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The Margin: New York City considers banning sale of guinea pigs as the popular pandemic pets overwhelm shelters

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Have guinea pigs become too popular for their own good?

That’s a question worth asking in light of the fact animal shelters “have been inundated with the four-legged pets,” according to a report in The City website. The story notes that shelters in New York City have already received 600 guinea pigs to date this year; by contrast, less than half than number were received in 2019 during the same timeframe.

The city is considering legislation that would ban pet stores from selling the rodents — clearly, a way to curb the shelters from having to deal with the pig-population problem. Voters for Animal Rights, a lobbying group, has supported the legislation.

“This surge of homeless guinea pigs is not sustainable for the animal rescue community,” the group says on its website.

The reason for the “surge” in guinea pig popularity — and abandonment? It all has to do with the pandemic, naturally.

As people were stuck at home, they sought companionship in the form of pets. Dog adoptions and sales took off during the pandemic, for example. But guinea pigs proved especially popular because of their relatively low cost (they are generally priced under $50 at pet stores, though cages and bedding will add to the tab) and the fact that they can require less maintenance than a dog (no need for two walks a day).

Even British royalty has a thing for guinea pigs. Prince William (left) is seen handling Gus the Guinea Pig during a school event in 2021.

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But they still require some degree of care and feeding. And that must have proved a bit too much for some guinea pig owners, particularly as life has gotten back to normal in recent months and people have started returning to the office.

Katy Hansen, a spokesperson for the Animal Care Centers of NYC, a non-profit organization dedicated to animal rescue, noted earlier in 2022 that most of the guinea pigs her organization has received are no more than a year-and-a-half old — “aligning with the timeline for the purchase of pandemic pets,” she said.

Adding to the complications: Guinea pigs are often purchased in pairs — and it’s about impossible to know the sex of the animal without a sonogram, according to The City story. As a result, guinea pig owners often unwittingly pair a male and female and suddenly find themselves with a whole family. In turn, that can result in owners wanting to find a place for those unexpected piglets.

The issue is hardly confined to New York City. Animal shelters everywhere from California to Georgia are also seeing a boom in pig surrenders, according to another report.

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