The Orange County Cavy (aka guinea pig) Haven in Costa Mesa has already posted urgent Internet pleas to parents asking them to say no when their children beg for guinea pigs, because the animals are too fragile for young children.
It's happened before. Some call it "101 Dalmations syndrome," after the live-action Disney movie that sent thousands rushing to buy the black-and-white spotted pups. When the dogs failed to act like those in the movie, families gave them up, breeders said.
The popularity of Chihuahuas soared after the movies "Legally Blonde" and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and when Taco Bell featured a talking one in an ad campaign. Ferrets were the animal of choice after "Along Came Polly" and guinea pigs were in demand after "Bedtime Stories."
In "G-Force," which opens Friday, Agents Juarez, Darwin and Blaster drive cars, parachute, use blowtorches, swim, talk, walk on two legs, live in tanks with mice and rats and use hamster balls, Lyn Zantow, a volunteer for the Orange County group, warns on her Web site.
In real life, guinea pigs are noisy, eat and poop all the time, require big and clean cages, don't swim and can be expensive to care for if they get sick, she said, adding that they should be kept out of the hands of young children.
"We can only hope ... parents will all do their research before bringing any critters home. Otherwise, when the novelty wears off, rescues everywhere are going to have their hands full with surrenders," Potsus said.
A guinea pig can scare or startle easily and if a child doesn't have a good hold, it will run off. "Guinea pigs can't jump," said Fenella Fpeece, president of Wee Companions Small Animal Adoption Inc. in San Diego. A fall, even from a sofa, will paralyze them, break their backs and then "they are probably as good as dead."
She is worried about the big plastic balls used in the movie and sold in pet stores. They are made for hamsters and mice, she said. "Guinea pigs don't have flexible backs and they don't go in wheels."
They also have delicate digestive systems. "Kids get distracted. If you forget to feed it, it's done. Its little life is over," Fpeece said.
She has already been asked if she has a guinea pig that looks like one of the agents. And ads on Craigslist are offering "'G-Force' type guinea pigs. I am really worried," she said.
Activists say there are several waves of worry ahead: when the movie debuts in theaters, when it comes out on DVD and when the novelty wears off.
About 795,000 homes have guinea pigs as pets, according to the American Pet Products Association, based in Greenwich, Conn. Volunteers from most guinea pig rescue groups will beef up opening weekend public education programs in an effort to prevent impulse buys, said Susan Lee, director and CEO of the Costa Mesa group.
Jan Davidson, founder of Deerbrook Guinea Pig and Rabbit Haven in Oakhurst, said other rescue workers have been asking her what to do. One said she was afraid to post new adoption notices because "it is hard enough to find good homes for them as it is."
Disney is aware of the power of the movies and works to promote a strong pet responsibility message, a studio spokeswoman said. For "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," Disney made sure most of the animals in the movie came from shelters and each was adopted when the movie was over.
For "G-Force," a statement will be posted on the movie's Web site and on other promotional materials, advising viewers to be responsible and research any pet "to make sure that it is suitable for your particular situation" and consider adopting from a shelter.
Potsus, who has four guinea pigs, hopes parents will fudge a little to protect the animals.
"We hope parents will use money or time as an excuse," she said. "We like to think the bad economy would cut down on some impulsive decisions."
Instead of delicate animals who can't talk, shoot or travel through space, Davidson suggested an alternative for children who want to re-enact stunts with the movie's stars: guinea pigs of the stuffed or plastic variety.