- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

ROANOKE (AP) — They’ve been thrown into a trash bin, left behind during a move, let loose to roam the streets and fed to pet snakes.

It seems that to some people, guinea pigs are disposable pets.

“I guess they feel like if it doesn’t work out, it’s OK,” says Vicki Knight, a veterinary technician who runs the Cave Spring Piggie Rescue.

The rescue group got started about four years ago after Miss Knight’s boss at Cave Spring Veterinary Clinic bought Deuce Pigalow from a breeder and discovered that the animal had health problems because the breeder had not provided it with proper care.

That prompted Miss Knight, who had previously owned three guinea pigs, and other employees at the clinic to start a rescue and help animals like Pigalow.

All of the employees at the clinic are involved with the rescue group in some way, whether by providing foster homes, giving the guinea pigs medical care or helping Miss Knight care for the ones she fosters.

Since its beginning, the rescue has found homes for almost 80 guinea pigs. It is caring for 10 now.

People have laughed and poked fun at the group, but Miss Knight and her colleagues have just as much compassion for a guinea pig as they would a dog or a horse.

“I want to change people’s ideas that this is ‘just’ a guinea pig,” she said. “They’re still a creature.”

Some guinea pigs that Miss Knight has fostered have followed her around her house, like a dog would, and tried to crawl up her leg as if begging to be picked up.

The group has rescued guinea pigs in Southwest Virginia that were left in a trash bin to die or left behind in an empty apartment after residents moved. Botetourt County Animal Control has even picked up a few that apparently were let loose to roam the streets, Miss Knight said.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which took those guinea pigs from animal control officers , gave them to the rescue group.

Danielle Dumler of Vinton, Va., who had adopted guinea pigs and been a foster for others, said pet stores contribute to the problem because they don’t properly educate guinea pig owners about the level of care the animals will need.

“A cat is almost an easier pet,” she said.

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