By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans
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Videographer / director: Bart Vandever
Producer: Hannah Stevens, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
Saskia Chiesa, 49, set up Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue 20 years ago in Chatsworth, California.
After discovering that there was no place for rescued guinea pigs to go in LA, Saskia knew she had to set up her own to save her spirit animal.
The guinea pig lover expected to start slowly but she found herself with 20 guinea pigs with health problems within the first month.
Saskia told Barcroft TV: “I decided to rescue guinea bigs because it’s my spiritual animal! The memory of my first guinea pig, I picked it up and I was just so taken.
“I was just totally mesmerised, it was just this beautiful creature. Ever since then, y’know, my whole life’s gone to the pigs!”
Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue is now home to up to 350 guinea pigs at a time and they are always taking in more rescues and surrendered pigs.
She said: “Life here at the sanctuary is hectic, it is very hectic. There’s never a moment where there’s nothing to do, it’s an ongoing thing!
“You know, I decided to rescue guinea pigs because I started looking for the guinea pig rescue because it’s my spirit animal, and there wasn’t any.
“I was expecting one or two to start with but there were 20 of them! They all had skin diseases so I was thrown in the deep right away.”
Volunteer Melissa Brown calls the sanctuary her ‘pig paradise’ and says the pigs have changed her life.
She said: “I just love this place. I call this pig paradise, this is my home away from home.
“I love when kids come in and families come in here, and they’re just so excited and overwhelmed because there’s a lot of guinea pigs in here!
“They’re life changing - I have suffered with anxiety, depression, just a lot of emotional problems growing up, and I feel now that the therapy that they give me, I definitely could have benefited in my earlier years and I wish I could’ve known that.”
The sanctuary also provides health checks for the guinea pigs, including manicures and a dash of hair styling.
Chiesa said: “We do health checks, where we just do a little scan, a nail clip and, of course, we do adult match making services.
“So, if we have a guinea pig that’s lonely then you can bring the guinea pig and we’ll just have a few playdates.
“Same sex of course because we don’t breed here!”
The sanctuary puts all the guinea pigs up for adoption and Saskia is passionate about educating people on how to give guinea pigs the best care possible.
She said: “The pigs require a lot of space, so the small guinea pigs cages that the pet stores sell, that they say is the perfect set up or a starter kit for the guinea pigs, they’re not.
“It’s cruel, actually, to have them in the smaller cages because they do want to walk around.”