It’s not just off I-35. Guinea pigs are being abandoned across the Austin area.
Elizabeth Mack walked into her home with four new guinea pigs Wednesday afternoon. A fellow volunteer was already at the house, dropping off two. That brought the total number of guinea bigs in Mack's kitchen to 32 (including seven of her own).
Mack is president of the Austin Guinea Pig Rescue, which has been finding abandoned guinea pigs in boxes around Central Texas over the last few months. The guinea pigs belong to a breed called Abyssinian Satin, which are common show animals.
Mack said she thinks someone got carried away breeding them and abandoned them rather than euthanizing the small animals.
“People were finding them under highway bridges in green areas, and then most consistently in the last couple months, it's been by bathrooms in city parks,” she said.
The animals originally started popping up in parks along I-35 and under bridges near the freeway. The rescue then started receiving reports of abandonments farther north.
Mack said she believes the person abandoning the guinea pigs is likely worried about being accused of animal cruelty. If a breeder were to turn the animals into the city, they could face consequences.
So, the rescue is offering up a solution.
The person could have killed the animals, rather than releasing them and giving them a chance, Mack said, "which is why we as an organization made the decision to offer amnesty and say, if you surrender all the animals to us, we will take them, no questions asked.”
Once an animal is brought in, Mack and her fellow volunteers conduct a health check. They’ll check the sex of the guinea pig, look at its nails to determine its age, check for signs of pneumonia and see if it's been inbred.
Then they’ll determine how long they need to keep the guinea pig under observation or quarantine before putting it up for adoption.
If a guinea pig comes in pregnant, which Mack says happens often, the circumstances change. The pups stay with their mother for five to six weeks before they can be adopted, too.
Despite public interest in guinea pig adoptions right now, the rescue is still overwhelmed. It's also worried about what may come in the next few weeks, when the newborn guinea pigs are old enough to find forever homes.
For now, Mack's biggest recommendation is to stop breeding.
“Let's leave the breeding to the professional people or people who are trained,” Mack said. “We don't need any more babies. We need adopters and fosters and homes for all those hundreds of guinea pigs across Texas."
If people can’t support AGPR by fostering or adopting guinea pigs, they accept donations on their website.