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Guineas Gone Viral: The rising prevalence of cavies in internet culture

16 Mar

Perhaps some of you have seen this hilariously awkward video making the rounds in recent months.

The video — which was released in Canada last November for “Movember,” the international month-long campaign dedicated to raising awareness of men’s health issues — has snowballed around the internet for the last several months until, in February, it started showing up in Facebook feeds everywhere. BuzzFeed, the news site that could be considered something like the Entertainment Weekly of cat videos and dress controversies, picked up on the video, and pretty soon, traditional media outlets all over the world were on the story, too.

But this isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, national media carried reports last week of a woman who decided to quit her job to make videos of her guinea pigs after a clip she posted to YouTube went viral. Dominant websites like WikiHow have launched entire sections devoted to guinea pigs, and even BuzzFeed itself has created a special “tag” for web articles, especially photo essays, dedicated to guinea pigs — though, I’ll be honest, most of these articles just reappropriate the same half-dozen or so images to illustrate BuzzFeed’s usual brand of universally relatable humor.

But, with BuzzFeed calling guinea pigs “the new cats of the internet,” we may be moving away from that ever-persistent stereotype of guinea pigs as classroom pets or unusual companions for the socially impaired. This increasing online awareness of guinea pigs also appears to have translated into a real-world growing interest in showing cavies.

According to Mary Lou Eisel, the current president of the American Cavy Breeders Association, the number of guinea pigs entered in shows throughout the U.S. has increased by 14,000 in the last five years. For comparison, the number of rabbits entered in similar shows over the same time period grew by just 1,000 entries. For BuzzFeed author Matt Bellassai, the sudden popularity of guinea pigs is easy to explain.

“Their popularity rose, I suspect, because guinea pigs have a novelty (more so than cats), but also a familiarity (not so wild as, say, a chinchilla), and of course an undeniable adorableness (more than any other rodent),” Bellassai said. “Also, they’re just funny. It’s far funnier to put a tiny wig and straw hat on a guinea pig than it is to put one on a rat or a mouse or a cat. I don’t know why, it just is. It’s a combination, I think, of guinea pigs being cute and chubby and small, but also different and unexpected. Maybe one day, the internet will reach guinea pig saturation, like we have with cats. Until then, I think guinea pigs will keep rising.”

But there may be more to it than that. It’s not just that the internet has highlighted the fact that guinea pigs are cute, it’s that the internet has made information about guinea pigs, and guinea pig-related things, much more accessible than they once were. Consequently, whether cavy breeders have seen a recent spike in purchases of show- or pet-quality stock varies from one state or person to the next. But many breeders say they have found recent buyers to be more educated and more specific in their requests.

For the first time in decades, even the average first-time pet owner has access to the information they need to know there are alternatives to buying small animals at large chain pet stores. While this doesn’t always lead directly to growth within the cavy fancy — some breeders are quick to point out that the online culture growing up around guinea pigs has created a fetish for hairless guinea pigs, such as the skinny and the baldwin, which are not accepted as official breeds under the ACBA and cannot participate in official cavy shows — it may, in a roundabout way, bring more potential cavy fanciers into the world of cavy shows than did recruitment efforts in the past.

To recruit a new member into the ACBA once required that someone who was at least somewhat familiar with guinea pigs or animal husbandry, such as a pet owner with cavies or a breeder already raising dogs or rabbits, rub shoulders with a cavy breeder and take an interest in the hobby. Nowadays, all it takes is a spark of interest and enough curiosity to search “pure bred guinea pigs” on Google.

The cavy’s online presence has also allowed for added growth within the ACBA as well.

“I have purchased everything I have via either meeting the person online, or a completely online purchase — I have never met some of my cavies’ breeders in person,” said Tonya Slack, a cavy breeder from Minnesota. “If not for the internet, I would be purchasing pet store cavies and mixing breeds.”

We’re back — here’s what we missed, and why we missed it

27 Jun

I am sure by now that most everyone has noticed my year long-absence. Allow myself to explain.

I announced at the end of last summer that I was moving and changing jobs. Which is exactly what I did. It wasn’t a particularly egregious move — I remain in Northern Utah and simply moved slightly west, to the next valley over. It took some time, but obviously not the entire year. Likewise, it took time to adjust to the new job, but not an entire year. So why the long absence?

The short answer is that life happened in relatively rapid succession. After my move, I spent several months working my first full-time, permanent job while simultaneously completing the last requirements for my BA online. So that got busy. Then I graduated, got engaged, and started planning a wedding in a matter of months. Wheekly sort of fell by the wayside during all of this.

However, I had several people come to me to ask about Wheekly at the last Specialty convention in Washington state, and this caused me to realize that the blog has not only found an audience, but that it provides valuable information about cavies that is not often available elsewhere on the internet. So I resolved to get going on the project again.

Speaking of Specialty (an annual guinea pig convention/massive cavy show hosted by the ACBA) — had I been on top of my game, I would have actively covered the convention through the duration of my trip, resulting in a flood of blog content. Unfortunately I was asleep at the switch, so I didn’t. I can, however, provide a list of the top-ranked animals for those who are interested:

In the open Specialty show under judges Steve Lussier and Jason Whitehurst, Best in Show went to a broken color Peruvian exhibited by Carol Anaya; Reserve in Show went to an American black exhibited by John Gray; and a while American Satin, also exhibited by John Gray, received an honorable mention.

In the Specialty youth show under judge Robert Spitzer, awards were as follows: Best in Show went to an American black exhibited by Chloe Geroux; Reserve in Show went to a broken color texel exhibited by Alyssa Welter, and a broken color teddy exhibited by Connor and Kyler Wolfe received an honorable mention.

Two additional, non-Specialty shows were held the following day. Best in Show in the first went to the broken color Peruvian exhibited by Carol Anaya, and best in show in the second went to the black American exhibited by John Gray.

As per long-standing ACBA tradition, the location and host club for the upcoming west coast specialty was also selected during the convention. The San Gabriel Cavy club put in the winning bid, and announced that the 2016 Specialty show will be held in Ventura, California. More details to come on that. In the meantime, the 2015 Specialty show, to be held in Berea, Ohio, is well into the planning stages.

I promise I will post more details on both shows in the weeks to come. However, readers should be aware that I plan to change Wheekly‘s publishing schedule to make the workload a little more manageable as I continue working full-time and planning a wedding. In the past, Wheekly posts went live every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Going forward, Wheekly will publish once a week, on Friday mornings. Of course, all readers are welcome to come and browse new and past posts any time they like. That’s the glory of the internet age.

I run the Wheekly Reader on my own, in my spare time, on an entirely volunteer basis. I am not paid, nor do I obtain any kind of revenue from running the site. The occasional random ad that shows up on this blog is a wonderful new feature WordPress has introduced to make money off blogs like the Wheekly Reader that cannot pay hosting fees. I may have to find a way to remedy that in the future, because my intention was to keep Wheekly ad-free. So please be aware that these ads are not my doing and are not supported or endorsed by the Wheekly Reader.

Also, I would like to put out a call for for crowd-sourced material, particularly photographs. If you have cute guinea pig pictures you would like to share with the world, please feel free to email them to me at thewritingguinea@gmail.com. I can’t promise that I will use every single photograph, but some, if not most, may be selected to be featured on the blog. Of course, I will always strive to give credit where credit is due. I’d also love to see photographs from cavy shows, and other cavy-related events. I’m also open to any questions, suggestions, or article ideas you’d like to send my way. These kinds of contributions need only take up a few minutes of your time, and they go a long way toward keeping the Wheekly Reader updated, relevant, and interesting to all members of the cavy community.

Families with children own more pets

8 Aug

I recently had the opportunity to write about pets during my day job; a new survey on pet ownership had just been released, and it was easy enough to convert it into a family oriented story for my beat on the paper I currently work for.

One of the most interesting results of the study, at least in my mind, was the observation that families with children are substantially more likely to own pets. Less than half of singles own a pet, but more than 70 percent of families with at least one child do. This was especially true for small pets, such as cavies. More than 80 percent of cavy owners had children. The study seems to fly in the face of the logic that says that couples or individuals without children use pets as replacements, although there may be something to that idea as well: pet ownership among non-families was up 17 percent since 2006.

The study also found that pet ownership among families has decreased slightly in recent years. Baby Boomers, however, maintain their interest in pets, and seem to be the driving force behind still-increasing rates of pet ownership.

You can read more here.