Proliferation of pocket pets at the shelter

Rabbits aren’t the only creatures that multiply faster than your iPhone calculator. Meet hamsters and guinea pigs, popularly known as pocket pets. Not because they belong in your pocket—they don’t—but they can fit there.

At this writing, 32 hamsters are scampering around their habitats at the shelter at Long Beach Animal Care Services. The LBACS medical team has determined the sex of each and has separated them accordingly, the reason for which you can likely infer.

Hamster baby boom at shelter. Jus’ climbin’ the walls. Video by Megan Ignacio.

Fourteen guinea pigs also came in around the same time, and similar precautions were taken with them.

“On one day, 10 guinea pigs came in, from one person,” shelter manager Staycee Dains said. “A few of them have gone to the Paw Shoppe for adoption, and some have been adopted from here. We have six or so left.”

Dains said that the hamsters came in at different times. The pregnant ones gave birth, hence the hamster hurricane.

“Their gestational period is 30 days, and they can have 10 to 13 babies,” Dains said.

Unfortunately, the shelter’s pocket-pet proliferation isn’t an anomaly, Dains said. Hamsters, guinea pigs, rats and gerbils attract people who want a pet but either can’t accommodate cats or dogs in the home or the landlord won’t accept them. As with many pet acquisitions, entertainment media also figures in.

“They’re in the movies, too—the hamsters from ‘The Secret Lives of Pets,’” said Megan Ignacio, the shelter’s community outreach coordinator.

LBACS medical team member cuddling a rather large guinea pig. Video by Megan Ignacio.

Their size isn’t the only reason that hamsters and guinea pigs make good personal pets. They’re companionable and entertaining. Dains’ first pet she had as an adult was a hamster named Colorado.

“He was so friendly to me—I was the only person he never bit,” she said. “I had really long, poofy hair, and he’d sit on the couch with me and lie on my hair and lick the end of my nose. I had a little hamster ball for him, and he’d roll it around the house. I’d call his name, and he’d come rolling around to me wherever I was.”

Ignacio had a hamster named Malcolm who would hold on to the bars of his cage and slide down. When I was in high school, I had a large fellow named Monster who would run into the bathroom during his free time, grab the end of the toilet paper, stuff it into one of his cheek storage pouches, and unravel it as he trotted into the kitchen. Guinea pigs are adorable and friendly—Ignacio called them the golden retrievers of rodents but cautioned that they do stink.

“They look like hairy hippopotamuses,” Dains said. “They’re cared for like rabbits.”

Guinea pigs can do well together, Dains said, but you have to watch for roommate disagreements. Several sources state that guinea pigs and hamsters must not be placed in the same physical space.

Pocket pets need specific daily care—a warm, clean space; a specific diet; and enrichment toys—but they’re relatively easy to care for.

“You don’t have to walk or do a lot more to keep them happy,” Dains said. “They have become very popular pets, so you’re seeing a lot more of them.”

Dains said that you’re also seeing a lot more of them in shelters, not just at LBACS but also across California. As with all pets, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and rats are a commitment. Abandoning them to shelters when the kids get tired of them or leave home for college is as heartless and irresponsible as dumping a domestic bunny in a park or leaving the cat behind when you move.

“I also don’t think people understand how prolific they are,” Dains said. “So they’ll say, oh, it’s cute, let’s get a little boy and a little girl. And some don’t even think that if they’re a male and a female from the same litter, they won’t breed. They will.”

Dains stressed that a professional and not a store clerk should determine the sex of a pocket pet and to not get two of opposite sex. If they’re very young, it may be hard to tell. If you’re looking to adopt one, a number of local veterinarians offer care to pocket pets, including Cats & Dogs and Ambassador Long Beach; an online search or a referral from another veterinarian can help.

For specific information about care, has a hamster care link and another for guinea pigs. The veterinarian you select can fill in any blanks that the websites don’t address.


Virtually pets

Meet the guinea pigs and hamsters at our shelter, 7700 E. Spring St., Long Beach, at the entrance to El Dorado Park (no entrance fee for shelter visitors) and at the Paw Shoppe. If you’re willing to make a commitment to a pocket pet or two, visit the shelter during its new hours, or check in with the Paw Shoppe, 6416 E. Spring St., Long Beach. Video courtesy of LBACS

Because of the great number of pocket pets residing at the shelter, they haven’t all been named yet. You can see some headshots of the little twinkling stars here—some examples are below. All photos thanks to Megan Ignacio.

black guinea pig with brown head

Female black guinea pig—her name might be Toots.


black-and-white guinea pig

In tux, but no tails, really, ready to go home.


calico guinea pig looking out

Cats aren’t the only species that wear calico, and wear it well.


tan and white hamster tipping a blue bowl

“Please, sir, I want some more.” Hamsters make winning pets!


hamster with white muzzle and tan fur looks into camera

Here’s lookin’ at ya. Hope to see you soon.


Great Furballs of Fun

replica of Queen Mary ship made of cans and water bottles

CANstruction’s first effort in Long Beach, 2014. It was built entirely out of cans and empty bottles by PS2 engineering. Somewhere floats an analogy. Photo courtesy of CANstruction.

CANstruction Long Beach: Pet Edition: Friday, May 20, Trademark Brewery, 233 Anaheim St., Long Beach, construction begins 7 a.m.

CANstruction Long Beach is celebrating National Pet Day with its inaugural pet-themed structure! PS2 engineering has volunteered to construct a 10-foot-by-10-inch doghouse entirely out of cans of dog food! Guests are invited to watch the construction and bring cans to donate to the project. The construction will stay up for 10 days, after which it will be deconstructed and the cans rolled over to the Rovers at the Sparky and the Gang animal rescue. Come if you CAN!

Adopt, adopt, adopt

Long Beach Animal Care Services open Saturdays and Sundays, with no appointment necessary

Please make our shelter at Long Beach Animal Care Service your first stop for adoption—it continues to fill with dogs and cats. LBACS is now open without any appointment necessary Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for adoptions and for intake of healthy stray dogs.  Appointments to adopt one of these sweet animals are readily available at [email protected] or 562-570-4925.

The shelter is also for redemptions of personal pets during regular business hours and also accepts any sick, dangerous or injured animal without appointment during regular business hours.

Foster for awhile—or furever!

Man lies on plaid blanket with neck-to-toe cats

Meet a real cat dad—he’s fostering for Helen Sanders CatPAWS, and he’s not lying down on the job, no matter what he looks like. All cat foster parents are encouraged to fill out a form, available here, to take home a kitten and socialize them for the adoption center! It’s just temporary. Really. Unless . . . Photo courtesy of Nancy Cohn.


If you’ve always wanted a pet but aren’t sure if you’re ready for a lifetime (the animal’s) commitment, or if you’re past the pet-roommate days for any reason, fostering might be a great way to go, especially with one or more of the kittens popping up during kitten season. Every one of the organizations listed below is in desperate need of fosters who’ll social them and help save their little lives. Who knows—maybe one of those lives will change your mind about the not-ready-for-roommate thing!

These nonprofits also regularly feature cat, dog and rabbit adoptions. As of now, adoptions are mainly by appointment. Click on the links for each rescue in case of updates or changes. These organizations operate through donations and grants, and anything you can give would be welcome. Please suggest any Long Beach-area rescues to add to the list.

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