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Women Who Changed The Lives Of Guinea Pigs: Ellie

Women Who Changed The Lives Of Guinea Pigs: Ellie

Ellie is the next star in our women’s day series. Read on to find out more…

For women’s day, we wanted to reach out and spotlight individual women who are leading the way in the guinea pig industry.

We couldn't spotlight amazing women without mentioning Ellie Whitehead. Ellie is a registered vet at Derwent Valley Vets in Matlock, Derbyshire. After graduating from the Royal Veterinary College, London in 2005, Ellie has worked in small animals since graduating. In 2018 Ellie started the Guinea Pig Vet with the aim of providing a high standard of care to guinea pigs and their owners. Ellie branched out and opened The Guinea Pig Shop online last year due to her love of making things and being creative. She currently designs and makes all the products at home with her partner.

We caught up with Ellie to find out all about her career journey and her incredible work treating guinea pigs.

Women Who Changed The Lives Of Guinea Pigs: Ellie

When did you first fall in love with Guinea Pigs and Why?

I first fell in love with guinea pigs whilst at university. Having been introduced to them during a handling session at uni I thought they were lovely creatures. A short while later, a sign went up in the village where my parents lived saying guinea pigs for sale. I bought 3 girls, Daisy, Rosie, and Elvis. They all had various health problems throughout their lives. I struggled to find advice or information that would help me to treat them. When I graduated, I was always the only vet in the clinic who was enthusiastic to see guinea pigs. Therefore, I think this was the start of my career with guinea pigs.

What do you think the future of the Guinea Pig space looks like and the role of women within it?

There is still a knowledge gap between the understanding of guinea pig physiology, diseases and treatments compared to dogs and cats. However, knowledge of guinea pigs is expanding all the time. This is driven in part by them becoming more popular as pets and their owners being willing to go the extra mile for them. Research, diagnostic techniques and available treatment options will inevitably expand further. Women, now being the predominant gender in the veterinary profession, will no doubt play a key role in that development.

I feel there is less specific teaching in vet school on guinea pigs as well as less research papers, books or courses to learn from. 

What are your future plans and goals regarding your career?

Currently, I spend approximately 60% of my clinical time in practice seeing guinea pigs. I would like to expand my client base so that I am seeing solely guinea pigs. I also have plans to contribute to a new book about guinea pigs, aimed at the veterinary profession. In addition, I am preparing to contribute articles to a well-known guinea pig organisation’s website.
On a creative level, I hope to develop our product offering to continue to promote enrichment and healthy feeding for guinea pigs, as well as information for guinea pig owners.

What advice would you give to other women wanting to follow in your footsteps?

If you have an idea or a goal that you truly believe in, pursue it. Be determined, be positive and always try to do your best.

With the Guinea Pig space being so niche, what challenges have you faced and overcome in your career?

For me, the main challenge has been not having the same evidence base when treating guinea pigs compared to other species. I feel there is less specific teaching in vet school on guinea pigs. Also, there are less research papers, books or courses to learn from. Therefore, some learning comes from experience. You need to be willing to try new things, extrapolate from other species and have owners that trust you to do your best.

If you have an idea or a goal that you truly believe in, pursue it. Be determined, be positive and always try to do your best. 

What misconceptions and stigmas were you faced with? One as a woman and two in the guinea pig space?

I can remember vividly a moment when I was about 15 years old. I had decided I wanted to be a vet and I was on a week’s work experience at a veterinary practice as part of a school organised placement. The practice was owned by an older man and I remember him telling me that I should think again about going to vet school. He told me that I would be likely to get married, have kids and then leave the profession. Therefore, I would be wasting that place at vet school and it would be better off going to a man. It angered me but also made me more determined!

In terms of ‘in the guinea pig space’, I feel that the species is still undervalued by some vets, however, guinea pig owners are generally willing to go the extra mile. Therefore, I feel that as vets, we need to be willing to go the extra mile too. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Believe in your gut instinct, be strong in who you are and don’t seek validation from others.

I was told I would be wasting a place at Vet school and it would be better off going to a man. They said I would be likely to have kids, get married and then leave the profession. It angered me but made me more determined!

Name one woman who inspires you and why?

It is difficult to select just one woman who inspires me. I am inspired by so many women throughout history and in the present day. I am inspired by those who have achieved things against the odds, the women who have continued to be who they are and do what they love despite criticism. I am inspired by those women who have been seen as ‘different’, who have battled through a lack of acceptance and the emotional turmoil that brings. All of these women understand determination, self-worth and the importance of living their truth.

For example, Marie Curie, Anne Lister and Mary Anning were all women who were knowledgeable and determined. Each of these women were to some extent disregarded and undervalued. They did not directly receive recognition for their contributions during their time but continued to carry on with their work and live their lives as they wanted. There are so many others I could list, but I think all women are an inspiration, we just need to hear their stories. 

CONCLUSION

We absolutely loved interviewing Ellie for this spotlight feature and we wanted to say a huge thank you for taking part and for their dedication to guinea pigs. You can find out more about Ellie on her website: Ellie from The Guinea Pig Vet.

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