Rescue Garden 2023 Holiday Pop-up Shop

Holiday 2023 Rescue Garden Fundraiser Sale!

Welcome to our online "pop-up" shop for the 2023 gift-giving season!

We have limited quantity 2024 wall and desk calendars, and AI-created-art and original photo-art notecards (envelopes included).  Apparel, blankets, toe bags, and mugs are ordered through and shipped from our print provider.  

All proceeds help fund the rescue and sanctuary work we do here at The Rescue Garden.  We are volunteer-based.  Nobody gets a salary (not even me!).  All monies raised through sales and donations go directly to the feeding, veterinary care, and needed-supplies for the guinea pigs, mice, and rabbits we care for as adoptables and sanctuaries.  Our own pets are not funded by Rescue Garden monies. 

For shirts, neckties, blankets, mugs, and tote bags, visit our Printify store.  Special request?  email to inquire.

To order cards or calendars, please email

Note cards come with natural colour envelopes.  Three styles are AI art using Dall-e2.  

                               Brown Rabbit                               White Rabbit                         Dutch Rabbit

                               back of card

Please indicate quantity and style each of "Brown Rabbit", "White Rabbit", or "Dutch Rabbit".

We also have original photography by our friend Megan Russ...


and original photography by yours truly!

Please indicate quantity and style each of "Butterflies" or "Yellow Roses"

Pack of 5 cards with envelopes are $10 (includes US shipping). 
Packs of 10 cards with envelopes are $18 (includes US shipping).  
$2 per pack discount for local pick-up (Redondo Beach/Hawthorne area)

Wall calendars measure 8 inches wide by 11 1/2 inches long and feature significant dates and holidays throughout the year. Each month features a photo of our more well-known critters and significant rescues, including mice, rabbits, aquatic creatures, and Guinea Pigs. Of course, our holiday queen Imogen graces December.  $20 each includes US shipping. 
$2 per calendar discount for local pick-up (Redondo Beach/Hawthorne area)


Desk calendars are 8 inches wide and 4 inches tall with a 2 inch wide stance. Each month features a photo of our more well-known critters and significant rescues, including mice, rabbits, aquatic creatures, and Guinea Pigs. Of course, our holiday queen Imogen graces December.  $16 each includes US shipping. 
$2 per calendar discount for local pick-up (Redondo Beach/Hawthorne area)


Our Luckiest Rescue: Imogen's Story

(Content Warning: descriptions of animal illness, surgery, and some non-gory post-operative photos)

It's sometimes hard for us to visit pet stores in person due to the lack of care and knowledge we witness with regards to the animals they sell -- at The Rescue Garden, we're firm believers in the "adopt, don't shop" motto. Certain stores are worse than others, with Petco being the most heartbreakingly severe offenders, and PetSmart only slightly better. Unfortunately, in many areas, these are the only options for pet supplies, unless you have access to online ordering. The issue is not necessarily the employees on the sales floors who are just trying to do their jobs. The failure occurs at the corporate level, where animals are seen as a bottom line rather than living creatures. Sales associates at these stores receive next to no training in the proper care of the animals for sale, instead being forced to follow corporate procedure that certainly does not prioritize the best interests of the animals; most of the time, they don't even realize that the little bit they were taught during orientation is inaccurate or harmful. Even store managers can fall into this trap. When I've had to visit a store in person, I've often ended up answering questions from other customers or ended up being the one to have to handle a critter because the poor employee assigned to that area is actually terrified or unsure of how to handle them. And sometimes I've witnessed situations so dire that over time, I've ended up taking home three mice, a rat, and a guinea pig, just to get them out of unhealthy conditions at the store -- always a tough decision, because none of us want to encourage them to sell more animals, but we also can't stand idly by when we see an animal in danger. A few years ago, I was living in Silicon Valley. The Rescue Garden was still just a faint glimmer of a dream in my head. Our local PetSmart usually wasn't too terrible, and I needed animal food too urgently to wait for an online order to be delivered, so I decided to pay them a visit. I always take a walk past the animals just to keep an eye on things, and on this day, I noticed a lovely little white Abyssinian poofball with pink eyes among the guinea pigs in the much-too-small, improperly bedded tank. A few weeks and another emergency supply run, she was still there, although a little less fluffy than she had been before. Yet another couple of weeks passed, and the same piggie was looking downright scrawny and shabby, her eyes duller. Three months later, she was still there, and clearly unwell. Luckily for this little guinea pig, my husband's "no more animals" decree has never been terribly convincing, and having heard the frequent updates on this little one, it turned into "...after this one." I rushed back to the store the next day and told them I wanted that guinea pig, knowing full well that she was going to require intensive care to get her healthy again. I asked them why she'd been there for so long and the sales associate replied that "nobody wants the ones with the pink eyes," something I'd heard plenty of times before about mice, rabbits, and rats. My heart went from cracked to broken. As soon as I got the listless little guinea pig home, I made an emergency appointment with the veterinarian. She was about five months old, but due to the maltreatment received at the store, she was only the size of a three month old. Her coat was thin, dull, and scratchy, and there was no light at all in her eyes. She barely reacted when picked up or held and it became quickly apparent that she was blind in addition to being severely malnourished. Her breathing was labored. She refused all kinds of fresh produce and hay that I offered her, so we went straight for organic baby food made from guinea pig-safe vegetables and Critical Care, which she thankfully at least nibbled at. I kept her in my arms all day. When my husband got home from work, he took one look at her and was smitten, even in her precarious state.

I named her Imogen. We slept on the couch together that night so I could try to feed her and give her water every couple of hours. I knew there was a very good chance she wouldn't make it, but she seemed to respond to the cuddles at least a little bit.

The next day we took her to her emergency vet appointment. The results of her physical exam were devastating. The xrays showed advanced pneumonia. The veterinarian, Dr. Greenspan, was able to confirm that she was indeed blind, and also deaf. Somehow, despite five whole months of insufficient nutrition at the pet store, she did not have scurvy -- guinea pigs, like humans, cannot make their own Vitamin C and need supplementation in their diet to compensate. But that was the only comfort we'd receive. We went home with antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory, not even sure if that would be enough to pull her through. Imogen slept in the baby doll cradle my father had built for me when I was a toddler next to the couch where I slept for her first four nights with us, continuing to feed her Critical Care and applesauce -- the only thing she was able to take in -- from what had once been my daughter's baby spoon. If she didn't have long left, I was determined to make sure she knew what it felt like to be spoiled with love.

I truly believe that love makes a difference in recovery for animals, just like it does for humans. And by the second day, our "baby" Imogen was improving.  She looked like a whole new piggie.  Her eyes were much brighter, reminding me of candy apples or boiled sweets. I minced veggies in the food processor and mixed them with the Critical Care so she could learn to eat like a real guinea pig.  Normally, baby guinea pigs learn what's good to eat by watching their mother, but since Imogen couldn't see and didn't have a mama to take care of her, all we could do was try a little bit of everything and hope something would entice her to eat. As it turns out, parsley and cucumber did the trick. Over the next few days, I started cutting the produce into slightly larger chunks and added in small bits of hay. 

It took her a full month to learn to eat hay, pellets, and vegetables. She refused lettuce leaves, but got very excited about the crunchier parts near the base of the lettuce head. To this day, she turns her nose up at "floppy" foods, and will pick through her daily salad for the smaller, crunchier leaves and stemmy bits! 

Finally, she surprised everyone by getting a clean bill of health from the vet, and we tried her with our existing herd -- Blossom, Juneau, and Gemmie. They were fine with playdates outside the cage, but unfortunately would not accept having her in their house. Now we had another problem. I gave Imogen (now shortened to Immi) a pet-safe stuffed elephant to keep her company while she lived alone and I figured out what to do. My daughter, Eva, had adopted Gemmie from us and a companion piggie for her from the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue named Iota, but was in the middle of moving house, so we were babysitting both at the time. We all agreed to try Immi with Gemmie and Iota, and that if things went well, she'd take the trio.

The bonding seemed to be going well until sweet little Immi tried to say hello to Iota the only way she knew how -- ear nibbles and nuzzles. Being blind and deaf, we have to communicate with Imogen through physical means, either by humming and talking to her while holding her so she can feel the vibrations in our chests, or by little smooches we give her on her ears. Ear smooches, however, are highly improper guinea pig etiquette, so Iota took great offense, and that was the end of that bonding, leaving Imogen still with us and all by herself, except for "Ellie" the stuffed elephant and her humans.

A few weeks later, we drove two hours to the Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, hoping we could find Immi a friend. Jenn, the founder, put six female guinea pigs into a playpen with Imogen to see who would take to her best. All of the girls were very sweet to the new kid, but one named Maisy was the first one to her side and stayed there for the rest of their playdate. We knew Maisy was the right choice. Then we saw Dottie. At the time, she was just called "Smoosh-Face" because of her short, rounded snout. Nobody wanted her because of her different appearance, which was due to a guinea pig version of dwarfism, making her stockier and "smooshier" -- to us, she was absolutely adorable! Good Guy Husband surprised us all in the best possible way by announcing we'd be taking her home with us, too. Now we had this wonderful trio, an existing pair of our own, and our visiting "grandkids" Gemmie and Iota, and everyone was happy!

Five weeks later, we ended up with a quintet when, after daily floor time and picnic dinner, Blossom and Juneau decided that these new kids weren't so bad after all. By now, we'd had Imogen for four months.

Over time, we learned that Imogen had some sensitivity to high frequency sound in her left ear. Tapping a spoon on a glass would elicit a small "burr burr burr" response. Small birds with higher-pitched tweets in our yard would also prick her ear. After trying numerous sound frequencies, I found a music box that she could "hear." What she actually hears, we have no way of knowing -- if only guinea pigs could talk! -- but some structure in her left ear functions enough to pick up sounds in the A7 to C7 range. Dr. Greenspan performed extensive testing of Immi's eyes and neurological status and found an extremely minor reaction to light in her left eye, but still none at all in the right. Her right ear is completely floppy, but her left ear sticks up normally. Whether this is coincidence or evidence of something like a stroke or congenital nerve impairment, no one can say for sure.

The vet warned us that Immi would likely be susceptible to respiratory issues throughout her life because of the severity of the malnutrition and pneumonia she had already experienced at such an early stage of development. We kept (and still keep) close watch on her breathing, and sure enough, that following March, we saw the signs again. Although we had now settled in Los Angeles, Dr. Greenspan had referred us to a trusted colleague in our area at a facility with 24/7 emergency care and every other pet resource you could need available on-site. The wonderful Dr. Gleeson diagnosed a new bout of pneumonia. Illness in small animals hits hard and fast, so despite having caught the issue much earlier this time, Immi was already very sick. She had to stay in the animal hospital to be on oxygen. 

We brought Ellie to her the next day, and visited daily. Although they brought her to us in an oxygen tent, we were able to hold her for at least few minutes each time we came to say hello. We even took Maisy to visit a few times, too, once we were told it was safe to do so. I fed Immi and gave her meds myself if I was there at the right time to do so. She was in the hospital for a staggering 3 weeks. When I couldn't be there due to work-related travel, my husband filled in, so that she'd know she hadn't been abandoned. 

When we finally got her home, she was on meds and nebulizer treatments twice a day. A few weeks later, the pneumonia had cleared up, but her eye was starting to look a little odd. Likely as a result of the respiratory infection, an abscess had developed behind her right eye, pushing it outwards. Guinea pig immune systems make extreme attempts to contain infection by encapsulating offending cells with thick pus and membrane, which is good because it's usually easier to remove this way -- but because they can grow so quickly, they can put pressure on nearby structures, including eyes. That May, Dr. Gleeson, Dr. Schacterle, and the ophthalmology specialist Dr. Fahrer had no choice but to remove the eye along with the abscess. Immi was in the hospital for a few days (with her Ellie, of course) and we started a whole new course of medications and wound care.  

Since Immi was already completely blind in her right eye, aside from some occasional annoying tearing of the empty eye-space where part of the tear duct remains, she is not affected in the slightest by its removal. Even before her surgery, she was the fastest, hardest guinea pig to catch up with! Her spatial awareness is incredible. We call her Magical Moji because sometimes she disappears from the free-ranging herd in the animal room and reappears in the living room or kitchen -- how she finds her way out is a mystery to us! She zooms around her habitat as confidently as any sighted piggie. During her many explorations, she is mapping out her route, like a furry little robo-vacuum, and then zips around once she knows exactly where everything (and everyone) is. Whenever another guinea pig steps in front of her, she skids to a stop and changes her path to go around them without incident. We often forget she can't see or hear!

So that is the story of lucky, magical, fluffy, pixie-nosed, blind, deaf, one-eyed Himalayan Abyssinian guinea pig -- all hail Imogen Maxmiliana Smith, Guinea Pig Queen of Bavaria, as is her full and proper name!

Home Sweet Home? Maybe Not For Your Small Pet!

 I love Pinterest, Instagram, and any other highly-visual medium for the inspiration they bring in so many areas. Unfortunately, these types of platforms have also been extremely active in spreading well-meaning but inaccurate information about what constitutes appropriate housing for various small pet species.

When the focus becomes stronger on the aesthetics of a pet home than the safety or suitability, tragedies can occur. Animals in houses that are too small can develop obesity, depression, or neurological disorders; if the house itself is made out of unsafe materials, the consequences can be illness or worse. The super-cute hutch that appears on your feed may not be worth the risk to your beloved pet.

At The Rescue Garden, we follow the basic guidelines set forth by The Humane Society to determine whether a pet home is suitable:

Guinea pigs: Minimum 2ft wide and 8 sq ft flat floor space for 1 to 2 guinea pigs; add another 2 sq ft for each additional guinea pig in the enclosure.

Rabbits: Ideally rabbits should have free range of your rabbit-proofed home, but minimum 16 sq ft flat floor space at least for when you're asleep or not at home; add another 4 sq ft for each additional rabbit. Even a dwarf or mini-rabbit needs a minimum height of 36in on enclosure walls to ensure they can't jump out of them. 

Rats: At least 2 floors/levels for 1 to 2 rats, with the main floor being 2 sq ft x 2ft tall; for every additional 1 to 2 rats, double these measurements.

Mice: 23in x 20in with a height of 12in and a minimum of 2 floors/levels for 1 to 2 mice; for every 1 to 2 mice added, add 30 sq in and 1 level.

Rabbits and guinea pigs love to roam, but not so much climb. Any hutch or cage that includes multiple levels and/or steep ramps may result in injuries and a fearful pet who will stay hunkered down on their too-small main floor, especially if those ramps are just plunked into a hole in the middle of the top floor where they could fall. Rats and mice are happy little daredevils, though, so while they take up less floor space, they absolutely need that additional height to keep them healthy and happy. 

 Spacing between bars also matters:

  • Mice can slip through any bars wider than ½in apart.
  • Adult rats can get through wider than 1in.
  • Baby guinea pigs -- as old as 8 weeks -- can pop through the standard C&C grids.
If needed, you can make temporary "baby gates" by clipping solid sheets of clear plastic or other suitable materials over the outside of the bars, but I'd like to stress temporary until your pet grows large enough to no longer need the extra protection. They'll be much happier and safer if their adult cage is suitable for their species!

These guidelines should apply even if you're only going to keep your pet in their enclosure while you sleep, or when you're not at home. Think about how many hours you sleep on average, or how long a trip to the store might take. Even if you're asleep, your pet might not be. Guinea pigs are neither strictly nocturnal or diurnal, staying up for most of the day but also a portion of the night while you're asleep. Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. Now imagine how rotten it is to be wide awake and ready to go, but be trapped in a small space with nothing to do... especially now, as we all do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing and self-quarantining as necessary, we should be extra-sympathetic to that!

Size isn't the only consideration you should have in setting up a safe and happy space for your pet, though. Small pets are prey animals in the wild, meaning that very noisy environments will have them constantly terrified and stressed, which can shorten lifespans, affect handleability, and ultimately mean a less satisfying bond for both you and your pet. Avoid exposing your pet to sudden loud noises, shrill noises, or any kind of ultrasonic noise from things like jewelry cleaners, humidifiers, or aromatherapy diffusers -- even though we can't hear it, they definitely can, and ultrasonic noise has been shown to disrupt neurological function to the point of permanent damage or sometimes even death in many animals, but especially rodents and other small animals. (It's why ultrasonic noise is used for "organic" pest control.)

Air temperature, and humidity must also be properly controlled. Guinea pigs, especially, are extremely prone to heat stroke, and once they start showing symptoms, it's often too late to bring them back. Very dry (less than 15% humidity) or dusty environments can cause respiratory issues in small pets, but too much humidity  can also cause deadly bacteria, fungus, mildew, or mold to grow unchecked. Mice and rats are prone to hypothermia due to their low body fat content. As a general rule, ideal temperatures are:
  • Rabbits: 60F-72F. Never over 78F, never below 35F.
  • Guinea pigs: 64F-76F. Never over 80F, never below 60F.
  • Rats & mice: 65F-80F. Never over 82F, never below 62F.
Good airflow in any cage is beneficial in conjunction with safe temperatures and humidity, since it helps prevent respiratory illnesses and stops bacterial growth. If airflow is insufficient, even the best possible temperatures outside the cage will become unbearable and maybe even dangerous to your pet inside of it. For animals like mice and rats who prefer to hide, lots of small boxes, pet-safe houses, tunnels, and other accessories should be places inside their enclosure for them to play in. Keeping the cage against a wall with just a few inches of space will give them the whole side of a gridded enclosure without limiting airflow like fish tanks will -- a contributing factor to the number of pet store-purchased animals who come home with fungal infections and respiratory illnesses. Regardless, you should always keep an eye on your pet's enclosure; if you see any signs of mold, mildew, or extra liquid saturation in the bottom, remove your animals immediately and get a new one. 

And finally, light is one of the most important considerations for the happiness and health of any animal, including humans. The instinctual behaviors of our small pets, including sleep and foraging, are tied to the cycles of the sun, also known as their circadian rhythm. If there's too much bright light in their house, a small animal used to a natural forest-like environment or otherwise darker environment (mice and rats) will be negatively affected. On the other hand, if you have a rabbit or guinea pigs, not enough light can actually cause depression. Nocturnal animals and any with red or pink eyes tend to be more sensitive to light. Type of light matters too; fluorescent lights and LED lights should be avoided, since they can damage the sensitive eyes of rats and mice and disrupt neurological function. Some anecdotal evidence also suggests that rabbits may be affected in similar ways, so it's best to nix them altogether. Flashing or strobing lights can also cause neurological damage, and lights should be turned on and off with the natural cycle of the day -- that is, don't worry about night-lights for your pet, since nocturnal animals see well enough in the dark that they won't need them, and diurnal animals will be negatively impacted.

Here's a guide to some of the most common small pet houses -- or at least styles of them -- that we've been asked about.

1. The Cute "Rabbit" Hutch

This is a very cute piece of furniture sold as a rabbit hutch, but it is far too small, and the multiple levels make it a poor choice for either a rabbit or guinea pigs. In fact, we have yet to see any of these super-cute "bunny" hutches that are sufficiently big enough for them (with the exception of some very nice custom builds). Even with a multi-story hutch, the ramps take up a huge amount of space by the ramp openings on the top and bottom, so whatever the total square footage is, you are losing at least an additional foot on each floor to accommodate the way up and down -- and for guinea pigs, there's a real risk of falling through the hole in the floor and injuring themselves (or worse). Burrowing animals like rabbits may sleep in small, dark spaces, but if their main habitat is always dark, you could potentially throw off their natural circadian rhythms and end up with a very unhappy and possibly sick pet. We couldn't find information on the bar spacing, but if they're narrow enough, this could be a fine option for rats or mice.

2. The "Hiding In Plain Sight" Cage

This style is popular for folks who prefer to blend their pet housing into their regular surroundings -- and if done correctly, this isn't a bad choice! We like the fact that there are lights installed inside, since guinea pigs dislike small, dark spaces for their main habitat. With smaller grids on the front, this would be a great rat condo; a few extra levels with less space between them and even smaller grids, and you could make a whole lot of mice very happy.. We'd even consider it for up to 2 guinea pigs if it were built to have more floor space and either ditched the second level or at least had a ramp that was not so steep, if you happen to have one of the rare piggies who doesn't mind them. This is definitely too small for a rabbit, though.

3. The Indoor Garden


WE. LOVE. THESE. ENCLOSURES. Plenty of open space, and whether you go with the grid-type fencing or acrylic siding, any guinea pig or rabbit would be lucky to live in something like this. The top "house" in the second photo can easily be repurposed for storage or just used as decoration, though we don't recommend using it as a second level due to how small it is -- even a very slight ramp would still leave not enough floor space for your pet to safely turn around inside and use it. It should go without saying, however, that rats and mice could very easily scamper their way to freedom with this style.

4. The Simple Pen

"Hey! That's what I've got for my rabbit!" exclaimed our social media manager when she saw this. Sold as a pet exercise or playpen, these metal pens measure 16 sq ft in a square configuration and are easy to set up. They aren't fancy, but they're plenty of room for a single rabbit or a herd of up to 4 guinea pigs, and if you've got other free-roaming animals in the house, there are different kinds of toppers you can purchase specifically to fit them. The bars are way too far apart for mice or rats to safely live in, though. As a note, make sure any fairy lights or decorative garlands are well out of reach of nibbles to avoid intestinal blockages or a nasty electric shock to your pet.

5. The Double-Decker

Obviously, your pet's comfort should take ultimate priority -- but we can't help mentioning how much we love the easy access that this style of cage door offers. This particular model can fit up to 3 rats or 7 mice if you add an extra couple of levels; however, this style is unsuitable for guinea pigs or rabbits due to the required floor space being divided between two levels, and the ramp required to move between them being too steep to safely use.

6. The "Compact" Option

My initial urge was to just write an entire paragraph of "NO" in bold font for this one. For anything other than a single mouse -- and even then, the grid would need replacing with something much smaller so they couldn't slip out, and an extra level would have to be added -- this is far too small, dark, and miserable. Keeping an animal in something like this is nothing short of cruelty. If space is a consideration, there are other, better options out there that won't produce a miserable and definitely unhealthy pet.

7. The Upcycle

If you're handy with tools and have a bulky old entertainment center around, you may be able to re-purpose it as shown here... but with this specific build, not for guinea pigs, and definitely not for rabbits, due to the lack of flat space for them to run around. With the appropriately smaller grids than the big chicken-wire fencing shown, this would be absolutely divine for a pair of ferrets, at least 4 rats, or a whopping 10 mice. There are plenty of IKEA hacks out there for small animal enclosures, too, if you'd prefer some step-by-step instructions instead of designing something off the top of your head. I've done this before, with the caution that at least one whole side and at least most of the opposite side should be gridded to ensure healthy airflow (and sometimes the top of the cabinet, depending on size and configuration).

8. The Pet Store Option

Anyone who's ever been to a pet store may now be asking, "but what about the tiny, cute cages they sell there?" It's a very uncomfortable truth, but the fact is that they don't take the time or resources to train their employees in proper animal care, meaning that while the helpful sales person helping you pick out your pet's new home may mean well, they probably have no idea that they're recommending an unsuitable and potentially dangerous cage. Corporate pet stores, especially, avoid the better housing options, which sometimes require more assembly than the lousy ones, because they don't want to scare folks off and affect their bottom line. The reality is that they make no profit from the animals they sell; all of their income is from the supplies and housing, which is yet another excellent reason to adopt instead of shop!

On their own, these kinds of pet store options are too small even for a single mouse to live in. If you're willing to get a bunch of connector tubes and several more of these cages, though, it would be fine -- in fact, the small print on the box for many of these even calls out that they are not suitable individually and must be set up as part of a much larger "playground" network. But for all of the money you'll spend doing that and the space it'll likely take up, you're better off going with any of the other mouse-approved enclosures in this list.

Of course, there are so many more styles and models of housing out there for your small pet that it can be overwhelming to decide which one is best. If you're not sure, we're happy to have you contact us via Twitter or Facebook with your housing questions! We want to be sure that both animal and owner have everything they need to make a lasting bond and stay healthy and happy.

The Piggies that Started It All

2017 was one of the worst years for wildfires that California had ever seen. Just to set the scene with a quick recap, my husband and I were living in Redwood City when all heck broke loose:
  • 9/5/17: Corona Canyon fire starts to burn.  Six days later, the fire was at 95% containment. Over 2600 acres were destroyed; 4 homes, 1 business, and 1 out-building were damaged; no lives lost.
  • 10/8/17: Begins a "complex" of fires in the wine country of northern California. Just a few days later on the 12th, 21 separate fires continued to blaze, most with less than 5% containment, across 8 counties. More than 190,000 acres of land had already burned; more than 3500 structures were already damaged or destroyed, including entire communities; 29 confirmed deaths by this point; hundreds of people were unaccounted for. At the time and possibly even still, these were considered to be the worst fires in California history.
  • 10/9/17: Canyon Fire 2 erupts in the Anaheim Hills. By 10/12, it was 60% contained and had burned over 9200 acres; 23 structures destroyed, 36 structures damaged; 3 injuries, but thankfully no lives lost.
Prior to this big mess, and just days after I mentioned in conversation that we’d been lucky that year with fires, our favourite nature park was threatened. The Skeggs Fire in Woodside, CA, was sparked by lightning from an early season rain and thunderstorm on 9/11/17. The fire was completely out by 09/16/17, but not before 50 acres of redwood forest were destroyed. Luckily no structures or lives were lost. My husband and I went to Huddart Park just outside the fire zone on Saturday when it re-opened, and then drove through the hills for a few miles. We didn’t see any damage, but we did see fire teams standing by and wetting things down in an effort to control potential hot spots.

I had been feeling desperate since the Canyon 2 fire started, not out of fear, but for the heart-breaking destruction of wildlife and people's lives. The Nor-Cal fires were on an incomprehensible scale. Many were left with no home, no jobs, no businesses, and only whatever items they could toss into a suitcase within 15 minutes before emergency evacuation. Pets and livestock -- there are a lot of farms and ranches up there -- had to be considered. Some were able to take their pets to their safe places, but many had to drop their animals off at shelters for any number of weeks, if they were able to return at all. Sites were set up in So- and Nor-Cal at fairgrounds and schools to take in animals, especially livestock. Shelters around California were already filled to the brim, having already taken in multiple airplanes' worth of animals rescued from the hurricanes that year in the southeast. The call for foster homes became even more urgent to make room for these latest evacuees.

I wanted to go out and help the firefighters. I wanted to rescue every last one of the animals and people, and help them find safe places to stay. I even wanted to somehow make it rain! I am, and always have been, a helper. So I did the quickest and easiest thing I could think of -- I offered to foster any small animals the Napa County Animal Shelter had taken in. Only an hour later they contacted me back to ask if I would take some guinea pigs. I was already 20 minutes along the route to the shelter while dropping my husband off at work -- by coincidence, not our typical routine for that particular time of day -- when I got the reply. All he said, with a smile, was: "Go." Off I went!

The fumes had already started to tickle my throat at his office, but by the time I got over the bridge to the other side of San Francisco, I had to close all the car windows. It had been fairly smoky at our place, almost 2 hours south, since the second day of the fires, forcing us to keep the windows closed, but it was nothing compared to this. I was in San Jose the day before Operation Wheek-Wheek, where the smell and haze of fire was still surprisingly noticeable. Someone said that the air was fouled all the way down to Morgan Hill, an hour south.

I headed north on the 101 to the 80, through San Francisco and across the Bay Bridge. The smoke floated lower as I drove out of the city, and I could see it swirling near the rooftops of the houses I passed. The further I went, the lower it came down. The sun was filtered to a dull orange ball that looked more like an orange moon and the sky was a pale peach in some areas. I found myself more emotionally affected than I expected. 
There were signs for road closures, but my GPS found an open route to the shelter. It took an hour and a half to drive the 64 miles from San Mateo.

At the shelter, there were piles of pet supplies of all kinds in the lobby. Apparently, they accept and receive donations all the time, but the current supply was much more than usual. While I waited for the pigs, at least a dozen people came in to drop off donations; offer to help do anything needed; offer the use of horse trailers, time, and vehicles to evacuate animals, or move them between sites; and foster the pets that were already up for adoption to clear more room for the emergency arrivals. I observed a number of heartbroken owners handing over their beloved pets to a staff of super people, showing each of them the patience and compassion they needed.

Two families who were able to return home came to reclaim pets that they’d evacuated days earlier -- an unfortunately rare story in this disaster.

Half a dozen or so others simply came to visit and care for the pets they were boarding there because they couldn't yet go home, but missed their furry friends.

Two ladies tearfully dropped off cats that they couldn't take with them to the evacuation shelter. One was an elderly woman who could barely speak from trying to hold back her tears as she filled out the paperwork and turned over her beloved kitty. The other was a middle-aged lady whose tears flowed freely. They had no idea when they'd be able to have their pets back, if ever. A staff member walked them back to the kennels to show them where their pets would be, trying to reassure them that they would be safe and cared for. You could tell that these cats were everything to these ladies and that on top of dealing with the trauma of their own evacuation, having to be separated from their pets was at least as devastating as the idea of losing their homes.

A little while later, a couple came in with a Rubbermaid tote with holes drilled into it as a make-shift carrier to evacuate their rabbit.

A shelter staff member arrived with a jug of distilled water for a goldfish that someone had evacuated overnight. Staff had been sleeping at the shelter and satellite locations to run things 24/7 since the fires had reached their peak.

This is an example of why fostering is so important, especially during crises -- it makes more room for the animals who have nowhere else to go and frees up the time and resources needed to process and care for those additional pets. Even in the case of the owners visiting their pets, a shelter staff member has to check them in and out and make sure they have what they need. The shelter still needs to take care of those animals while their humans aren't there.

(By 10/14/17, all of the Napa Valley shelter pets had been fostered or picked up by other facilities around the state so that there would be enough room and resources for all of the evacuees.)

And that was how I ended up with two guinea pigs! There were 4 at the shelter when I agreed to come pick them up, but two had already been adopted and were just waiting for their new humans to pick them up. Two would turn into more over the next couple of weeks since one of them was pregnant; I started reading up guinea pig birthing and baby care to prepare for the big event. It had been over 20 years since I last had a guinea pig, so I needed to brush up on them. The two girls weren't very tame, so I vowed to change that while they were in my care. Socializing guinea pigs makes it easier for them to be adopted out, and makes the transition to their new home easier on them. An easy-to-handle pet is also a safer pet, especially around other animals and children.

Blossom was a year old at the time I got her, and the matriarch of the surrendered pair.  Their former home included Blossom, her 3-month-old daughter Juneau and 2 boys, the father pig, and four 5-week-old baby boys. 

A black and white guinea pig named BlossomA tricolor Abyssinian guinea pig named Juneau

Juneau, despite her young age, was already pregnant because the previous owners didn't separate boys from girls at the right time, and... well, rodents are rodents. Blossom was about to become a proud grandma.

On October 13, at 2:49pm, Juneau had her baby. What originally felt like at least two little pigs in her tummy when I held her turned out to be a single very big baby boy named Panda.

Juneau and her black-and-white newborn baby, PandaNewborn baby guinea pig Panda, who is a black and white abyssinian

It was about this time that I decided guinea pig babies were the cutest babies on the planet!

I dreaded how hard to say good-bye to them, but set about the task of finding homes for them myself. At the time I hoped it would be friends, or friends of friends, people I knew would care for them correctly -- little did I know then that, at least for Blossom and Juneau, their perfect home would end up being mine!

Epilogue: Blossom ended up being pregnant, too! On the morning of November 4, she gave birth to two healthy, big babies, George and Gemmie. George and his nephew Panda were adopted out to a great local family where they continue to be loved and spoiled to this day. Gemmie went to my daughter, Eva, who would later become the social media manager and CTO of The Rescue Garden thanks in part, at least, to Blossom and her babies.

Two newborn baby guinea pigs. A tricolor Abyssinian is named George, and a tricolor American guinea pig is named Gemmie.