Saskia Chiesa recalls being smitten from the moment she first held a guinea pig.
“They’re so cool, these little critters,” said Chiesa, a former fashion model and the CEO of International Checkout. “They have so much personality.”
With time on her hands upon arriving in Southern California from the Netherlands in the late 1990s, Chiesa decided to fill some of it by founding the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue to provide resources and support for what she says is an animal that’s often overlooked and underappreciated.
“From the first day, I was full,” she recalled. “I went to the Santa Monica Animal Control, and I said, ‘Here’s my card; this is what I do.’ And they said, ‘Wow, that’s good timing. We just had 20 guinea pigs dropped off.’ So they came over to check out the place and make sure that everything was the way it was supposed to be, and that was it. I was up and running.”
Known on Facebook as the Guinea Pig Lady and a regular presence in the educational videos on her shelter’s YouTube channel, Chiesa runs the nonprofit Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue at Farralone Farms, a two-acre property in L.A.’s Chatsworth neighborhood.
“If I have learned anything in the years of doing this work, it is that there is a tremendous need for the services we provide,” she said. “We have a phenomenal team of volunteers who donate all their free time [to] assist with anything from adoptions, medicating, feeding, cage cleaning and guinea pig bubble baths.”
On October 20, Farralone Farms will welcome guinea pig fans and supporters to the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue’s annual fall festival.
“Each year it gets better,” said Chiesa, who is expecting about 1,200 attendees this year.
Chiesa estimates that 40 guinea pigs were adopted during the 2018 edition of her fall festival, but she stresses that the primary purpose of this event isn’t adoptions: “It’s really about education and having people connect with other guinea pig owners.”
Existing owners are welcome to bring their guinea pigs to the free event (click here to register) for complimentary health checks, nail trims and ear cleanings. There will be guinea pig contests ($5 per entry), with prizes for Best Eater, Best Hair, Most Handsome and Prettiest, among other categories. The October 20 festival will also feature vendors and music. Attendees can take a self-guided tour of Farralone Farms and check out the property’s rescue horses and other animals.
Running her shelter as a nonprofit, “we can only do as much as the finances allow,” Chiesa says, but that challenge has not deterred her from trying to do more in the near future for the health and welfare of guinea pigs.
“I want to start a nonprofit clinic that would be a low-cost community clinic,” she said. “It would also do teaching [so that] we can instruct vets, who would get hands-on experience with guinea pigs, and also [conduct] research.”