ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque Animal Welfare says it has to return dozens of guinea pigs to a man accused of hoarding them. Meanwhile, animal advocates say the animals’ lives are at risk.
Back in March, the department started investigating after a man continued to bring guinea pigs in for care over the course of 14 months. According to court documents, about 30 were brought in either dying or already dead. Animal officers issued a warrant. They say they found dirty cages filled with feces and dozens more guinea pigs. Around 28 were initially found, but those fostering them afterward, say many were pregnant and have since given birth.
“Most of the females were pregnant, some of them were extremely too young to be pregnant or the opposite end of the spectrum, too old to be pregnant,” said Cindy Cribbs, founder of Haven for Hamsters Rescue and Sanctuary, which took in about 10 of the guinea pigs. “All of these guinea pigs are inbred so unfortunately, we won’t know their health status.”
The owner was charged with 28 counts of animal cruelty, but since he’s been found mentally incompetent to stand trial, the charges have been dropped. According to court documents, the order to dismiss charges was signed by Judge Maria Dominguez. Since this is considered a mental illness case, KRQE News 13 is not identifying the owner.
“We built a case, it went to the DA’s office and the DA took it to the judge. The judge decided because the gentleman who owned the guinea pigs, he has mental health issues,” said Carolyn Ortega, director of Albuquerque Animal Welfare. “We have a legal obligation to take them back at this point.”
Ortega says there isn’t anything her department can do about it. Cribbs says many of the animals were roaming loose and breeding, creating a volatile situation between the females.
“Our concern is if we send them back and they’re put back into an open, roaming situation, we’re going to have females fighting to death trying to get with the males,” said Cribbs. She says spaying and neutering guinea pigs is a risky procedure, which is why males and females are kept separate to prevent breeding.
Cribbs says guinea pigs are usually pregnant for about two months and can immediately breed again after the babies are born, making it easy for a population to get out of control quickly. With the possibility of them going back to the owner, she says it’s dangerous move.
“What were they possibly thinking?” Cribbs asked. “My common sense is, if he’s unfit to stand trial, how is he fit to care for these animals?”
Ortega says she also has concerns. They want to make sure the animals will be kept safe and healthy upon their return.
“That was exactly our thoughts,” said Ortega. “We want to make sure our animals are in a safe environment but we also want to make sure we’re compassionate and we know mental illness is an issue.”
In the meantime, they plan to routinely check in with the owner. They also plan on educating him on proper care.
“We’re going to work with this family to make sure that we’re monitoring the situation and that we’re getting him the resources and the education that he needs to properly take care of them,” said Ortega. “Our hands are kind of tied, we have to give them back. We’re going to take the best possible approach to make sure the animals are going to be okay.”
Cribbs says she also intends to reach out to the owner and offer help and solutions. She’s been communicating with concerned fosters, as well.
The city doesn’t have a limit on the number of guinea pigs a person can have. Animal Welfare says they plan on looking into that closer to make sure this doesn’t happen again.