California Dolphin: statewide California news

Strangers’ frantic roadside activity draws police — here’s the actual heartwarming story

For hours, the strangers crawled through a thicket alongside the California freeway, drawing odd looks from passing drivers as well as the attention of the police.
What they ended up with: eight guinea pigs, and some new friendships.
The story of the Great Fountain Valley Guinea Pig Rescue began with a chance sighting by a pedestrian: Lisa Dougherty was walking her dog one afternoon early this month when she spotted an unusual creature in the brush near Interstate 405 in Fountain Valley, an Orange County community five miles inland from Huntington Beach. And then she saw another, and another — not wild animals, but guinea pigs.
Dougherty speculated they had recently been dumped on the roadside. “They were too clean and groomed to be strays,” she said. She knew she couldn’t capture the frightened animals herself, especially with her dog in tow, and she needed to get to her evening shift as a radiologic technologist.
“I thought, ‘I can’t just ignore the situation,’ so I got on my computer,” she said. She posted a plea on Facebook and Nextdoor. “Immediately, I heard back from people.”
Among the first to show up was a three-generation set of rescuers: Kathryn Rice, daughter Danielle Burkhard and granddaughter Damoni Burkhardt. “I was taking a nap and my mom said, ‘Wake up — we’re gonna catch guinea pigs!’” said Damoni, 16. “I was like, ‘Ohhh-kaaay.’”
Amanda Salerno, a 27-year-old paramedic, saw the notice and drove from San Pedro, where she had moved from Oklahoma a few weeks ago. “Amanda stopped in the middle of the road and yelled out her window, ‘Is this where the guinea pigs are?’” Danielle Burkhardt, 37, recounted.
Equipped with crates and enticing veggies, the foursome joined several neighbors who also saw the post, and they got to work trying to scoop up the pigs in a brush-filled ravine alongside Slater Avenue.
“We didn’t know each other, so we communicated by saying things like, ‘Hey, person in the flannel shirt!,’” Salerno said.
One passer-by called the police, assuming they were homeless people attempting to establish the former encampment on the site. The officers who showed up seemed amused by the real explanation, Rice said, and one even expressed interest in adopting a guinea pig.
Before dark, the crew managed to encircle and capture seven guinea pigs. One remained on the loose. After she got off work at 11 p.m., Dougherty returned with a flashlight and a rudimentary trap she had fashioned out of a cardboard box, stick and long string. She begged the straggler to take the bait, but he declined. The next day, she and half of the original crew managed to nab the escape artist.
Rave reviews poured in when Dougherty posted photos of the happy ending on Nextdoor. “You all have to feel really good about saving these little lives,” reads one commendation.
Some of the guinea pigs ended up at Fountain Valley’s Bunny Bunch, a shelter for small animals, but Salerno quickly claimed one. She named him Slater after the road near which he was found.
She already has three of the animals, whose portability has made them ideal for her household. “My husband is in the military so we move around a lot,” she said.
The rescuers already have plans to get together with a less urgent agenda, perhaps a barbecue. “I never imagined I’d make friends in a ravine on the side of a freeway, but here we all are,” Salerno said.

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