Posted: June 21, 2013, 7:30 p.m. EDT
© Fire Light Photography
Fire Light Photographycaptured this image of a guinea pig group at the 2012 Pignic.
From 80 to more than 200 to who knows how many — that’s the trend in attendance for the SoCal Guinea Pig Pignic put on by Orange County Cavy Haven. It’s an annual event that first wheeked into existence in 2011. This year it takes place on June 30, 2013, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Irvine Animal Care Center, Irvine, California. Last year’s crowd of more than 200 is expected to be topped this year. And is it any wonder? There seems to be a pent-up demand for guinea pig gatherings.
© Marylou Zarbock
The Pignic has lots of guinea pigs for people to see and meet.
© Marylou Zarbock
Pignic attendees brought chairs, blankets, water, nestboxes and more to keep both them and their guinea pigs comfortable. (click images to enlarge)
"What I am looking forward to the most about the Pignic is just being around hundreds of guinea pigs,” said Pignic-goer Irene. "There is nothing more rewarding than being in an area filled with the cutest critters on Earth.”
Those who attend with their guinea pigs have lots to see and do, including:
• Meeting other guinea pigs and owners and sharing stories
• Shopping for guinea-pig related products for yourself or your guinea pig
• Having a professional portrait taken of your guinea pig by Fire Light Photography
• Hearing and/or participating in a guinea pig Q&A with Dr. Suzanne Pluskat of the Long Beach Animal Hospital
• Entering the guinea pig veggie-eating contest
• Entering the guinea pig costume contest (Last year a lobster guinea pig won)
• Munching down a lunch purchased at the food vendor
• Entering to win prizes in the raffle or bidding on items in the silent auction (the retail value of donated prizes exceeds $10,000)
Pignic-goer Susie explained what she enjoys most at Pignics. "Connecting with others who share the love of cavies and the plethora of information, products and support that this event offers is immeasurable. But most of all, it's fun!”
Amid all the fun, some serious business still occurs.
"First and foremost, it’s a fundraiser, and so we do hope to raise enough funds to cover food and medical costs for caring for our foster pigs for several months,” said Michiko Vartanian, CEO of Orange County Cavy Haven and an organizer of the Pignic. "In addition to that, however, we hope to help educate people on piggy care.”
Entry to the SoCal Guinea Pig Pignic is $6 for adults and $3 for children 4 to 12 (children 3 and under get in free). The entry fee includes a free health-check and grooming for guinea pigs.
© Marylou Zarbock
The costume contest is one of two that guinea pigs can participate in.
© Marylou Zarbock
Once guinea pigs arrive, they're let out of their carriers into exercise pens to enjoy the day. (click images to enlarge)
If you plan to attend with your guinea pig, Vartanian said must-have items to bring include an exercise pen, water bottle and a blanket for your guinea pig, and perhaps some veggies for your pet to munch on during the day. The weather is expected to be in the 80s that day, so think of ways to keep your guinea pig cool. Be sure you have something that provides shade and bring along frozen water bottles that your guinea pig can snuggle against if the heat becomes too much.
More tips about Pignic etiquette can be found at Pignic Central. To Vartanian, safety is critical.
"Be careful around the pens, and never put pigs who don’t know each other in the same pens,” Vartanian said. "Also, it’s important to remember to ask people before petting their pigs. It can be hard to resist reaching in and touching a cute piggy, but these pigs are, after all, someone’s cherished family member and so it’s just best to ask first.”
New at this year’s Pignic is food vendor Strictly Vegan Jamaican Cuisine. "[They] will be serving both vegan and non-vegan items, so everyone will find something to eat,” Vartanian said. "Last year, there were so many people that we ran out of food, so we made this change so we won’t run into that problem.”
Another new feature this year is a guinea pig kissing booth. "We’ll have volunteer piggies who will allow people to kiss them on the cheek for a $1 donation,” Vartanian said. "People are welcome to take their own photos at the piggy kissing booth.”
OCCH actively searches for good homes for the guinea pigs it has rescued, but Vartanian said that adoptable guinea pigs generally are not brought to the Pignic because of the many activities going on.
"It’s really just a day to celebrate piggies and their people,” she said. "However, if someone has submitted an application prior to the event — we recommend submitting one at least a week prior — we can bring any pigs they might be interested in leaving the event with. They can submit an application to firstname.lastname@example.org”
© Courtesy Orange County Cavy Haven
See the flier giving details of the Pignic. (click image to enlarge)
The two past Pignics have helped OCCH more than just financially.
"We have increased our foster homes in the past couple of years, and our adoption rates have also increased,” Vartanian said. "So the Pignic is a great way for us to get the word out, not only about piggy rescue in general, but specifically about OCCH.”
Vartanian took over as CEO of OCCH since last year and has implemented some changes she hopes will get their guinea pigs seen at more events and bump up adoption rates.
"In the past several months, we have jumped from approximately eight adoptions per month to about 20,” she said, "so it looks like some of our changes are having a great effect.”
Planning for this year’s Pignic began in January, and four other people in addition to Vartanian put it together.
Vartanian explained some of what goes into creating the event. "Susan Lee has done a tremendous job of getting donations for the silent auction and raffle, Laurie Yee takes care of all the paperwork, Valerie Spingola is in charge of the logistics as far as plotting out the various areas and making sure the space is utilized in the best way, and Matt Mahavongtrakul has been learning the ropes and has been very helpful with input.”
The Pignic is truly a time to celebrate guinea pigs.
"The reality is that we are trying to save pigs from dying in shelters, and we just can’t save all of them,” Vartanian said, "But Pignic is a day where we just focus on the positives and the successes. Many people who bring their pigs have adopted from OCCH, and it’s always great to see our pigs again. It’s just so much fun to be around piggy people and to see all of the different pigs, and to meet their families.
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