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Scottie The Guinea Pig Inspires Hope

No matter what adversity he faced, Scottie the guinea pig held on and showed that a happy ending is possible with a little help from some friends.

Rebecca Stout
Posted: March 25, 2015, 8:05 p.m. EDT

guinea pig sleeping
© Courtesy of Michiko Vartanian 
On Scottie's first day with Vartanian, he was clenched up and terrified.

This is a story about a survivor. A survivor who morphed into a champion with the aid of those who championed him. It is a story about a furry little soul named Scottie who overcame a lifetime of torture and unspeakable cruelty only to spend his remaining weeks on this earth inspiring others and spreading a very important message to the world.

Scottie was a guinea pig — literally and figuratively. His lived his entire life isolated in an animal testing lab in California. Cruel experiments involving toxicity studies were a mainstay in his life and left him with one blind eye and battling the effects of an enlarged heart.

Saving Scottie
Shannon Keith was the first champion who entered Scottie’s life. She is an animal rights attorney and the president and founder of ARME’s Beagle Freedom Project. Its mission is to expose animal testing to the world and to bring it all to an end someday through legislation. The organization, which rescues all animals from lab facilities, not just beagles, received a call from a testing lab one day in November of 2014. The caller asked if Keith and the project could take in five guinea pigs on which testing was completed. She was told that that if someone didn’t pick them up soon, the guinea pigs would be killed. This would be the first time the organization rescued guinea pigs, and Keith was quick to act and immediately called Orange County Cavy Haven (OCCH) to ask if they could take them in. 

Enter Scottie’s second champion, Michiko Vartanian, the CEO of OCCH who answered Keith’s call. Vartanian has 10 years of experience with the Cavy Haven, a 501c3 nonprofit guinea pig rescue located in Southern California. It is a no-kill, private organization dedicated to the rescue and the rehoming of cavies, another name for guinea pigs. This caring and dedicated group of people educates others about the proper care of these endearing animals. It also finds homes for the abandoned guinea pigs it has rescued.

Soon the frightened guinea pigs — Scottie who had been isolated, along with the two younger females and the other two males — were in Vartanian’s expert and caring hands. The four younger guinea pigs had been housed together in pairs. The two bonded girls and two bonded boys were each placed into loving foster homes. But Scottie, the fragile and downtrodden pink-eyed white, remained with Vartanian, who had fallen in love with him at first sight. 

"I have always been against animal testing,” Vartanian said, "and so to be able to foster a piggy that came from a lab and to show him love and a life without fear and torture was such a gift to me. When he first came to me, he was so frightened of people that his fists would ball up when I held him. But over time, he learned to trust and be relaxed with me. I loved having snuggle time with him every night, and feeling like I got to help this little creature learn that not all humans are bad.”

two photos of Scottie after he got better
© Courtesy of Michiko Vartanian 
Scottie soon thrived in his loving new home and even celebrated Christmas for the first time.

Scottie’s New Life
Soon the shy, white guinea pig learned what veggies were for the first time and experienced many other firsts in his life. As he realized he was truly free and safe with Vartanian, she said he became a happy, well-adjusted boy. 

"We watched him transform from a very scared pig who only knew torture and loneliness in the lab, to a pampered OCCH piggy,” Vartanian said. 

Scotties sweet face and captivating personality gave her an idea. 

"I made him a sort of Facebook presence because we were celebrating ‘Red Eyes Rule’ month to bring attention to how beautiful and sweet red-eyed pigs can be; they get passed up in rescues and shelters due to their eyes,” Vartanian said. "For some reason, a lot of people have issues with the red eyes. That is very difficult for me to understand. How can a person say they love guinea pigs, but then not love a feature that is inherently ‘guinea pig’?” 

Scottie’s story, resilience and innocence captured hearts from all walks of life, which led Vartanian to take advantage of the opportunity to spread a vital message to the world. Because of her sharing his story across social media, he became a poster child for hundreds of thousands of animals who suffer horrific testing in labs across the United States. The endearing rodent’s presence soon became widely known across the Internet for the strong message that he brings.

"His story got a lot of people to realize that there are products they can buy that aren’t tested on animals,” Vartanian said. "He put a face to an idea that most people have heard about, but have not thought about too much. Getting to know this loving creature and realize that he is one of too many animals unnecessarily tortured in labs impacted a lot of people who will now think about their choice of products.”

Keith says that Michiko’s adorable posts and updates online were followed by many people. She witnessed Scottie bring about a change in those who didn’t care much about small pets. 

"Scottie opened the world to care about animals who are a minority in homes, so that the compassion circle could be widened,” Keith said. "He was an adorable ambassador for the cause and is very much missed. We were lucky enough to get the last of the piggies from the lab, which won’t be testing on piggies anymore, but thousands are still being tested on for things like products, cosmetics and drugs.”

Keith says that those interested can download and use the Beagle Freedom Project’s app called "Cruelty Cutter.” She says the app makes it easy to shop for cruelty-free products, which helps people to avoid inadvertently buying products tested on guinea pigs or any other innocent animals. 

three women holding guinea pigs
© Courtesy of Irene LoConto
Petey and Tommy are the bonded male pair that were rescued with Scottie and are in foster care while awaiting a new home.

Scottie’s Legacy
Tragically, Scottie only lived a few short months with Vartanian and passed away on December 30, 2014. His enlarged heart gave out, but she wants everyone to know that he lived out his remaining weeks spoiled and treasured. 

"I was just so glad to give him one Christmas outside of the lab, and that he could know love for even just a few short months. He stole everyone's heart, though.”

During his short time out of the lab, Scottie deeply touched those who met him and is said to have taught people very much. 

Cristina Drago volunteers at Cavy Haven and remembers him fondly. 

"In those few short months, he knew love. And he gave love. And that made all of our hearts smile,” Drago said. "Scottie's impact on the world was one of awareness, and second chances. He showed us all that, even in our worst moments, we can overcome them and learn to trust again.”

Sue Wuolukka fostered the two female guinea pigs among the five rescued. She named them Skylar and Holly White, and now they have been happily adopted to a forever home. 

"I was fortunate enough to hold Scottie in my arms a handful of times and reassure him that he was safe,” Wuolukka said. "I clipped his nails, cleaned his ears, and did his ‘boar cleaning’ as well, and he was very sweet and gentle in spite of what he had been through in his life. I think he taught me that we can forgive and move on even after we've been mistreated ourselves. He was a hero to me and we could all aspire to be more like the brave and humble precious being that he was.”

Now that tiny Scottie is at the Rainbow Bridge, what does the future hold for Vartanian and the little ones left behind? She just got her J.D. (Juris Doctor) and, not surprisingly, will be pursuing a career in animal law. Scottie will inspire her to continue carrying on his message as best he can from Heaven. And as for the bonded pair of males who are left, they have been named Petey and Tommy and are still up for adoption. 

"As a way to thank Scottie for being such a special guy in my life, and also to help me heal from losing him so quickly, I arranged to have Petey and Tommy come stay with me,” Vartanian said. "These two boys are amazing.” 

She said they now live in a spacious 2 by 5 foot habitat with a loft. This will go with them when they are adopted.

"They love their veggies, and they even popcorn!” Vartanian said. "I look at Petey and Tommy and just see pure love. I know the perfect adopter is out there who will see them and feel the same thing.”

She said she considers Petey and Tommy heroes, as are Keith and the Beagle Freedom Project for saving the guinea pigs. 

"[Petey and Tommy] are showing that, no matter what they went through in the lab and in their early life, they are trusting and loving,” Vartanian said. "And they are certainly helping me heal from losing Scottie. Humans can learn a lot from animals — and particularly these little guys!”

Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
Getting The Word Out About Guinea Pig Rescue
Guinea Pig Pignic Sizzles With Excitement
Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Guinea Pigs

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Posted: March 25, 2015, 8:05 p.m. EDT

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Scottie The Guinea Pig Inspires Hope

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Reader Comments
I was fortunate enough to rescue a piggy from an Alzheimer's patient, he had forgotten to care for his little friend. I named him Scotty in honor of this article. This Scotty was terrified at first too, but now gives "kisses" on my chin if I say "kissy, Scotty!". I am so happy to have my dear friend.
Kaye, La Crosse, WI
Posted: 1/6/2016 9:25:54 PM
I agree. They can say that they have certain tissues or systems that are comparable to humans all they wan't. I don't buy it. And besides the testing is normally for cosmetics and care! I don't need to know if yet another chemical added to my shampoo or whatever is safe for me. In today's age, we know better. The goal is to get rid of all that junk and be as simple and natural as possible!!
Rebecca, hixson, TN
Posted: 4/1/2015 6:44:27 AM
What a wonderful heart warming story. I've had guinea pigs for 16 years and I adore them. They have so many ways of talking to you.
They are sweet, innocent, gentle creatures and it's so cruel to experiment on them. It proves nothing. They are not related to humans!!!
Penny, International
Posted: 3/28/2015 5:09:16 AM
What a wonderful story; I will definitely be using this app, and I hope that many more animals are able to live their last days like Scottie.
Autum, Caldwell, ID
Posted: 3/25/2015 5:15:31 PM
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