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Council Hears Pleas to Stop Sale of Guinea Pigs From Pet Stores

Surrender of the rodents to shelters spiked during the pandemic after people who adopted them to stave off loneliness abandoned them.

December 16, 2022 Katie Honan, The City
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Dozens of animal lovers on Wednesday warned the City Council of the dangers of an out-of-control guinea pig population, urging the body to pass a stalled bill.

The legislation, from February, would prohibit pet shops in New York City from selling the popular fluffy rodents. Animal advocates have for years said instituting this ban would help stem the rapid breeding that has overwhelmed shelters.

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Risa Weinstock, the president and CEO of Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), testified during Council’s health committee hearing that the number of guinea pigs brought into the nonprofit group’s shelters has nearly tripled since the start of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, ACC took in an average of approximately 300 guinea pigs each year. But in the last 30 months — coinciding with the pandemic — that number has reached nearly 900, according to ACC data.

“Many people mistake guinea pigs as great starter pets,” Weinstock said — but then they realize the tiny animals eat a lot of food and need a steady supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, which can be costly.

“When ACC counsels adopters on the care and needs of any pet, we always make sure they understand the commitment involved — regardless of the pet’s size,” she added. “Just because a guinea pig is small doesn’t mean it doesn’t require extensive care.”

Two Guinea Pigs kept each other company inside a Petco display cage.
Two guinea pigs live in their cage at Petco in Union Square, Dec. 14, 2022. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Most of the people who testified have experience with rescuing and caring for animals inside and outside of the city.

Dr. Ellen Crain, who co-founded the Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in the mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, testified that her sanctuary has received a “tremendous” number of requests for them to take in small animals.

The animals “were brought in the city to entertain children while they were home” during COVID, she told Council members. “Now the family is ‘tired’ of the animal — and they often use those terms.”

Pet Shop Boys

The one person who testified on behalf of sellers said the ban is unnecessary and unfairly made pet stores out to be the villains.

“This brings something to pet shops that we think is wholly unnecessary — that is an air of antagonism and a mindset that pet shops are somehow culprits in need of punishment, rather than partners in pet care,” said Mike Bober, ​​the president and CEO of Pet Advocacy Network, which represents shop owners.

“We want to work with the city on this,” Bober said.

He said his organization shared concerns about pet-owner education and wants the animals to be well cared-for — and noted sales of guinea pigs are already decreasing.

“The numbers that came through in 2020 and early 2021 have tapered off,” he told the Council.

The bill will be voted on at a future hearing, depending on scheduling, according to Councilmember Lynn Schulman (D-Queens), the chair of the health committee. She told THE CITY she expects it to pass based on the support of 34 members who have already signed on to it.

“I heard from my district a lot,” Schulman said, noting that guinea pigs were being dumped in parks and other places around the city, which concerned her Forest Hills constituents.

Advocates said they hope that a sales ban will offer relief for the city’s overwhelmed animal shelters. And anyone who wants a guinea pig would still be able to adopt one at a shelter.

There’s already precedent. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed the “Puppy Mill Pipeline” bill, which would ban the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits from stores. It still awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature.

New York City already banned the sale of rabbits in 2014. And in 1999, the city made the possession of ferrets illegal after the health department declared them carriers of rabies and prone to committing “vicious, unprovoked attacks.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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