Petco's Bluffton store is trying to find homes for 23 guinea pigs rescued this week from a Burton-area property.
Those critters were among the animals found Monday living in and around a trash-strewn minivan with five people, two dogs and four rabbits. All of the animals were brought to the Beaufort County Animal Shelter that night. The children were taken into protective custody.
Rodents rarely end up at the county shelter, which houses hundreds of cats and dogs each month. But director Tallulah Trice sought help from local veterinarians and animal rescue groups from Hilton Head Island to Charleston.
"It was a team effort," she said.
Others say Trice deserves credit for mobilizing resources so quickly.
"Even though Beaufort County doesn't usually house small animals, Tallulah Trice did her thing," said Abby Bird, adoption manager and dog trainer at Petco. "She got on Facebook, she made phone calls. She got very involved."
"She just saved all those guinea pigs," said Frannie Gerthoffer, executive director of Hilton Head Humane Association.
Beaufort County Sheriff's Deputies on Monday charged Jennifer McManigle with cruelty to animals and children after learning she and her four children, ages 7 to 12, had been living with her in a minivan for several days. Authorities said the children appeared filthy and that the vehicle was filled with trash, discarded food and other debris.
All told, deputies found 36 guinea pigs on the property in addition to the dogs and rabbits.
More information on the case was not available Friday.
Trice said most of the guinea pigs were reasonably healthy when they arrived at the shelter. However, some were pregnant, which complicated matters. At least one gave birth to a new litter.
Dr. Ben Parker of Coastal Veterinary Clinic and Dr. Dorian Colorado of the Animal Care Clinic of HHI were among the vets who donated their services. All told, 23 of the animals were "altered" free of charge.
Parker performed the procedures on 10 of the Guinea pigs, including a couple that were in the early stages of pregnancy. "We were glad to do it," he said, adding that the guinea pigs "were in a horrible situation."
At least five of the animals were transferred to Pet Helpers, a Charleston-area animal-rescue and adoption center, and several are still at the county shelter.
Trice believes the McManigle family might have adopted just two guinea pigs a short time ago without knowing that the genders must be kept separate.
"They can go into heat at four weeks old. It can just multiply to where it's out of control," she said, adding that the average litter is three babies.
The dogs rescued from the van are being kept at the shelter, and Trice hopes a relative will claim them. One of the rabbits has already been adopted, and the other is being treated for a condition that causes hair loss.
Bird, the Petco adoption manager, said the guinea pigs she has received are healthy and ready for adoption. She says the animals make great pets, and are not "nippy and bitey" the way hamsters can be.
"They enjoy being handled. They do get fairly large though, just so you know," she said, adding that males can reach a foot long. "They are also very social with each other. That's why we are promoting ... adopting two, if possible."
Adoptions can be arranged from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. A $10 donation is requested to support the company's adoption initiatives.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.