Call it “Guinea pig overpopulation prevention week”
NEW YORK CITY––“The bill to ban the sale of guinea pigs in NYC pet stores, has passed with a vote of 42-7 in the New York City Council!” exulted Voters for Animal Rights president Allie Taylor on the morning of April 11, 2023.
“It may seem like a ‘small’ issue,” Taylor acknowledged, “but it means the world to these animals who have been treated like commodities––bought and sold, dumped and abandoned.”
Taylor thanked New York City Council speaker Adrienne Adams, deputy speaker Diana Ayala, and council member Lynn Schulman, adding a “paws up to all of 35 New York City council members” who became cosponsors of the legislation.
First-in-U.S. guinea pig sales ban
Ayala introduced the first-in-the-U.S. guinea pig sales ban in early February 2022.
(See Rats or guinea pigs––which rodent will inherit New York City?)
The deciding vote, 14 months later, came five days after Voters for Animal Rights mentioned in an appeal to members that, “In the cold days of February, a nature photographer here in New York City found a guinea pig abandoned in Prospect Park and then, soon after, someone left a crate with a chicken and two guinea pigs near the Prospect Park Zoo.
“And now – once again – last weekend,” the Voters for Animal Rights appeal said, “two guinea pigs were left for dead in the trash at New Lots, Brooklyn. Thankfully, they have been rescued.”
Feral guinea pigs at high risk from predation
Guinea pigs have a fast metabolism, but––being native to the much colder high Andes of South America––any abandoned guinea pigs finding a plentiful food source would have little difficulty weathering the New York City winters.
Certainly guinea pigs on the loose in New York City would suffer steep mortality, as prey for hawks, owls, feral cats, dogs, and nest-raiding rats, but the risk of abandoned guinea pigs becoming feral inhabitants of the greener parts of New York City, alongside the abundant rats, squirrels, and occasional rabbits and coyotes, is relatively high.
Many New York City guinea pigs may have been dumped due to unanticipated unwanted breeding. Male and female guinea pigs are notoriously difficult to distinguish from each other, so many buyers may have unwittingly acquired breeding pairs.
Guinea pigs abandonment tripled since 2019
Only two veterinarians in New York City perform spay/neuter surgery on guinea pigs, according to Animal Care Centers of New York City spokesperson Katy Hansen.
The surgery costs from $400 to $515, quite a lot for a pet usually sold for under $40.
But unaltered guinea pigs can produce five litters per year.
“This decision is expected to have a significant impact on reducing the number of abandoned guinea pigs in the city’s animal shelters,” projected Hansen.
Hansen said the Animal Care Centers of New York City intake of guinea pigs had tripled since 2019, with over 750 guinea pigs taken in by the organization in 2022 alone.
This followed intake of 282 cast-off guinea pigs during the first eight months of 2019, and 481 during the first eight months of 2021.
“Crucial that we continue to raise awareness about responsibilities”
No other U.S. city has reported a comparable surge in guinea pig surrenders, but that may be only because no other city has been keeping track.
Explained New York City Council deputy speaker Diana Ayala, “The[COVID-19] pandemic led to an increase in the sale of guinea pigs citywide. Three years later, the number of abandoned guinea pigs has continued to grow exponentially. These furry little lovable creatures are being abandoned in large numbers, making it difficult to rehome them, and overcrowding Animal Care Centers.
“Banning their sale in pet shops will help address these concerns and allow us an opportunity to focus our attention on ensuring that our furry little friends can find their forever home,” Ayala said.
Added Animal Care Centers of New York City chief executive Risa Weinstock. “It is crucial that we continue to raise awareness about the responsibilities that come with owning a pet and encourage adoption from reputable rescue organizations.”
Precedents: ferrets, rabbits, & pit bulls in public housing
The New York City sales ban on guinea pigs has precedents, including a sales ban on ferrets passed in 1999, and a sales ban on rabbits passed in 2014.
New York City has even banned pit bulls in the now very distant past, but that ban was rescinded, except in public housing, two years after the formation of the Animal Care Centers of New York City as the then-New York City Center for Animal Care & Control, to take over animal control duties from the American SPCA.
The ASPCA, having held the New York City animal control contract for 100 years, 1895 through 1994, had largely ceased enforcing the pit bull ban after 1984, but had wearied of euthanizing ever-increasing numbers of pit bulls who were either owner-surrendered or found running at large.
Giving up the animal control contract enabled the ASPCA to declare itself a “no kill” organization.
No gangsta guinea pigs
Most of the arguments used by Voters for Animal Rights and Animal Care Centers of New York City apply equally to pit bulls, the dogs most often owner-surrendered or impounded in New York City for at least 30 years now.
Indeed, pit bulls are found abandoned in New York City parks much more often than guinea pigs, and pose much more risk to the public, too, killing at least three New Yorkers in the six years 2017-2022.
Pit bulls also annually lead New York City in reported bite injuries, inflicting seven times more than any other breed despite being only the sixth most commonly registered breed.
Making up 5.5% of the New York City dog population, consistent with representing 5.2% of the U.S. dog population overall, pit bulls have since 2015 accounted for an average of about 870 reported bite injuries per year, amounting to from 30% to 36% of all reported bites.
Guinea pigs, by comparison, have yet to kill or severely injure anyone, either in New York City or elsewhere. No cops have had to shoot guinea pigs. No guinea pigs guard drug stashes, though some have been known to find and eat marijuana.
And no gang members terrorize neighborhoods with guinea pigs wearing spiked collars.
Jamaka Petzak says
Sharing with gratitude to all involved, both for the article and for the ban. Guinea pigs are sentient living beings, mammals like we are. They are sweet, harmless, loving companions and they deserve protection, good care, and love.