Love of animals spurs sisters to rescue guinea pigs, dogs
By Emily Mullin
Published: Monday, July 14, 2008
Tired of that pet guinea pig that looked so cute in the pet store•
Two Latrobe sisters will come to the rescue.
Latrobe-based Piggie Lovers Inc. Guinea Pig Rescue will pick up the furry rodents, give them a temporary home and then set up adoptions at new homes.
Sisters Catrina and Jennifer Haase run the rescue service out of their home at 2626 Raymond Ave., where they've dedicated their entire downstairs den to the rescued guinea pigs.
The Haases take in abandoned, mistreated and unwanted guinea pigs and, more recently, dogs.
"It just sort of happened," Jennifer said of the rescue, which has been growing since the sisters started it in October 2007.
So far, Catrina, 23, and Jennifer, 20, have been able to find homes for 56 guinea pigs and 16 dogs. The sisters have traveled all over Pennsylvania and as far away as Ohio, Michigan and Virginia to rescue and relocate guinea pigs.
The women said most of their rescues are "owner surrenders," which means that an owner can no longer care for a pet. The Haases receive calls from humane societies and local pounds searching for temporary homes for animals.
Kathy Burkley, executive director of the Humane Society of Westmoreland County, said many people abandon small pets like guinea pigs after realizing the animals are more work than they can handle, especially with the upkeep of a cage.
"The appeal wears off after awhile," she said.
Unlike other pets, Burkley said, guinea pigs do not interact socially with humans like dogs and cats do.
And because the rodents reproduce so quickly, people can end up getting "more animals than they anticipate," she said.
Many guinea pigs arrive at the rescue suffering from malnutrition, balding, mite infection and other diseases. Catrina and Jennifer said that they once rescued a guinea pig that was used for lab testing and lived in a desk drawer.
The women said the hardest part of a rescue is not physical but mental.
"Sometimes it is just heartbreaking to see what condition these animals are in," Jennifer said.
The sisters use their own funds to drive to rescue sites and buy supplies, which can add up -- especially with the rising cost of gas and food.
The sisters go through about six heads of romaine lettuce a day and 50 pounds of guinea pig food pellets a week. Occasionally, they give the pigs carrots and celery as treats. They buy hay in bulk to line the guinea pigs' cages. One bale of hay costs $150 plus shipping costs and lasts for about three weeks. Catrina and Jennifer purchase and assemble cubes and coroplast cages, which are bigger than store-bought ones.
Catrina, a certified nurse, and Jennifer, a part-time student, said maintaining the rescue service can be time-consuming, but the experience is very rewarding.
"Not every day is perfect, but I think it is all worth it," Catrina said.
The women said they have always been animal lovers and grew up with a lot of pets. But it wasn't until the spring of 2007 that the sisters decided to get a guinea pig.
Jennifer said they went to a pet store and "did everything the pet store said." Within a few days, the guinea pig died. The women said they couldn't understand what they did wrong. So they began to research how to properly care for guinea pigs.
Since then, the sisters have become virtual experts on guinea pigs. They've learned what to feed them, how to trim their nails, bathe them and treat certain conditions and diseases.
"We've learned to treat a lot of problems and can do just about everything except surgical things," Jen said.
They are even in tune to the social habits of the furry pigs and have named every guinea pig they've rescued.
"We know the personalities of the pigs," Catrina said.
When a client wishes to adopt a pig or pair of pigs, the sisters make sure the pets are appropriately matched with the adopters.
Jennifer explained the adoption process as "thorough" as the sisters first require a potential adopter to fill out an extensive application online. After that, they conduct a phone interview with the applicant and finally, the adopter is introduced to the guinea pig rescue and their future pet or pets.
The women keep in contact with all of the new owners and regularly check up on their adopted animals.
To cover some costs, Piggie Lovers Inc. charges a $25 adoption fee for guinea pigs. For puppies, the fee is $95, and for older dogs, the fee is $85.
The Haases said people should consider adopting a pet before buying one at a pet store.
In the future, the sisters hope to turn their small, home-run rescue into a nonprofit organization.
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