We have no idea how it’s already September! Time has probably flown by because we’ve had so much on here at April Lodge. We had a hugely successful Open Day and Fun Show in August, raising over £3,000, and we have had our very own baby guinea pigs born here in the lodge. We’ll tell you more about both the Open Day and the babies below (warning: cute pictures alert!). We have also had our busiest time of the year – at one point in August we had over 100 piggies in the charity, and many more out on foster with our volunteers.
This month, we’ll also tell you about what it’s like to be a volunteer here at April Lodge, we’ll talk about the benefits of a balanced routine, and you’ll read our lonely hearts column and about the importance of introducing new guinea pigs to each other carefully. All this and more below…
April Lodge has babies!
While we don’t ever breed guinea pigs, we do sometimes have pregnant sows come in. This happened earlier this year when Pinky came in. Pinky was one of our railway babies, who had been left in a carrier bag in Hove train station. On arrival, we paired her with Puzzle, a neutered boar, so she had a companion. Puzzle had been found in a park, being used as dog bait! So Pinky and Puzzle really needed some tlc! But the drama wasn’t going to end there. It soon became clear that Pinky was pregnant, as she suddenly piled on loads of weight. Usually, weight gain is a sign of good care, food and lovely hay, but hers just kept going up and up. At only around eight weeks herself, Pinky was very young to be pregnant, but she gave birth just fine, and on the afternoon of June 29th her two babies joined us. Named Cinnamon and Parsley, both mum and babies went on short‐term foster with our volunteer Flo so that they could be handled daily. We have now paired Cinnamon (a boar) with an older boar called Danny, and they’re ready and waiting for adoption. And Parsley (a sow) has been paired as well and has already found a loving home.
Things are always very busy here and we couldn’t do what we do without the support of our wonderful volunteers. We have a huge range of people, from all walks of life and of all ages. Flo is our youngest volunteer (at 15) and we won’t tell you how old our oldest is!
If you’d be interested in volunteering, we’d love to hear from you. It’s hard work, but you get to meet some wonderful people and cuddle some lovely piggies. Jo Lockett, one of our most regular volunteers, has written up this on the morning in the life of a volunteer. We hope you enjoy it.
A morning in the life of a volunteer
9am: Volunteers arrive and Val decides who’s going where. There are two main areas: the main part, which houses healthy guinea pigs ready for new homes and perhaps some that are on holiday; then there’s the quarantine area next door, which houses newly admitted pigs that need health monitoring, calming down or to recover from operations (usually castrated boars). In addition, there’s the clinic, the reception area and a small shop. We usually need one person in the quarantine section and at least two people in the main part, especially if there’s a full morning of clinic appointments.
9–9.45: We move the outside runs to a fresh patch of grass and check there are no gaps or broken lids. Guinea pigs do a good job of keeping grass short, so runs can’t simply be left in one spot every day. We also don’t like the boys to get the smell of girls if they have been in that run the day before (as it can make them aggressive and excitable).
We check the boards in each building, as these tell us which pigs are going out, which need medicating and give us any other particular instructions for the day. Unfortunately, with so many pigs in the shelter and only limited runs, we have to put them on a rota for outside time, which works out at them going out once every three days.
Carriers are lined with newspaper and we use these in the runs as a shelter for the pigs to hop in and out of. Those lucky ones going out are given a check to make sure there are no health concerns that might otherwise go unnoticed. They get a brush through so we can check for skin problems or even if they need a haircut or bath. Any medicine required is given before they go out.
9.45–10.45: Once out grazing, their cages are completely emptied, sprayed with disinfectant and left to air dry for as long as possible. Their water bottles are removed and thoroughly cleaned out, as are their food bowls. While two volunteers are doing this mucky task, the third will chop the veg for the day for all piggies into a giant bowl – usually enough for 50 or 60 pigs. At maximum capacity, we have been known to chop for over 100! Everything is kept separate in the bowl, rather than tossed together. This makes picking out the correct rations easier, rather than simply grabbing a handful.
It’s feeding time!
As we feed all the others, we ensure that the pigs are all alive and well. Dried food is topped up or replaced and we check for signs of diarrhoea (mucky poo marks on the side of the dish are an indication of this). Each pig gets four items of veg a day, and we’re careful to check specific instructions on their hutches in case we need to give less veg or avoid certain foods. Finally, their water bottles are emptied and refilled with fresh water.
10.45–11.15: Some may need their cages tidying or beds replacing every day, especially if they are recovering from operations or have medical problems. And we usually have several that need a cuddle every day to get them used to being handled. These are the terrified ones that have hardly ever been held for one reason or another. It’s amazing how a frequent and regular touch can turn these animals round until they no longer run desperately to escape from humans.
We usually have a list of pigs needing baths so aim to squeeze these in between greeting people for clinic appointments, answering the phone, selling goods from our small shop and endlessly sweeping up.
11.15–11.45: All cleaned out hutches are wiped dry of any remaining disinfectant and re‐made with a good layer of newspaper and lots of hay. Their freshly scrubbed water bottles and dried food dishes are replaced and their daily veg ration put in ready for them. At 11.45, they are brought back inside for breakfast in their nice clean hutches, usually followed by a good sleep.
We then do final tidying, sweeping, clearing the kitchen and disinfecting surfaces. At some stage in the morning, we may try and squeeze a cuppa in, but flicking the kettle on is usually the signal for several visitors to all turn up at once! So drinking on the go is usually the order of the day.
The advantages of a balanced routine
There are no hard and fast rules, but there is no doubt that a balanced routine will lead to satisfied guinea pigs that know roughly what’s happening and when, therefore avoiding disappointment, frustration and possibly aggression.
If every time the guinea pigs hear you come down the stairs or open the fridge door they follow this with loud squeaking to which you respond immediately by giving them veg, you really are playing into their paws. You will soon see that you have, in fact, created this scenario, because the guinea pigs know that these familiar morning sounds and actions, followed by their demanding shrieks, always equal a heap of veggies from you – and now they expect it on demand… every time they shout for it. You can’t blame them as it’s all about association.
To get them into your way of thinking, for a start stop feeding them every time you come down the stairs or open the fridge door. First thing in the morning, I can go to my fridge as many times as I like, but my pigs Bagel and Chuckles who live next to the fridge don’t associate these sounds with getting veggies. I feed them when I’m ready and I make sure my first few visits to the fridge are nothing to do with them.
When I’m ready, I use the same tone of voice each time, saying “breakfast boys” two or three times. I want them to know it’s my idea and not theirs. Bagel and Chuckles then scuttle over to me to see what’s on the menu, which is far nicer than being bullied into doing the job! My pigs now know just what’s happening and roughly when… and, more importantly, what’s not happening and when!
Using your voice is key. My pigs know that when a front‐opening carry box arrives in their c&c cage with the door open, with me chanting “You’re going in the run, get in”, this means that a splendid time stuffing their faces in a grass run is imminent and they therefore happily hop into their carry box. It can work the other way too, as in: “In you get, we’re going in”. By this time, they are usually tired and want to get into the box and back into their cage anyway, knowing there is a fresh heap of lush hay waiting for them.
This is an impossible situation when in the shelter, where 60 guinea pigs are simulating the dawn chorus as they hear the veg trolley coming their way. So, ok, they lack breakfast etiquette somewhat, but they still have the potential to be less demanding once they have one‐to‐one care. Bagel and Chuckles are ex‐rescue pigs prior to me having them on long‐term foster, so there’s hope for all of them!
Indulge us here…
Here is the ad that Nigel would write in the newspaper:
An eligible gentleman, Nigel, seeks a guinea pig friend. A guinea of certain years, Nigel is very shy, somewhat lonely, and has lovely luscious locks. He enjoys fine vegetarian dining, cuddles on occasion, and trips to the lawn (as long as he has a tunnel to hide in). Would like to meet a fellow piggy, preferably female, to share his hutch with. Nigel comes to life when near other piggies, and just wants one to call his own. Can offer strolls on the lawn and cuddles in hay. Apply at April Lodge.
Luckily, we have just the piggy to match his needs! Lovely little Poppy has come in recently and is soon to be paired with Nigel (who, by the way, has been neutered). Guinea pigs are social animals and don’t like to live alone. In Switzerland, it’s even illegal to own just one guinea pig! This leads us on very nicely to our guinea pig matching service, MatchPig, which Nigel and Poppy will soon be using.
Our MatchPig service does pretty much what it says on the tin – but you would be surprised at how complex matching guinea pigs can be! It certainly shouldn’t be tried at home. MatchPig was set up alongside April Lodge Guinea Pig Rescue because of the sheer volume of enquiries asking for help to find a guinea pig companion and pair them successfully. This is not viable for a charity that relies on volunteers to care for up to 80 guinea pigs a day. Hence, MatchPig became a dedicated introduction service to help concerned owners, their bereaved pigs and the singles in the charity.
Guinea pig behaviour is often misinterpreted anyway, but, during an introduction, this behaviour and the accompanying noises can seem even more odd and sometimes look pretty rough. This is often when owners attempting an introduction themselves misread the signs or lose their nerve and intervene. A number of times, we have had to pick up the pieces and start the process all over again. Yet there are only so many times an introduction can be attempted before it’s game over. Alternatively, there is the time to know when it will never work and the fine line to tread between possible and never is why introductions on neutral territory with a behavioural expert make all the difference.
Guinea pig matching is a huge topic, and we hardly have time to delve into it here, but if you want to know more about it, then contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the MatchPig Facebook page for latest updates. Here, we will satisfy ourselves with telling you about two of our successful cases.
Munch and Joey
Munch, a bereaved boar of around five years, was looking for a companion. Luckily, Joey, another older and bereaved boar, was also looking for one! Munch was a little difficult to start with, but Joey took him under his wing and told him it was all going to be ok. Here they are a week after getting home. Munch is the white one and Joey the longer‐haired one.
TIP: We start off by putting them in the same run, but with a divider in. So, this way, they can see each other but they cannot get to each other.
Benji and Mackie
Mackie was one of three guinea pigs found in a biscuit tin, and came into the charity when he was just a tiny baby. Benji came into the charity with another boar, but they’d been separated due to fighting with each other. Things went well when we introduced the two, so it was only three days before the divider was removed and they went in together. Their owner, Di, tells us that they adore each other and that it’s a match made in heaven.
On Sunday 6 August, we held our annual Open Day and Fun Show, and we’re pleased to say that it was the best yet! Loads of visitors and their guinea pigs came along, and a great day was had by all. We took £3,160 in total and, after costs, made £2,689. This is an amazing amount, and so vital for the continued running of the charity. We have many expenses to accommodate, and this will go towards covering vet bills, food and hay, not to mention the two giant industrial bins of soiled bedding, poo and muck that have to be taken away at a cost of £184 a month.
Our popular Guinea Pig Race Night is happening again on Saturday 7 October at 7pm. Of course, we don’t use real guinea pigs! Tickets are £5 each, you can bring your own food and drink, and we will, of course, bet! The event is held at Manston Village Hall: CT12 5BA.
It’s 50p per bet and guinea pigs are auctioned at the beginning of each race. Bets placed on the winning guinea pig get cash prizes, with the amount depending on the tote. The owner of the winning guinea pig usually gets a win of £25–£60.
Tickets are available from April Lodge. We look forward to seeing you there!
Until next time…
Thanks for reading! This edition of Jeepers Squeakers was put together by Lizzie Sabin with contributions from Jo Lockett and Val Savage. The next edition of Jeepers Squeakers is due out in December. Please contact us if you have anything to say, would like any issues addressed, or would like an article placed.