Guinea Pig Craze Hits Sparks Suburbs

Vanessa Ribeiro reports on the piggy party that’s making its way into local neighborhoods starting from her own mother’s house, who turned saving animals into a service. The catch? These little critters like to live in herds of 10 or more.

With guinea pigs happiest living in herds, Debra Sherwood has a running count of nearly 70 guinea pigs; captured here is a group of her piggies sharing a meal. Photo by Vanessa Ribeiro, Debra’s daughter and fellow piggy lover.

Furry Friends Lead to Fuller Hearts

Whether you have a few kiddos you’d like to keep off their phones and tablets or you’re seeking a furry companion to make bouts of quarantine less lonely, there may be a perfect service for you: Piggy Love.

Debra Sherwood, founder of Piggy Love, is a 59-year-old mother of four who has lots of love to give. Debra’s home has acted as a shelter for various animals throughout the years, from lovebirds to chinchillas all the way to a Chilean rodent called a degu. Being allergic to conventional pets like cats and dogs has served to be a blessing in disguise for her.

Several years ago, Debra noticed the surplus of animals being kept in small cages at her local pet stores. She saw animals fighting over food supply, a lack of sanitation in enclosures, and the cramped spaces shared by several pets. As she would make her weekly trips for food and supplies, she eventually became acquainted with the staff at the two local pet stores in her area.

When voicing her grievances regarding the small spaces provided for the pets, she was offered to adopt different animals that were likely not going to live in order to give them a peaceful place to spend their last days. She was told that there simply was not enough space to accommodate animals that had deficiencies that would make them ‘unsellable’.

Much to Debra’s surprise, her first adopted animal- a chinchilla with an autoimmune disease- lived a healthy life that went for several years. An animal she was told had a projected month or two left to live, was a friendly and long term addition to her animal family.

This process continued, and Debra ended up adopting animal after animal, despite being told that prior conditions and defects would shorten their lifespan. The start of Debra’s guinea pig herd began in a similar way, with the adoption of Kale, a guinea pig with a heart murmur, and Princess, who had ringworm. Considering the group of piggy babies pictured below are all the offspring of Kale and Princess, one can take a wild guess on how accurate their life projections were (spoiler: they weren’t).

Princess with her offspring. Photo courtesy of Debra Sherwood.

“I came upon the realization that my guinea pig family was growing, and that by bringing Piggy Love into the community, I could ensure the people buying piggies were equipped to be proper pet owners,” Debra said of rehoming her dozens of piggy pets. “I am able to show the customer the best way to handle and interact with their piggy, as well as match them with a personality that best matches their needs; every piggy has a distinct personality.”

With names like Handsome, Peaches, Fluff Fluff, and Happy, it’s not hard to believe each and every one of Debra’s piggies were named with great consideration.

Leo rocking his Mohawk. Photos courtesy of Debra Sherwood.

Piggy lovers, unite!

Debra shares that many of her customers are actively seeking piggies through online services like GuineaPigFinders.com. She says there’s a large community of families and animal lovers alike who are building piggy families of their own.

“I have experienced lots of types of love, but when I looked at those piggy faces, I knew- I knew I had never experienced a love for a pet like that before.” — Debra Sherwood

8-year-old and faithful customer Ellie, pictured with her three guinea pigs.

“They behave wonderfully with other animals, and are great outlets to keep children occupied with cuddles” shares Jen L., who didn’t want her full name used, a repeat Piggy Love customer. She states her own excitement and love for their piggy pals is comparable if not equal to that of her five children.

Due to the social nature of guinea pigs, they do best living in piggy herds. Debra says that while many customers plan to home one to two guinea pigs, they almost always end up taking home at least three to four.

“I am happy to see the amount of joy they bring my mom. If she’s capable of loving little creatures that much, you can only imagine how much she loves her kids,” said Andrew Ribeiro, Debra’s son and my brother.

Debra jokes that she lives with her guinea pigs, whereas Andrew is a part time guest. “They were the perfect outlet for her nourishment and attention at the start of the pandemic, and I know they provide the same solace for other families,” Andrew added.

When Debra adopted Kale and Princess in 2019, she never would have thought it would lead to the growth of a business, and in her family by 70 or so new members at any given time.

Reporting for the Reynolds Sandbox by Vanessa Ribeiro

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