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The story of a tornado, a family, a dog, rats, a herd of guinea pigs and an online community

“Did you see the facebook post about Marsha Weaver?” my husband called out of his office (junk room).

I opened my own laptop and scrolled through my facebook friends’ updates. Our friend Marsha Weaver’s house in Alabama had just been plowed under by a tornado.

When my husband and I adopted our first two guinea pigs in 2004, we joined GuineaLynx, an amazing online community of guinea pig owners and guinea pig rescuers. We discovered right away that this community wasn’t just about guinea pigs. It was a social hub. In addition to it being one of the few places where GP owners could seek advice on care for their animals, or post silly pictures of their pets, it was somewhere members could turn to for advice on pretty much anything. During the past six years, I’ve watched members comfort each other through deaths and divorce, cheer when members married, had children, or found new jobs. Even though most of us never met the other 12,000 members scattered across the globe, we knew each other, cared for each other, and cared for each other’s pets.

Even in that group of 12,000, there are those members who stand out, and Marsha Weaver is one of those members.

Marsha, like many other members of GL, is a strong believer in finding homes for abandoned or surrendered animals, and her herd of nine guinea pigs all found their way into her life through animal rescues and shelters. It has been said more than once that a shelter pig who finds his way into Marsha’s home hit the jackpot, because Weaver pigs live well. Big cages, fresh vegetables, fresh hay, lots of love. Marsha’s special gift is sewing, and she sewed beds and canopies and other beautiful things for her critters. She even set up an online store, The Cozy Cavy, where those of us with lesser needle-and-thread skills could purchase her products. Not to forget GPs in need, she donated supplies to animal shelters and rescue groups, too.

Marsha is also an amazing animal photographer, and took hundreds – thousands – of pictures of her pets, capturing their individual personalities. Many of her critters can be seen on her web page, modeling her wares.

So when news of the tornado spread across GuineaLynx and facebook, us GLers took it personally. She was one of ours, her pets were ours, and she was hurting. So were we.

The Weavers lived in a lovely house in Alabama. The house, built on a slab, included an entire beautiful room dedicated to the guinea pigs, rats, and Marsha’s sewing. The whole family, including Marsha’s husband, daughter, son, and the family dog, were all home Wednesday evening when the storm moved in.  With very little warning, the humans and the dog tried to make a dash for safety, hoping for the best.

When the tornado passed, the house was destroyed. Marsha’s heart was bruised, her daughter’s shoulder was broken and her lung was pierced. The dog’s face was badly injured, and their dog was expect to lose an eye. The vehicles were gone. But most painful of all, especially for her fellow guinea pigs friends, was knowing that the guinea pigs and rats couldn’t be saved. The Weaver pigs and rats were buried in the debris.

The story could have ended there, with all of us GLers shaking our heads, tears in our eyes.

Instead, we issued a battle cry. We would help. We would do something.

One of our members, GuineaPinny, ran Sponsor A Guinea Pig, a web site that raised funds for guinea pigs in need . After some brief discussion, we decided if there was ever a case for guinea pigs in need, this was it. Some of us had lived through fires, tornadoes, earthquakes. We knew how important it was to have cash on hand, even if you had decent homeowners insurance. We set the initial goal of $1,000.

And we watched a miracle unfold.

The goal was met within hours. As time passed and GLers around the world woke up and logged in, they saw the need and didn’t hesitate to help. As word spread, people who had never even heard of Marsha Weaver stepped forward. In just 24 hours, the gifts added up to more than $6,000, though I hesitate to even mention that amount, because the number continues to climb.

But it wasn’t enough for the members of GL. The community is planning a drive for clothing and supplies, when Marsha’s family is in a position to receive them. And other GLers in the area are hoping to gain access to her home, to try to find any pets that might have survived. Others are collecting photos she’s posted online to build her an album.

The story could have ended there, too. But luckily, it didn’t. Marsha’s sister joined the GL community after the tornado. It says something about what amazing people are in Marsha’s life, that her sister would take the time to update the GL community about her sister’s family.

Late last night, she posted some good news.

Marsha’s daughter was doing well enough to be taken off oxygen.

And Marsha’s husband happened to spot one of their guinea pigs in the debris. Emma was alive!

Emma the Guinea Pig

Emma the Guinea Pig. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Despite the horrible loss, there is hope. There are amazing people in the world who will reach out and help others in need. And there are little miracles. We all desperately hope some of the other critters survived. Because guinea pigs, like people, like online communities, are social. They need their herd to be at their best.