popular food item. Travelers along Peruvian highways often encounter guinea pig barbecue stands.
Hulse, who formerly kept pet rabbits, held the guinea pigs overnight waiting for the shelter to open. How did it feel to be a guinea pig cowboy? Hulse commented, “Those 28 eyes looking up at me, they grew on me that one day, but I’ll stick with dogs.”
Before you rush to adopt one, consider that they need time out of cage every day, with interaction, regular grooming, and thorough cage cleaning every week.
After purchasing or adopting this, or any pet, that turns out not to be the right fit for your family, Fairfax County residents can contact the animal shelter for help at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/animalshelter/surrenderingyourpet. There is no charge to surrender your pet.