AUSTIN (KXAN) — After dozens of guinea pigs were dumped throughout the Austin metro, an animal rescue nonprofit said pandemic pet returns may play a role in these neglected animals popping up along highways and in city parks.

Austin Guinea Pig Rescue late last week asked for the public’s help in identifying a breeder who has been releasing dozens of guinea pigs along the I-35 and MoPac Expressway corridors since late summer, with animals often left in city parks.

Elizabeth Mack, president of AGPR, is caring for the guinea pigs at her home as the nonprofit seeks more foster families and prospective adopters.

Elizabeth Mack, president of the Austin Guinea Pig Rescue, has helped take in dozens of guinea pigs dumped along I-35, MoPac Expressway and in city parks throughout the Austin area. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)

“When I started mapping the dumps, these were in parks and really too far from a house to be assumed to be an accidental release,” she said. “Guinea pigs don’t go far. They don’t survive outside. They can only live a few days without food or water.”

Another clue that these were neglected guinea pigs is that many of those found are satins, a specific breed known for its glossy hair. These are rarer and typically only available via breeders or people at animal shows. The animals also had tears in their ears, which happens when metal tracking tags placed by breeders are then removed.

Mack said like many other pets, guinea pig adoptions peaked during the coronavirus pandemic. However, as has been the trend with dogs and cats, shelters and rescues are starting to see a high number of returned or rehoused guinea pigs.

“Across the state of Texas….there’s over 500 [guinea pigs] that need homes. And so a lot of these breeders were doing great during the pandemic, and so they actually got more animals and bred more animals,” she said. “But those animals cost money to maintain and now that the bottom has fallen out of the market, many, many breeders are hurting.”

Based on the dumpings — which have happened as far north as Georgetown and as far south as Buda — Mack said she believes this to be a breeder in Central Texas. She’s connected with fellow rescues and area breeders to narrow down who might be behind it and is asking for them to turn in any remaining guinea pigs to AGPR, no questions asked.

With satins, the breed can carry a genetic recessive disease called satin syndrome, a fatal condition that shortens their lifespans. Some of the recovered animals show signs of the disease, she said.

Her hope is that if the breeder behind the dumped animals turns in the remainder of their litters, AGPR can help care for animals with the genetic disease while rehabilitating and fostering or adopting out those who are healthy.

Mack said she’s been inspired by the number of people who’ve called in with sightings or information, along with any volunteer, adoption or fostering interest the nonprofit has received. She said her biggest piece of advice is to never breed or gift a guinea pig, since there are already too many bred living without the care they need.

“The outpouring has been appreciated and in fact, we’re going to set up a fund for all the satins, because we know they’ll have health issues at some point,” she said, adding: “We’re so grateful to the community of Central Texas for offering all their help.”

To learn how to donate, volunteer or apply for fostering or adoption with AGPR, click here.