Eureka reworking animal code: Changes will limit number of guinea pigs person can own

Local man has an estimated 300 guinea pigs at his home

Richard Furman feeds his many guinea pigs in northern Eureka in early 2018. There are currently an estimated 300 guinea pigs at the home, down from the 700 last year. (Shaun Walker — Times-Standard file)

Guinea pigs typically are thought of as cute, fuzzy and friendly little critters that can be great pets.

But the over-abundance of guinea pigs at one Eureka man’s home could be addressed in potential changes to the city’s municipal code.

“If we can address it with an ordinance, then that’s a good idea,” said Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks on Thursday afternoon.

He expected the changes to come before the Eureka City Council in February.

Eureka resident Richard Furman made headlines in January 2018 when more than 700 guinea pigs were found to be at his home. Saskia Chiesa, the founder of the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue, described the home at the time as having “kiddie pools overflowing with guinea pigs.”

Furman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Chiesa’s group rescued more than 400 of the females at Furman’s home. And because many of the guinea pigs were pregnant, she saw day after day of births.

“At the height, we had about 1,100 guinea pigs here,” Chiesa said Thursday. “It took all of our resources. We service our local community. The ones that show up in shelters. We weren’t able to do that for a year. We weren’t able to serve our own community. We do about 100 to 150 adoptions a month. For a full year, we were not able to help our own community.”

She said it’s only now that things are returning to normal at the guinea pig rescue. Chiesa said there are only around 50 of the rescued guinea pig brood left at the organization.

She said she is regularly in contact with the Eureka Police Department’s Animal Control officer and lauded their work with limited resources.

“Its a really tough situation,” she said.

She also said there were a few females left with Furman and that has meant some breeding.

According to EPD Capt. Patrick O’Neill, the number of guinea pigs “has remained at about 300.”

“Animal control has been continuously monitoring the situation since the release of the 400+ guinea pigs to the L.A.-based rescue group last year,” he said in an email. “Animal Control Officer (Celeste) Villarreal checks periodically on the property and has remained in contact with the resident.”

He added that there are ongoing efforts to reduce the number of guinea pigs, something O’Neill said Furman is on board with.

“We have been in communication with various rescue groups in efforts to further reduce the number of guinea pigs,” O’Neill said. “This effort is to further assist in population control and to bring the population to a more manageable number. The resident has been cooperative with this strategy.”

At present, there are no restrictions that limit the number of guinea pigs a resident can have on their property in Eureka. That could change come February when the council takes up the issue.

And in this case, the changes will impact Furman directly.

“This isn’t a grandfathering-in type of an issue,” said Sparks.

Autumn Luna, one of the city’s attorneys, could not share specific numbers of guinea pigs that would be allowed under the new proposed regulations but said the whole portion on animal control is being rewritten and will include specific numbers for a variety of animals.

“This is a complete rewrite of the animal code,” she said. “Our plan is to strike everything. The code that exists is out of date — (it) hasn’t been through a major rewrite ever.”

She said the community would have plenty of opportunities to comment on the proposal.

“We’re trying to the best of our ability to address lots of issues,” she said. “(We’re) also responding to the fact people want to have pets. “

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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