- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Disney movie “G-Force” shows a squad of specially trained, computer-generated guinea-pig spies coming to the world’s rescue. Now that the movie is out, though, animal activists say it is real-life guinea pigs that will need rescuing.

Some guinea-pig rescue groups have posted pleas to those who might rush out to buy the furry little rodents.

“I can tell you, every single rescue in the United States and abroad took a look at that movie trailer and said, ‘ … here we go,’ ” says Whitney Potsus, vice president of the Critter Connection Inc. in Durham, Conn.

The Orange County Cavy (aka guinea pig) Haven in Costa Mesa, Calif., has posted urgent Internet pleas to parents, asking them to say no when their children beg for guinea pigs, because the animals are too fragile for young children.

It’s happened before. Some call it the “101 Dalmatians syndrome” after the live-action Disney movie that sent thousands rushing to buy the black-and-white spotted pups. When the dogs failed to act like those in the movie, families gave them up, breeders say.

The popularity of Chihuahuas soared after the movies “Legally Blonde” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and when Taco Bell featured a talking one in an ad campaign. Ferrets were the animal of choice after “Along Came Polly,” and guinea pigs were in demand after “Bedtime Stories.”

In “G-Force,” which opened Friday, Agents Juarez, Darwin and Blaster drive cars, parachute, use blowtorches, swim, talk, walk on two legs, live in tanks with mice and rats and use hamster balls, warns Lyn Zantow, a volunteer for the Orange County group, on her Web site.

In real life, guinea pigs are noisy; eat and poop all the time; require big, clean cages; don’t swim; and can be expensive to care for if they get sick, she says, adding that they should be kept out of the hands of young children.

“We can only hope … parents will all do their research before bringing any critters home. Otherwise, when the novelty wears off, rescues everywhere are going to have their hands full with surrenders,” Miss Potsus says.

A guinea pig can scare or startle easily, and if a child doesn’t have a good hold, it will run off. “Guinea pigs can’t jump,” says Fenella Speece, president of Wee Companions Small Animal Adoption Inc. in San Diego. A fall, even from a sofa, can paralyze them, and then “they are probably as good as dead.” She is worried about the big plastic balls used in the movie and sold in pet stores. They are made for hamsters and mice, she says. “Guinea pigs don’t have flexible backs, and they don’t go in wheels.”

They also have delicate digestive systems. “Kids get distracted. If you forget to feed it, it’s done. Its little life is over,” Miss Speece says.

She already has been asked whether she has a guinea pig that looks like one of the agents. Ads on Craigslist are offering “G-Force”-type guinea pigs.

“I am really worried,” she says.

Activists say there are several waves of worry ahead: when the movie debuts in theaters, when it comes out on DVD and when the novelty wears off.

About 795,000 homes have guinea pigs as pets, according to the American Pet Products Association, based in Greenwich, Conn. Volunteers from guinea-pig rescue groups beefed up opening-weekend public education programs in an effort to prevent impulse buys, says Susan Lee, director and chief executive of the Costa Mesa group.

Jan Davidson, founder of Deerbrook Guinea Pig and Rabbit Haven in Oakhurst, Calif., says other rescue workers have been asking her what to do. One said she was afraid to post new adoption notices because “it is hard enough to find good homes for them as it is.”

Disney is aware of the power of its movies and works to promote a strong pet-responsibility message, a studio spokeswoman said. For “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” Disney made sure most of the animals in the movie came from shelters and each was adopted when the movie was over.

For “G-Force,” a statement will be posted on the movie’s Web site and on other promotional materials advising viewers to be responsible and research any pet “to make sure that it is suitable for your particular situation” and consider adopting from a shelter.

Miss Potsus, who has four guinea pigs, says she hopes parents will fudge a little to protect the animals.

“We hope parents will use money or time as an excuse,” she says. “We like to think the bad economy would cut down on some impulsive decisions.”

Instead of delicate animals that can’t talk, shoot or travel through space, Miss Davidson suggests an alternative for children who want to re-enact stunts with the movie’s stars: guinea pigs of the stuffed or plastic variety.

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