A new bill brought forth to City Council may ban the sale of guinea pigs in New York City.
The bill, entitled Intro. 4, was originally introduced to City Council this past February. If passed, the bill would prohibit the sale of guinea pigs as pets while also clarifying the definition of the term “pet shop” to address inconsistent use of the term in the current code.
The City Council’s Committee on Health held a hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 14 to hear from representatives from the community and lawmakers calling for the law to be passed.
“When I initially heard about this crisis, I honestly didn’t understand the scale. I thought this seems like a practical bill, we should do it, but I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the situation,” said Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, who is one of the main sponsors of the bill. “While it never would have occurred to me to get a guinea pig as a comfort animal during the pandemic, a lot of people did. We heard so many stories from gardeners that shared that people were taking the guinea pigs and throwing them over the gates because they could no longer care for them.”
Throughout the pandemic, New York City shelters have seen a sharp increase in guinea pig surrenders as well as guinea pig abandonment. In 2022, the Animal Care Center of New York City (ACC), which takes in any kind of animal, sheltered over 600 guinea pigs by October, and in 2021, it had sheltered nearly 500 within the same timeframe — both figures doubling the number of guinea pigs in pre-pandemic years.
“In October, a box with 22 guinea pigs of all ages, five of which were pregnant, was abandoned in the lobby of an apartment [building] in Staten Island. Guinea pigs have also been released by owners in places like city parks, which is not only illegal but also detrimental to animal survival,” said Queens City Council Member Lynn Schulman, chair of the Committee on Health. “Making things even more difficult is the fact that there are a limited number of veterinarians in New York City known to have the skills to spay and neuter guinea pigs, many of which live up to 10 years.”
“Having a family pet can be a wonderful experience. However, many people mistake guinea pigs as starter pets,” said Risa Weinstock, the president and CEO of ACC. “When ACC counsels adopters on the care and needs of any pet, we always make sure they understand the commitment involved — regardless of the pet’s size. Just because a guinea pig is small doesn’t mean it doesn’t require extensive care.”
With this increase of guinea pigs in the shelter, it is further straining the resources and staff at ACC needed to care for and place the pigs, Weinstock said. She also noted that the major of the guinea pigs that were surrendered in starting in May 2021 were between 6 and 9 months old, indicating that they were obtained as babies in the summer of 2020.
Though the bill would prohibit the sale of these furry friends, owning guinea pigs, in general, would still be legal in New York City. Guinea pigs would still be available for adoption through shelters.
“Now with the holidays coming up, I really want to caution families to think it through. Adopt. We have so many animals in the shelter system who are ready,” said Ayala.
New York is already setting a precedent when it comes to banning animal sales. This week, Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation banning the sale of dogs, cats, and bunnies at retail pet stores starting in 2024.