When we think of the human-animal bond, the relationships we share with our pets ordinarily come to mind. And for good reason. Companion animals and their families are often deeply attached, offering each other remarkable support night and day. But meaningful connections with animals can also be experienced outside the home. Just look at the healing interactions between horses and people in therapy, the human-animal friendships that form in animal shelter environments, and the mindfulness and calm many experience when observing wildlife in their natural habitats. These relations, however brief, can have tremendous value for humans and animals alike.
In much the same way, bonding with animals is often regarded or presented as relationships between humans and specific species, namely those we tend to be most familiar with – feline, canine, and equine companion animals. Connections with birds, reptiles, fish, small mammals, such as rabbits or rodents, and others rarely receive the same effusive attention. Rodents, in particular, are often stigmatized and seen as dangerous or dirty. In New York, for example, Mayor Eric Adams has even appointed a “Rat Czar” to address the growing populations of rats in the city.
Of course, wild rats roaming the subways of Manhattan are a different animal altogether than the socialized and affectionate pet rats with whom some share their lives. But, because of stereotypes and fear, these qualities are often overlooked in ways not unlike those of pit bulls and other canine breeds. At the Dumb Friends League, we believe all animals, regardless of species, are worthy of respect and capable of love. In addition to caring for cats, dogs, and equines, the League also facilitates the adoption of rats, gerbils, mice, rabbits, and guinea pigs through our shelters and PetSmart partners. Each year, we help more than 2,000 small pets find loving homes.
In March of 2019, Patrice and her family adopted a guinea pig named Obie, whom they later named Potato (Tater for short). Patrice’s two twin daughters, Carly and Melina (who are now 17), had previously participated in our humane education programs, including Critter Camps and Junior Volunteer Clubs, so they knew the League well. Not long after Tater’s adoption day, a family friend was looking to rehome her guinea pig, and Patrice’s crew felt the time was (more than) right to welcome another small pet into their home. Plus, this presented a perfect opportunity to provide both animals with an outlet for their social and outgoing natures. As members of a herd species, guinea pigs typically thrive in family groups of two or more.
Although both of Patrice’s “piggies” are full of personality, the new arrival, Butterscotch, proved to be quite different than her big brother. Tater, who is cared for primarily by Carly, is easy-going but sassy, and never shies away from setting a boundary. On the other paw, Melina’s girl, Butterscotch, is speedy and affectionate, with a razor-sharp focus on vegetables and other delicious treats. With each other, the two are mostly tolerant and gentle during play, but have been known to squabble over a piece of watermelon from time to time.
With the encouragement of Carly and Melina, Patrice became a volunteer dog walker and walker trainer at the League nearly four years ago. Her husband was soon to follow. As a family dedicated to the welfare of animals, they have become experts in all things guinea pig over the past four years. Tater and Butterscotch experience enriched environments, eat food with a variety of textures, take a vitamin C pellet every day, and see their veterinarian regularly. In turn, the beloved pair provide their caregivers with regular laughter and support. When the family’s dog sadly passed a few months back, Tater and Butterscotch were there to help them cope with their grief. “If I’m ever sad or, like, stressed out, one of the first things I do is cuddle Butterscotch,” said Melina. “The night our dog died, she was licking my tears.” When speaking of her relationship with Tater, Carly shared,
I didn’t really think I’d have such a bond with a guinea pig [like I do] with dogs, but, like, it’s very similar. It’s nice to know that he’s always there. And like, you can just talk to them because you know they’re not going to judge you.
Many League staff are also avid cheerleaders for guinea pigs and small mammals of all species. Tara, who has worked in our Call Center for over a decade, is one such champion. For years, she has adopted and fostered a variety of small mammals, especially rabbits (or “bun buns” as she lovingly calls them). In conversations with patrons, she shares her knowledge and experience, and answers questions to support proper care and devoted relationships. According to Tara,
I will continue to be the biggest advocate for small mammals that I can possibly be! I feel they are often [unfairly] looked over and … my job is to speak up for them in any way I can. They really bring so much joy to families.
Are you ready to adopt? We have so many wonderful animals – great and small – just waiting to connect with you. Click here to learn more.