March 9 celebrates the birthday of the late Peter Gurney, who was also known as “the Guinea Pig Man”.
Peter Gurney did many tings in life, but his global legacy is how he encouraged a better health care for guinea pigs in a world where veterinarian services mostly focus on cattle, cats and dogs and the medical need of other creatures are often overlooked.
If your vet has extra specialization in small pets, this might be a result of the efforts of Peter Gurney!
When he actively sought out medical treatment for his guinea pigs at the local Great Ormond Street Hospital in London Peter Gurney really made an impact on medical care for guinea pigs . When people asked him why to make so much effort for these small animals he would say that “Very early on in life I found the company of animals to be far more enjoyable than that of my own kind.”
Peter Gurney was a bus and lorry driver who at the age of 48 faced early retirement because of a serious injury that made his job difficult enough to be laid off in favor of drivers without handicaps.
Having more free time Peter Gurney decided to spend this time with animals and bought his first guinea pigs.
He began with a small number, but throughout his live his house would become home to about 40 guinea pigs which were all lovingly cared for and taught him a great deal about these remarkable and very literally cuddly creatures.
Caring so much for his little fur balls, Peter Gurney took his guinea pigs to the vet for their medical problems as any responsible pet caregiver should. But he often was disappointed by the care given for anything but the very basic problems.
Disillusioned by the animal health care system Peter took his guinea pigs to the local hospital when they needed medical care in the hope for better treatments.
Peter Gurney made quite an impact with this move. Not only did he get better treatment for his guinea pigs, but many people at the hospital actually enjoyed his visits so much that this was extended to him visiting the hospital with a group of specially selected group of 5 social guinea pigs ready to cuddle sick children at the hospital to cheer them up.
Soon he was known as “The Guinea Pig Man”.
This was all quite awesome until some bureaucrat at the hospital stopped his guinea pig visits for “health reasons”.
This angered Peter Gurney because while he was not a doctor, he knew very well from scientific sources as well as experience that guinea pigs rarely transmit diseases to humans.
In the current day however we know that the real problem would actually be for the health of the guinea pigs as humans more often transmit diseases to guinea pigs than vice versa.
Unfortunately this was not the only stroke of bad luck to strike Peter Gurney as in 1992 he was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
During his treatment and recovery he never stopped pursuing his goal of teaching the world more about guinea pigs.
This year he wrote his book on “The Proper Care For Guinea Pigs”.
This book was happily welcomed by animal lovers who enjoyed a book that was not a cold statement of facts, but told about guinea pigs in a warm compassionate way that was quite nice to read.
Encouraged by this succes, Peter Gurney wrote more books with outstanding titles like “Piggy Potions: Natural Remedies for Guinea Pigs”, “The Sex Life of Guinea Pigs” and “What’s My Guinea Pig?”.
Meanwhile, it was in the mid 90-ies where the web was slowly gaining momentum in the lives of people of earth. The golden age of web sites where even the smallest website would be noticed. More so, a website made by Peter Gurney gained popularity soon as he shared his experiences with caring for guinea pigs and solving their joys and problems for everyone to learn from and help him to expand this knowledge.
Today many of his findings may be obsolete and replaced by better treatments.
But for that time, these were extremely progressively good treatments compared to what was available at that time!
Even today many vets are catching on to learn more about other animals than the regular triade of cattle-cats-dogs so they can provide better service to all their non human clients. May they be furry, scaly, feathery or another kind.
And let’s not forget that vets being doctors to multiple species all with very different physiques makes their jobs fastly more difficult than that of human doctors.
Delving into the world of guinea pigs, Peter Gurney found a completely new road to travel on as the Cavy Train took him on a magical mystery journey of better treatment for guinea pigs, not only writing but also many many hours spend on the phone with people who sought out his help for their guinea pig worries, advice that he gladly gave if it meant improving the life of more guinea pigs.
Peter Gurney’s guinea pig journey reached it’s end when in 2006 peter’s kidney cancer had returned with a fatal vengeance.
He made arrangements for his beloved herd of guinea pigs to find good homes after his death and wrote his last book.
July 2006 Peter Gurney was no more, but months later his last book “Last of Their Kind” was released as a final legacy of the man who fought for guinea pig welfare with all his heart.
He was just a vehicle driver, not a doctor. Still with his devotion he easily surpassed the knowledge of many veterinarian of his time and encouraged present health care for small creatures.
This is quite an enigmatic thing in a world where we are so proud of science and use many small creatures to test medical stuff on.
For some reason, probably a very obvious reason, “guinea pig” is synonym with “test subject”. Still most of these findings of tests that cost many guinea pig lives and supposedly teaches us a lot about health care does not find it’s way to actually improving live of guinea pigs who need medical help.
We needed a bus driver to improve this knowledge independently from the established system.
We clearly need to re-evaluate how to do pretty much anything more efficiently…