Planet Gorgeous: Rescue and Fostering- one and the same?

Rescue is the place where the guineas first land from wherever and are assessed by the head honcho, who then decides what each guinea needs.  If the rescue has a foster-carer, they need to decide what criteria they use to decide which guineas they keep and which go to be fostered.  Also, what “rules and regulations” need to be adhered to by the fosterer, and regular communication to minimise problems.

1. What did you expect to get from fostering?

To try and help Karen when she was overflowing with guineas, and doing whatever was required to get the guineas ready for adoption.  I liked Karen’s attitude towards her guineas and the way that she cared for them.  It is really important to be able to work with someone that you trust, and who trusts you and that you share the same values and expectations around guinea pig welfare and rehoming.  Otherwise it would be very easy to fall out and that wouldn’t help the guinea pigs to find Forever Homes.

2. Was it like you expected?

I don’t remember having any real expectations about fostering, apart from wanting to help Karen when she was full to bursting after taking in 15 badly fungal guineas when I had a spare cage.

3. Do you view it as a step towards becoming a “full blown” rescue or is fostering completely different?

Running a rescue has never been on my list of priorities, but helping out in different ways was a useful way of getting more experience with all sorts of guinea pig challenges.  Having a spare cage was a good way to start and to keep the numbers manageable.  If you did have an ambition to start your own rescue, helping out at a local rescue would be a good way to dip your toe in the water.  Running a rescue would be too time consuming for me, along with the worry about where the money was going to come from to pay for all the food / bedding / Vet bills.  Fundraising is time consuming and given that you have a legal obligation to get Veterinary treatment for your guinea if it needs it, it can be a huge cost.  The current cost of a consultation at our local Vets is around £27, add some drugs and you don’t get much change from £40.  Castrations are around £50 each, and so it goes on.  This is not a responsibility that I would want to take on.  My real area of interest is guinea pig skincare, and by making the Gorgeous Guineas range of products I can help thousands of guineas all over the world, as well as being able to help my own local rescue on a very small scale.

4. How did you view your responsibilities towards the guineas, their care and eventual rehoming?

Any guineas that I foster are treated as if they are my own, apart from Veterinary care, which is paid for by the local RSPCA branch.  This is always arranged via Karen as she needs to know why each guinea is going to the Vet in order to provide a Log Number, so the invoicing can be done correctly.  Apart from that, I provide all their food, bedding, cuddles, bathing, general healthcare, transport the vets etc.  Karen gets regular progress reports about any guineas that I look after, and it is ultimately her decision what happens to each guinea.  Some go to their new homes directly from me; others go back to her to be introduced to new friends, depending on the circumstances.  She is always willing to listen to feedback / suggestions to ensure that the guineas get the best chance of finding the right Forever Home.  Having someone that you can bounce ideas off of and share experiences is a real necessity when doing rescue and rehoming.

5. Are foster homes always a vital part of rehoming guinea pigs?

I have had lots of requests from people wishing to foster. However, apart from Chrissie, only one has been able to provide what I needed in order to be of any real help. They were unable to continue though as despite me informing them that it might be a long term (as in 6 months to a year) commitment they had expected the guineas to be rehomed within weeks. I was also a little disappointed with the lack of communication. I have learnt a valuable lesson about choosing fosterers, it takes more than a spare hutch and some goodwill, they need to be totally on your level about guinea pig care and to have already demonstrated that they are good at keeping up contact- I have rescue enquiries to answer and Piggy PMs to organise, I cannot be chasing up forgetful fosterers.

I am never looking for a foster home to take in lots of guineas- I have enough problems rehoming the ones I have here; I do need someone on standby for those times of “emergency” when cages get “doubled booked”.  Yes, they a vital part of RGPR to me, I work and if an Inspector has a guinea pig or two on the van (they don’t get to choose when Humans decide to hand them over!) I need to have somewhere available for them to go. The “van” know to call Chrissie when I am at work and that guinea pigs can safely be left there. They will have already been signed over to the RSPCA and on reaching Chrissie will be signed over into her care until I can take them. All these records then go towards the statistics collected by our branch.

6. What do you expect from your foster home?

I have to be in total agreement about guinea pig care and welfare with my fosterer; we must have the same ideals about what rescue is about, and general guinea pig care/husbandry itself. Working with someone who does not understand the importance of regular bathing or how essential immediate Vetcare is, for instance, would not work.

I expect my foster homes to provide everything necessary for the guinea pig’s care and welfare except for veterinary costs; those are funded by our local RSPCA branch (without whom RGPR would simply not exist). They must provide an Animal Welfare Act compliant home- minimum standards are good when it comes to cage sizes so that when they are rehomed (always to an Animal Welfare Act compliant home) they will not be going to anything smaller.

My fosterers must be able to observe their charges closely, I need to be able to match them to the appropriate home and my fosterer will be able to tell me which home will suit them. They must also be able to take directions from me, anyone who finds my views and decisions disagreeable should not foster for me, it would make for a bad relationship and that stress will rub off onto the guinea pigs- Chrissie is a very “stress free” person living a “stress free” life which makes for happy guinea pigs. Similarly I choose to live as stress free life as is possible (that’s not to say we live with our heads in the clouds all the time- we have “life problems” and challenges like anyone else!), I believe this attitude has done a great deal in cementing the Fosterer/Rescuer relationship that we have.

7. How does running a rescue differ from a Foster Home?

To me, fostering means having a spare cage and taking on a couple of guineas at a time, or a single boar that was waiting to be castrated.  If Karen didn’t have space to take a boar in until he’d had his “little op”, waited for 2 weeks and could then go with sows, I would look after him during that time, take him in for his pre-op check, operation and post-op checks. I did this for the lovely Digger, who was delivered to me by the RSPCA when Karen was full.  I had him for about 3 weeks and then delivered him back to Karen.  He was introduced to Posy who had just given birth and he made an excellent job of his “dad duty”.  Soon afterwards, Marvellous Marbles died and I asked Karen if Digger would like to come and be a Gorgeous Guinea.  He did, and after meeting Roza and Little Miss Nosey he soon settled in, so I see that as one of the “perks” of the job!   Fostering also means looking after guineas without having the worry about who is going to pay for any Vet bills, and not having to make decisions about which guineas you can and can’t take in when you are full.

From a rescue point of view I see Chrissie as my safety net when I have a guinea pig without a roof over their head and needing to come in. Similarly Chrissie is there when I am at work and can take in guineas off the van for me which is a great relief for Inspectors, who can then move onto a different job without having to travel to the nearest centre that has a free space. An example of this was Mr. Softy whose sister came in after their Human contacted me saying she was worried about the fox getting the guineas- she couldn’t move the cage because it would fall apart- could I help? Unfortunately I could only take the sow in, but Chrissie stepped in and offered to take in Mr. Softy until I had room. This differs to rescue where I have a daily responsibility for the care and welfare of the guinea pigs; they are part of my everyday life, not just on occasion. I am also responsible for sourcing information for my prospective adopters, as well as being the primary organiser for our Piggy PMs- yes they are very well helped but someone needs to start the ball rolling, organise coffee meetings and be the one who is responsible for how the day goes. In addition to this I need to stay in contact with my local RSPCA Branch, I have, over the 9 years I have worked with them, built up a good working relationship and earned a lot of respect- respect cannot be demanded of anyone, vets etc will always expect you to earn it.

8. What guinea pigs in particular have benefitted from being in a foster home?

Daisy and Clover were 2 of the group of 15 badly fungal guineas that were taken in soon after I had met Karen and adopted the lovely Florence.  I offered to take them as their skin was very badly crusty and they needed more 1-2-1 attention than Karen could give them at the time – she had her hands full with the other 13 guineas.  It was also an opportunity to help them with some nice gentle shampoos and aromatherapy products, from which Gorgeous Guineas was eventually born.  Regular baths and skincare treatment saw their skin gradually improving until it got to the stage where they could go for a whole month between baths without being scurfy. Read their story on the Pig Issue. When I delivered them back to Karen she was speechless (for once!) and couldn’t believe that these two now Gorgeous Guineas were the same two scabby guineas that I had taken some months earlier!

9. What qualities do you need, to be able to foster? Is it easy?

In order to be able to foster you need some level of detachment from the guineas you are looking after, a good level of knowledge about “all things guinea” (or willing to learn), patience and time to give to them so they are well socialised and used to being handled / bathed / manicured etc.  The first two guineas I fostered were father and son, Magic and Marbles.  Marbles was a very cute 8 week old fluff-ball who was small enough to fit in my hand, and is father Magic was probably about a year old.  In a very short space of time I fell in love with them both and ended up adopting them.  So, was that a fostering “failure”?  Yes and no!  Yes, because I got attached to them and if I carried on like that, I wouldn’t be able to foster many more before I had too many guineas of my own – in the long run, that wouldn’t help Karen very much.   No, because they ended up with a nice home and after a discussion with Karen, we agreed that she would only give me sows in future as I have a very soft spot for boars!  That worked perfectly as there wasn’t the same level of attachment to the sows (as nice as they all were). Giving my own guineas and foster guineas the same level of care wasn’t hard, why would I do anything different for guineas that weren’t “mine”?  They were all treated exactly the same, but there was less emotional detachment to the foster guineas.  After a year or so, I did take on a boar / sow pairing without falling in love with them, so that was good!  Saying goodbye to guineas that you’ve looked after for a while and grown fond of is always hard, but given that I usually do the home checks, I know that they were going to be well cared for in their Forever Home.  Handing them back to Karen when she had space to take them back wasn’t difficult because I know how she looks after her guineas.  The best part is when the guineas come back to stay when their Humans go on holiday.  It is always good to see how they have progressed and moved on with their little lives.

10. What is your view of a successful rescue?

My view is that a successful rescue will only look after one species – i.e. RGPR is guineas only.  How can you possibly know everything about every species?  In my opinion it is better to specialise and do your best to pass on your knowledge to the people who are adopting.  For example, when I had my RSPCA home check before adopting Florence, it was done by the local cat fosterer.  As nice as she was, she didn’t have a clue about guinea pigs and if I had any questions about anything guinea related, they would have been passed back to Karen.  After that, I asked Karen if she would like me to do the guinea pig home checks for her, and the answer was “yes please”.  As a home checker, being able to answer all the questions you are asked, and giving the same answer as the person running the rescue is really important for consistency. Providing a good information pack when guineas are adopted out is important too, as is staying in contact to ensure that anyone can shout for help if they run into problems.  It is also important that the Human knows that they need to contact the rescue if for whatever reason they need to give up their guineas.  Proper records also need to be kept for all guineas coming and going so that they are legally handed over / adopted out, and that you have paperwork to prove it.

The rescue also needs to understand, adhere to and promote the Animal Welfare Act and be able to educate potential adopters about their responsibilities.  They will also have an address book full of useful local / online contacts for guinea necessities such as bedding and hay, dried food, cages and runs, not to mention the names of a good Vet (or 3) at the top of the road.  You cannot work without a guinea-competent Vet who is also a good surgeon (not always one and the same), especially as the only way most boars will find a home is if they have been castrated.
Any advice in this newsletter is not intended to replace veterinary advice or care, you have a legal obligation to seek veterinary care for your guinea pigs if you suspect they are ill.

Facebook (Guinea Pig Welfare)
Topical discussions this wheek included Introducing guinea pigs to runtime again after the Winter break, since then it has, in Reading, not been good enough weather to put the guineas out! As well as a post on introducing boars and some info on sows and reproduction we ended the wheek with a Texel Wheekend which fast turned into a Long Haired Wheekend!
My personal favourite topic on Facebook this wheekend was on the Gorgeous Guineas’ page (link from Guinea Pig Welfare page), on Fairy who lives her friends and Human, Anita. Anita is of the same mind as myself when it comes to deaf and blind guinea pigs, cater for their extra needs and they will live their life to the full, they do not see themselves as disabled and can do everything a fully functioning guinea can do- save for see with their eyes and hear! But watch them nasal gaze- they can certainly see something. Whilst I have no wish to make these desirable guinea pigs, I have unfortunately seen and heard from people wishing to “experience” “Special Needs” pigs; there is a need to disspell some of the awful myths going around about keeping blind and deaf guinea pigs. They certainly need extra commitment and do need catering for differently- they do not need sympathetic care that impedes them living their little lives to the full.
Visit our Facebook group here: Guinea Pig Welfare.
Next wheekend (8/5) we would like Pigtures of Very Important Pigs, do you have one?

Lenny, Silver Agouti Texel

May 3, 2010   Posted in: Planet Gorgeous, Planet Guinea, Rescue