When she sought to find homes for a pair of guinea pigs more than a decade ago, Medford resident Devon Anthony had no idea she would one day be referred to, affectionately, as the "guinea pig lady" and that her days would be filled with gathering produce, clipping tiny fingernails and bangs and giving pet-care advice to hundreds of local families.
Dealing with overwhelming grief after losing her life partner in 1999, Anthony built her own personal Garden of Eden in her backyard. She planted flowers and trees and created a peaceful place to relax. Almost as an afterthought, Anthony added some pet bunnies and guinea pigs that could run free, eat grass and live out their days. She had no idea her new garden and little friends would soon present a chance to do a good deed.
Despite the peaceful nature of Anthony's special place, one of the several pairs of guinea pigs didn't fare well. Anthony sought advice at a local pet store about finding them a new home but learned that advice was hard to find.
Presenting the two cavies at the Grange Co-Op's pet-supply store, Anthony says, "They told me, 'We can't take them, but you can set up a little table and call yourself the guinea-pig rescue and find them a new home.' "
Within weeks, locals visited Anthony for adoptions and to get needed advice for the pets they already had. The impromptu rescue became a clearinghouse for information and second chances. Hordes of pregnant guinea pigs, elderly guinea pigs and socially challenged guinea pigs in need of new homes found their way to Anthony's rescue.
At her peak, Anthony manned the rescue site some 72 hours per week, carefully planning her work as an interior designer around her volunteer efforts. She ran the rescue for five years, closing up shop in 2006.
Unable to stop helping unwanted pets, Anthony now provides a guinea-pig retirement home in her own backyard. Aside from taking in unwanted guinea pigs, she provides hair and nail trims, consultations for sick animals and offers a handful of adoption events and placements each year.
A local grocer anonymously donates wilted produce, and community members stop by to see the small herd and their cozy accommodations, consisting of heated "pigloos," plenty of fresh grass and shade.
Amid her other pursuits, Anthony fills her car a few times a week with wilted produce from various locations and acquires supplies to keep the guinea pigs healthy and happy. Her experience over the years enables her to handle any issues that may arise.
The "herd," as Anthony affectionately calls it, has fluctuated, ranging from 15 to 160 over the years. To minimize the chance of unwanted litters being born, she keeps the male guinea pigs and finds homes for the females.
Grange Co-Op Pet Country manager Rick Topjian says Anthony is a great advocate for small pets that are too often adopted then faced with relocation or care issues that local stores don't know how to handle.
"If we have somebody that suddenly decides they can't handle their guinea pigs, she's the one we refer them to," says Topjian.
"It's great there's somebody who does that. It's typical with so many types of pets, and people look at things when they're new and cute, and a little while later, they realize there's a lot of responsibility."
Anthony says she occasionally considers retiring but has no reason not to continue helping the critters who have brought her so much happiness. Of all small pets, guinea pigs are the most docile, and they are easy to care for, living six to 10 years, sometimes more.
Three of Anthony's favorites, 12-year-olds Bernie, Bentley and Digest, have been around since Anthony created what was supposed to be her own special spot.
"They were some of the original three that came here back in 1999, and they're not supposed to live that long, so I guess that says something for fresh produce and freedom," says Anthony.
Having provided a home to the guinea pigs when she most needed a focus — and having helped hundreds of families in the Rogue Valley provide better care for their pets — Anthony says she doesn't begrudge any of her time spent helping unwanted pets.
"I don't think I've ever gone to the mall without hearing, 'Mommy, look, it's the guinea pig lady!' " says Anthony with a laugh.
"And I guess, since no one else locally does what I do, I would worry too much if I stopped doing it. What if one of the little pigs needed help and had no one to go to?"