In less than a year, a Uniontown couple has grown from a family of five to a family with more than 400 mouths to feed. Luckily, some appetites are tinier than others and the kids are housebroken.
Not so for the rest of the menagerie at CJ’s Cavy Caves and Guinea Pig Rescue in Canton. And it all started innocently enough when the “J” (in the name of the new small-animal rescue) tried to get the “C” to agree to adopt a dog.
“I wanted a dog and was told ‘No,’ ” said Jeannie Myers. Her partner, Craig Pol, said it wouldn’t be fair to keep a dog in a cage all day while they worked and Myers’ children, ages 8, 7, and 3, were in school and day care.
But Myers, whose family shared their home with any number of stray animals that wandered into their lives while she was growing up, was undeterred. She merely changed the object of her desire and went to Craig’s List to find an animal that wouldn’t suffer if left in a cage for eight hours. But, it was important to her to find something in need of a loving home.
Cinnamon was the first of dozens of guinea pigs, or “cavies,” she found to take in. Phelbin, a model, loving piggy if there ever was one, came next. Although “Cinnie” has since been adopted, Phelbin, who was reluctantly given away by a struggling medical student who loved him very much, isn’t leaving Myers side.
“I call him our million-dollar piggy because the only way I’ll adopt him out is if someone donates a million dollars to the rescue,” Myers said recently.
Since last spring, the couple, which offers sanctuary to homeless and/or abused non-predatory furry animals, has spent the children’s college fund and given up any hope of soon saving enough for a down payment for a house to found a refuge for hamsters, sugar gliders, degues (similar to small chinchillas and — like cavies — native to South America), bunnies, rats and mice.
“Why?” you might ask.
“There are lots of rescues for dogs and cats everywhere, but what about all the small animals?” Myers responded.
“Somebody had to do something. People see small animals as disposable,” she said.
But rats and mice?
By Myers’ estimate, the homeless, domesticated and exotic rats and mice they have saved make up the vast majority of inhabitants in the couple’s Canton rescue facility.
“Can I help it if they bring me pregnant animals?” she asked in exasperation.
After an accelerated learning process, Myers and Pol, who man the adoption center on weekends (and weekdays by appointment) soon realized that virtually no one in the area, including pet stores, sells the proper supplies for their animals.
“Just because it has a picture of a guinea pig on the tag doesn’t mean its food or even safe for one,” said Pol, who designs and manufactures proper-sized cages for the number of cavies a person keeps. The storefront walls are lined with nooks holding colorful bowls, bedding, vitamin supplements and other items to keep any cavy completely content.
Myers gets angry just talking about parents who go to a pet store to buy a guinea pig to “teach their kids responsibility.”
“You know what? They should go buy 10 feeder fish for $1 each and see if they can take care of that, first,” before they trust children with the welfare of a helpless, warm-blooded pet, she said.
The couple’s adoption process can be considered daunting — on purpose. The application must be filled out and a veterinary reference requirement will be checked. Photos of the cage an adoptee intends to use must be included in the application along with proof of its size (a ruler placed beside it). Applicants must also undergo an interview that may include a home visit.
“You will be required to come to our facility to learn about care and spend bonding time with the animal that you wish to adopt,” the agency’s website reads.
“Don’t expect to go home with a pet 20 minutes after you visit the store,” said Myers, explaining that the couple don’t want the adoption to be an impulse purchase. The whole process may take a week or more.
Pol, a cable company lineman, said he doesn’t regret the direction their lives have taken since their first discussion about adopting a dog, even if the enterprise has cost them every spare cent.
“I’ve been a rodent guy since I first had a pet as a kid. I still enjoy the guinea pigs more than I would a dog,” Pol said.
Other animals in the news:
Cabin Fever Reliever — The Akron Zoo, 500 Edgewood Ave., will offer a cure for the winter blues from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturdays in January starting today. Each Saturday, the zoo will have a free craft station for kids and free hot chocolate for all. The events will be themed around the construction of the Mike and Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge exhibit, opening in late summer 2013. All activities will be indoors at the Barnhardt Family Welcome Center. Winter hours for the zoo are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $6, free for children under 2. Parking fee is $2.
Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge National Finals — 3:30 p.m. Jan. 12 on NBC. Show is one-of-a-kind canine competition showcasing the world’s most athletic dogs and their trainers. See Vhoebe, a Belgian Malinois from San Diego reclaim her crown at this year’s dog diving competition at an astounding 32 feet 3 inches, a full 2 feet 7½ inches farther than any human has ever jumped. “Olympic-style” events featured in the competition include agility, freestyle flying disc, Jack Russell hurdle races, speed and catch, 30-weave pole racing and dog diving.
Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.