I can’t say all large rescues are a fun adventure, but getting them done with a good team of fellow rescuers certainly helps the task go more smoothly. Sometimes we must see the humorous side of what we do. Otherwise the reality of the situations we find ourselves in would cause depression bouts that would keep us bedridden, unable to tend to the work at hand!
WC has performed many “large” rescues, from over 400 rats taken in at a residence in Ojai, to the 22 guinea pigs from our “Ramona Round Up”. Over the years we have perfected the technique and have gotten it pretty much down to a fine art. If we HAVE to be selective, women and children are pulled first, of course. The pregnant sows need a nutritionally rich diet, nursing babies must be with mom, and the baby females need to come too, since they can get pregnant before 6 weeks old. We then pull the males who appear to be in the worst health. If we are forced to leave any, it will be the older stronger males. Standard protocol is that we try to rescue everyone, though.
Anyway, back to the story at hand. WC received a call from a man who had recently moved into a ranch property in Ramona, and despite being an animal lover, was simply overwhelmed by the gifts the departing tenants had left on the property. You see, the previous owners had moved to the high desert where their herd of guinea pigs was not part of the “relocation plan”. During the transition of property ownership, the boars of the herd took advantage of the lack of supervision, and had dug under the dividing wire/board into the girls’ side. This “sneaking out” had obviously been going on for a while since guinea pups were on the run, on both sides, and very large sows were waddling around both areas. The younger boars were nursing the scars of battle from the more dominant boars. Oh, and did I mention there were two rabbits scowling their disapproval at all of the intruders as well? Right….
Julie, our Volunteer Coordinator, was happily able to join us for this rescue effort. Normally she is keeping her own herd of human wee ones under control in a classroom, but this round she happened to be on break! Excited to be included in an urgent midweek roundup, she was happy to forge her way in to the pen, brandishing her leather gloves! But, let us pause a moment and describe this enclosure. Despite the boars breaking into the sows’ camp, the human access to the pen was not so easy. Whoever had built this enclosure had taken great precautions against hawks, snakes, skunks, and other predators, so there was chicken wire over chicken wire OVER chicken wire!! The only access from the “outside” was a 2 foot crawl space with wire reaching out to grab you as you went by. Guinea Pig Lead Volunteer, Debbie, and I were quite content to let the younger, more agile Volunteer Coordinator do the catching, as we stood by to receive and run commentary.
Agility and flexibility aided in the delicate process of climbing through the door in the wire fencing. I mentioned there were guinea pigs running everywhere within the pens, correct? Well, that added to the challenge because the door opened at ground level. Right…. Between the wire trying to stab her, the guinea pigs deciding whether to dash out the door or not, the rabbits thumping and churning up dust, the splintery, gnawed wood to navigate, plus the 1-2 inches of fecal matter caked into everything, Julie had her work cut out for her. This was the stuff of legends! Amazingly, the door turned out to be the easy part, since our moving targets had no faith that we were their saviors. Diving and catching like a pro baseball player, Julie was able to scoop and pass the guineas out to us, waiting on the other side of the fence. A HUGE complication to the scooping process was that one has to be so very, very careful when picking up a pregnant sow so you don’t injure the pups inside! Being smarter than the average guinea pig, poor Julie figured out how to close off sections of the pen so there was less of a runway for them. Finally, she came to the last challenge, the “dog house!” It was a rickety plywood structure, maybe 2 feet cubed, also on ground level. Julie had to enter the dark dog house, on her belly, almost full body, to reach the cowering sows and pups. Did I mention the large amount of fecal matter on the ground? Right... While all of this is going on in front of us, Debbie helpfully recorded the moment on film and I awaited the handovers. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Debbie and I could not stop clutching our sides with laughter! There’s Julie, a proper dignified lady, literally diving into the dog house, her rear end pointing up to the heavens, while we heard various renditions of “oh for pity’s sake, we’re here to help you!!” mixed with scuffling, wheeking, and rabbit thumping from the other peanut gallery. She would suddenly appear, smiling, hair messed beyond fixing, a smudge on her face, a new scratch on her arm, but head held high, expertly clutching a squealing guinea pig who had obviously not appreciated the undignified “capture”. Truly, “ ginnie peeg wrastling” at its finest. Anti-parasitic drops were applied, sow or boar confirmed, a quick check for any serious wounds, then into the waiting carriers. The carriers contained hay and Vitamin C rich veggies, and each pig was logged into our record book with detailed descriptions in Debbie’s neat script.
The new owner of the ranch had gone back to work with his horses after welcoming us to the task, but I am sure enjoyed the entertainment of the occasion. He kept pausing on trips past us to just stand and stare. What a sight, I’m sure! It’s great to see people enjoy their work!!!!!
22 guinea pigs were rescued from Ramona that day, and as with all our big rescues, a theme was chosen for their names. The Ramona theme was stars, planets, and constellations, any babies born would receive names with the same first initial as their mamas. It took just under two hours to get all the pigs captured, packed up, and munching on their veggies. We began brainstorming names like Orion, Venus, and Cassiopeia as we pulled out of the ranch, dusty, grimy, and sweaty. Many an eyebrow was raised as we visited a local eatery to grab food, since not only were we hungry, Julie was begging to wash up, at least a little. Laughter was probably heard throughout East County as headed down the hill...must be those crazy Wee Companions folks doing another rescue!