Piggies Paradise celebrates success

Nick Johansen
The Red Oak Express

Piggies Paradise, the local guinea pig rescue shelter in Red Oak will be celebrating its first anniversary at its location at 422 E. Reed St. in October.
The shelter was spearheaded by co-directors Tabatha Updegrove and Jolene Studey, who started operating out of their homes in February 2020, before the increased need in the community spurred Updegrove and Studey to open up the Reed Street location.
Studey said the shelter had some recent good news. They received their licensing earlier this month.
“We’ve been trying to get licensed since last November, but with COVID, and the fact that the inspector was in the hospital a couple of times, they told us to just keep doing what we were doing. We passed the state inspection with flying colors, and he said he couldn’t nitpick anything we were doing,” Studey said.
The shelter is currently housing roughly 100 guinea pigs, and Studey and Updegrove estimate that they have adopted out more than 500 guinea pigs since the shelter was started. Updegrove said they take in any in need.
“We take in sick ones, and those that are older. Guinea pigs can live up to 10 years, so we have guinea pigs that are seven or eight year olds, and they usually don’t get adopted out, so this is their sanctuary. We’re currently the largest licensed guinea pig sanctuary in Iowa, and we’re the only licensed shelter in Southwest Iowa,” commented Updegrove.
Having the distinction, Updegrove said, is a good feeling, because it creates a positive environment for the guinea pigs they shelter.
“We have a place for them where they are going to be safe, and fed, and happy, which is exactly what they need,” Updegrove said.
Studey said the shelter is in a near-constant state of taking in and adopting out guinea pigs.
“I say it’s a revolving door. We adopt out, and within a day, we have the cage refilled. I have a waiting list of people currently waiting to surrender their guinea pigs.  If we had a larger building we could adopt more, but currently we are unable. We also have some in foster care,” Studey advised.
Studey attributes the revolving door quality to would-be pet owners not knowing all the facts when it comes to adopting and taking care of guinea pigs.
“People get them, and they don’t realize how long they live, and they are a higher-maintenance animal to take care of than a hamster. They’re awake 14 hours a day, unlike a hamster, which sleeps most of the day. They need veggies every day, they need fleece bedding, and hay 24/7. I think in many cases, parents buy one for their kids, and the kids simply can’t keep up with the care,” stated Studey.
Updegrove added that since they spend the majority of the time in a cage, and are less interactive than a dog or a cat, that it can sometimes be easier to surrender one than another kind of animal.
As Piggies Paradise has grown as an organization, so has their reputation, and Studey said people have driven for hours to adopt, and surrender, guinea pigs.
“The farthest person who has come to us so far is a woman from South Dakota. She wanted to adopt a female guinea pig as a cage mate for the guinea pig she still had. She went all the way to Omaha, but couldn’t find one that she wanted. She went all the way back to South Dakota, then contacted us, and the next weekend, she came back down to us and adopted one of our shelter guinea pigs,” Studey said. “As for a surrender, I believe someone came from about three hours away to surrender the guinea pig to us because they didn’t trust their local animal shelter.”
Updegrove and Studey also made it very clear that they are not guinea pig breeders, they are a rescue shelter.
“Sometimes we get a pregnant mother and the baby guinea pigs are born here, but that’s the extent. We do not breed guinea pigs in this facility,” advised Updegrove.
The shelter has received constant praise from people both in and outside the community. Studey said it’s a great feeling.
“I’m a big animal lover, and this is perfect for me. They all have their own different personality, and it’s just so much fun,” Studey said. They’re born prey, and their first instinct is to run and hide, but once you get them picked up, they love to cuddle. Even in a cage with two guinea pigs together, one will have a completely different personality than the other, and that’s what makes them fun. They’re all different colors, shapes, and sizes.”
The shelter has also implemented some new features. They will deliver a guinea pig adopted guinea pig to a distance of up to 75 miles, for a $30 fee for gas. The shelter can also board guinea pigs for families going on vacation for an extended period, at a cost of $10 per day, per guinea pig. All food, hay, and vegetables would be provided.
Among the tips guinea pig owners, Studey recommends a two-week quarantine, especially if it is being introduced into a cage with other guinea pigs, to prevent sickness. Cage sixes for one guinea pig is 39” by 21” or larger. For two, 47” by 23” or larger, for three, a cage size of 50” by 30” or larger, and for four,  62” by 30” or larger.
Also, since guinea pigs don’t produce their own Vitamin C, they have to have a died of fruits and vegetables every day. Among the fruits safe for guinea pigs to consume are blueberries, banana, apricots with no pit, seedless apples, melon, cherries, grapes, cranberries, pears, raspberries, pineapple, and strawberries.
When it comes to vegetables, guinea pigs need romaine lettuce, spring mix, parsely, cilantro, carrots, or sweet peppers daily. Two to four times a week, the guinea pigs need green beans, snap peas, squash, tomatoes, arugula, cabbage, cucumbers, or celery. One to two times a week, the guinea pigs can eat asparagus, spinach, Brussells sprouts, corn on the cob, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Foods that absolutely should not be fed to a guinea pig include dairy, potatoes, mushrooms, coconut, avocado, nuts, rhubarb, onions, garlic, hot peppers, and iceberg lettuce.
Studey and Updegrove both said that whether a person adopts from the shelter or not, they can stop in and get advice or information on taking care of their guinea pigs.
One thing the shelter is in need of, Studey said, is volunteer help, either on the weekdays or weekends. On weekdays, volunteer hours would be from 10 a.m. or earlier until 2 p.m.
“We’d love to have weekday help, but we also welcome and kids that want to come in after school or the weekends, that would be great,” advised Updegrove.   
Also, donations of surplus vegetables that can be fed to the shelter guinea pigs are also accepted, as are cash donations, or donations of supplies.
“Nobody makes a penny, nobody even makes half a penny around here, it all goes straight back to the guinea pigs, and the building. Donations are very important for the care of the guinea pigs, and for the rent and upkeep of our building. We even have a little purple guinea pig bank if anyone is here and wants to make a cash donation,” Studey commented.
A fall yard sale fundraiser is planned for October, and donations of items for the sale are currently being accepted. Hours of operation for Piggies Paradise are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, or by appointment by calling 621-9199.  More information is also available on the Facebook page, facebook.com/piggiesparadiseia/.

To make a monetary donation, the CashApp ID is: $piggiesparadise. The Venmo ID is: @piggiesparadise

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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